All Saints: A Four-Day Observance in 2019

You’ve probably heard of All Saints' Day, and you know about Halloween, of course. But what about All Souls' Day, All Hallows' Eve, and All Faithful Departed? What’s the difference?

November 1 is All Saints' Day, one of the principal feasts of the Episcopal Church, when the church remembers the saints, known and unknown.  It is also one of the four holy days denoted for baptisms. The others are the Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after Epiphany), the Great Vigil of Easter, and the Day of Pentecost.

All Saints Sunday Baptism
Photo from Trinity Church Wall Street

Trinity Church Wall Street Rector, the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, performing a baptism on November 4, 2018, All Saints' Sunday.

The origins of All Saints’ Day aren’t completely clear. A feast for all martyrs was observed as early as the fourth century on May 13. And, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in Rome to all saints on November 1, while Pope Gregory IV officially declared its general observance in 837.

In medieval England this feast was known as All Hallows. (“Hallow” was an Old English term for saint.) The day before was All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween. It is believed that the traditions we associate with Halloween originate with Celtic harvest festivals, in particular the festival of Samhain, which celebrated the harvest and when the dead were said to return to their homes because the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was believed to be thinnest at that time. Bonfires were lit to frighten away evil spirits.

There is an Episcopal service for All Hallows' Eve that includes prayers and readings such as "The Witch of Endor," which may be surprising to learn is a story, not from Tolkien, but from the Bible (1 Samuel 28: 3-25). Endor is a village mentioned in the Book of Joshua...and also is the name of both a planet and a moon in the Star Wars saga.

November 2 is the commemoration of All Faithful Departed, sometimes called All Souls’ Day. It is a day when faithful Christians who have died are remembered. It’s a tradition in some churches to create an "altar of remembrance" which specifically recalls the names of persons who have died during the previous year, a custom which Trinity has also observed in past years.

Altar of Remembrance 2010
Photo by Leah Reddy

An Altar of Remembrance at Trinity Church Wall Street from 2010.

In much of Latin America, the annual celebration of the Day of the Dead, El Día de los Muertos, also falls on the same two days, November 1 and 2. The feast began with the indigenous people of what is now Mexico and Central America and includes Aztec rituals mixed with Roman Catholic traditions.

While in the New Testament the term "saints" refers to the entire Christian community, the word "saint" has come to mean people of "heroic sanctity" whose holy deeds are remembered by Christians. Beginning in the tenth century, the church began to remember all departed Christians on November 2. Many remember their loved ones who have died on this day.

Together these three days are sometimes called Allhallowtide, and by a quirk of the calendar this year, the traditional three-day observance can be extended to four days. November 3 falls on Sunday in 2019, and will be marked at Trinity Church Wall Street as All Saints' Sunday, with baptisms of both children and adults at the 9:15 and 11:15am Holy Eucharists. Trinity will observe All Saints’ Day on Friday November 1 at the 12:05pm weekday worship and will add a service for All Faithful Departed on Saturday, November 2, also at 12:05pm in the Chapel of All Saints.