06 All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days - D.D. Emmons

posted Oct 24, 2018, 8:35 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Oct 24, 2018, 8:35 AM ]
What’s the background to these November celebrations?

It seems unusual that our Church liturgical calendar schedules two major celebrations on days that are back to back.

But that is precisely the situation with the solemnity of All Saints, a liturgical feast, and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls), a liturgical observance. All Saints is a Church-wide holy day of obligation and normally celebrated on November 1. If the first day of November falls on a Saturday or Monday, at least in the United States, the obligation to attend Mass is abrogated. All Souls' Day takes place on November 2, unless it falls on a Sunday; then the celebration is held November 3.

During these early November celebrations, those of us still living (the Church militant) unite our hearts with, and in a special way remember, the faithful departed, whether they be in heaven (Church triumphant) or in Purgatory (Church suffering).

All Saints' Day

All Saints' Day, which began most likely as All Martyrs' Day, can be traced to the earliest Christians. By the third century, the followers of Christ were annually honouring their brothers and sisters who had given their lives (been martyred) while witnessing for and defending Jesus Christ. Typically, on the anniversary of a martyr's death, those living would gather to remember and offer prayers at the tomb or place where the deceased had died. Tombs were sometimes decorated, and altars built over the tomb. "From the third century, the anniversary of a martyr's death, called his 'birthday,' was commemorated at his grave by a celebration" (Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, p. 271; Penguin Books, 1993). The belief among the first Christians, which continues today, is that believers who died defending Christ were borne by angels to heaven, and are face to face with the living God, in the presence of the beatific vision.