What is All Saints Day?: a brief summary

Today, November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a feast day in the church year that follows All Hallow’s Eve (October 31). All Saints Day offers an opportunity to remember all those saints who have gone before us in the faith and to celebrate the reality that we stand amidst a great cloud of witnesses.

The epistle to the Hebrews offers one of the most comprehensive examples of this in chapter 11, which traces the history of great people of faith who have gone before us. As the writer holds before us example after example of faith, he helps us see how their lives with God are examples to us in our daily living but also encouragement to keep going in the way of faith. Closing that great passage out, the author writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Not only does All Saints Day hold before us the people of faith from past times, it also offers an annual reminder of our connectedness as Christians today. In times of fracture or disunity, as well as in times of peace, All Saints Day reminds us that all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation are brought together as one new community by faith in Him. It is in light of this that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Not only does All Saints Day lead us to look back to believers who have gone before us and around us to the believers we share communion with in Christ, but it also points us forward to the reality that we will one day gather around the throne of God. While we live here on earth, believers are spread throughout many times and places, but there will come a day when we will all be brought together into the eternal presence of the Lord. All Saints Day reminds us of that reality described in Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Here is a traditional prayer often used for All Saints Day:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Malcolm Guite, “A Sonnet for All Saints Day” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Malcolm Guite’s poem “A Sonnet for All Saints Day.” This sonnet is taken from Guite’s book Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year. Malcolm Guite is an Anglican priest, poet, and songwriter, who is a Life Fellow and former chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge.


Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards
Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,
It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing
He weaves them with us in the web of being
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of His wounded love.


Previous poems in this series:

All Saints’ Day: A Celebration

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.