How We’ve Misunderstood All Saints Day

Just as I believe many Christians misunderstood Samhain (let alone didn’t even know what it is), I think they also misunderstand All Saints Day. I know I sure did! I also think many Christians misunderstand the Catholic Church, but I’ll save that topic for another time. I know many Protestants carry a burden over the lives lost during the inquisition, but we can’t blame today’s Catholics for what some extremist Catholics did in the past. Just as we don’t blame today’s Protestants for burning innocent women as witches in the early years of America.  Hopefully, as the generations continue, they won’t look back at Westboro Baptist Church and think they were the leading Christian Church in America. It’s very important that we stand up for what we believe in and refute lies that misrepresent our faith.

Protestants often mistakenly accuse Catholics of rooting the Christian faith and practices in paganism. The truth is this:

  • The word ‘pagan’ simply meant ‘country-dweller’.
  • The Author and Finisher of our Faith is the Alpha and Omega, not a clergy who created traditions.

In the tradition of the Jews, anyone not born a Jew was considered a pagan. Since the Law was given to the Jews, it’s understandable that the country-dwellers had their own way of living life, complete with their own traditions and beliefs. As the Gospel was preached in these other regions the people would merge their former beliefs with new revelations of God’s love and forgiveness. Traditions don’t save us neither does continuing in traditions condemn us. 

{If Protestants wanted to abstain from anything ‘pagan’ in their services then they also would have to give up 11 am Sunday services, Sunday School, mid week service, heck the entire idea of a church building as well. Jesus made US, the people, into His temple}

The early disciples came upon a region of pagans (Gentiles) who came to believe in Christ and the disciples did not reprimand them for their traditions, practices, or beliefs other than an admonishment to abstain from polluted idols, strangled meat(and blood), and whoredom (Acts 15).

{Neither did they attack them with the Bible before they came to believe in Christ.}

The disciples let these communities grow by faith and trusted the Holy Spirit to guide them. Not every Christian in the world changes every aspect of their lives over night and some never change much at all. All our growth and change is in the hands of God and in how we respond to the Spirit speaking to us individually. What is ‘bad’ for some may not be ‘bad’ to others. We all grow at a different pace and should follow in the example of the apostles by being patient with one another while we grow.

candles for prayer by sisterlisa, on Pix-O-Sphere

The apostle Paul said this;

Romans 14: 1-12 (ESV) {bold emphasis mine}

1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own mastera that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confessb to God.”

12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

church altar by sisterlisa, on Pix-O-Sphere

Paul also goes onto to say;

Colossians 2:16-23 (ESV)  {bold emphasis mine}

16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,d puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

church stained glass windows by sisterlisa, on Pix-O-Sphere

As a Christian walking by faith in the grace of God we need to remember that all things boil down to grace. Submitting ourselves to practicing or abstaining from traditions have nothing to do with walking by faith. We get far too distracted by whether someone is practicing religious things or abstaining from feasts, new moons, holidays etc. All of this quarreling does us no good at all and only further divides us from enjoying the Kingdom life Christ has brought to us. So I halted from the arguing over holidays and gave up my self righteous practices and abstinences so that I could come to understand others and enjoy loving them as God has ordained me to do.  So it’s with grace that I’m looking at observing my first All Saints Day.

I requested a simple explanation from a devout Catholic friend of mine and here was his response:

“All Saints Day is indeed a holy day of obligation in the Church (i.e. comparable to Sunday, when the faithful are required to attend Mass).  In the early Christian era, the believers who were martyred during eras of imperial persecution, or who otherwise lived a well-known life of sanctity, and died in the faith, were acknowledged as saints and their feast days in the Church liturgical calendar were usually celebrated on the days of their earthly death (i.e. in honor of the day they went to be with the Lord).  Some obvious examples include the Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29, generally considered to be day of Peter’s martyrdom under Emperor Nero in AD 67), or Saint Patrick (March 17, AD 493 – the first bishop sent by Rome to begin the evangelization of then-pagan Ireland in the 5th century).

 As the liturgical calendar began to fill over the centuries, and as the number of holy men and women who died in the faith grew, it became difficult to find specific days devoted to every deceased saint, including those whose sainthood is presently known only to the Lord.  So a feast was eventually established in the liturgical calendar to celebrate all the saints, both known and unknown.  This feast was promulgated in the Latin Church (Rome) for November 1 in the eighth century, and was fixed for the universal Church (Roman, Greek/Byzantine, Alexandrian, Chaldean, etc.) by Pope Gregory IV in the ninth century for the same date.  So both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should still celebrate All Saints Day together, as may some of the first Reformation communities (perhaps the Anglicans/Episcopalians and Lutherans, but I’m not certain about this).
As for the celebration over the years, I would think that it has remained essentially the same from the beginning…the faithful would attend Mass or Divine Liturgy on All Saints Day, regardless of the day of the week, in honor of all the holy men and women who went before us.  The date was recognized as a civil holiday throughout Western Christendom by the medieval era, and in some countries, the state still does so (e.g. Spain, France and Germany).  Catholic schools and parish offices would be closed on this day for the celebration.  I know at our parish, we have four Masses celebrated during the liturgical day, including a vigil the night before on All Hallow’s Eve (October 31). “

church steeples by sisterlisa, on Pix-O-Sphere

See what someone can learn by simply asking? So glad I did! I’m not a member of the Catholic Church, but I do believe the Church (as in the Body of Christ) is universal in nature. The members of the true Body live all over the world. We all have different perspectives on God, pieces to the puzzle if you will. Some day we’ll all see the much bigger picture of our glorious Lord, until then may we show grace and love to all our neighbors, whether they celebrate Samhain, All Saints Day, or even Halloween.
You can subscribe to my blog by email and follow me on my Facebook page to get updates to this series. I’ll be sharing more in depth on honoring Christ in the culture of Halloween in an upcoming post. If we’re going to be missionaries to the people around us then we had better be properly and graciously prepared for engaging in our culture. (Subscribers get my free Ebook, ‘Organic Living’, in the footer of their first delivery.)
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