Article: All Saints Day- What Does it Mean?

It is November 1st as I write this and it is a church holiday. It is All Saints Day and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. How did these commemoration days come about? Well, read on….

In the early years when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, so many martyrs died for their faith, that the Church set aside special days to honor them. In 607 Emperor Phocas presented to the pope the beautiful Roman Pantheon temple. The pope removed the statues of Jupiter and the pagan gods and consecrated the Pantheon to “all saints” who had died from Roman persecution in the first three hundred years after Christ. Many bones were brought from other graves and placed in the rededicated Pantheon church.

Since there were too many martyrs for each to be given a day, they were lumped together into one day. In the next century, All Saints Day was changed by Pope Gregory III to today’s date–November l. People prepared for their celebration back then with a night of vigil on Hallows’ Eve (Halloween).

In the 10th century, Abbot Odela of the Cluny monastery added the next day–November 2nd–as “All Souls” Day” to honor not just the martyrs, but all Christians who had died.

As a Lutheran, we treat All Saints Day a lot like All Souls Day. It is a day to remember those families and friends who have died in the past year. However, those from other traditions celebrate these two days differently.

When thinking of loved ones who have gone before us, we must trust that God is good and Jesus died to forgive our sins. There is nothing we can do to “help” our loved ones. They are in God’s loving care and we should trust that Jesus truly loves us and our loved ones. I do.

Even Martin Luther talks about this. Remember, he lived in a day when people were praying for the dead continually and having masses (worship services) given in memory of dead loved ones because they believed they could help that person get to heaven. Thankfully we don’t believe that, but here is what Martin Luther says about our stance toward our loved ones who have passed away.

“We do not know whether the soul has been sentenced, it is not a sin to pray for them. However, you should pray in such a way that you let it remain uncertain and say, ‘Dear God, if the soul is still in the state that it can be helped, then I pray that You would be gracious to it.’When you have done that once or twice, then cease and commend the soul to God. God has promised that He will hear what we pray. Therefore, when you have prayed once or three times, you should believe that He has granted your prayer and never again pray it, so that you do not tempt or mistrust God.”

 In other words, Luther is telling us to not worry about our loved ones who are no longer here because God is good and God is loving.

This is good advice and I whole heartedly believe it. I look forward to a large family reunion one day… and it won’t be one day long. It will last forever.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

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