This Week at St. Stephen’s–November 04, 2012

“DAYS OF THE DEAD”

This week we have witnessed the confluence of two commemorations: All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Add to this the secular celebration of Halloween, and there seems to be a lot of talk of the dead going on this time of year.

All Saints’ Day is the oldest of these annual events, a celebration of the lives of the Christian Saints, traceable from the 4th Century. Originally celebrated in the spring (which is still the case in the Eastern Orthodox tradition), it showed up on November 1st in the 8th Century. Shortly thereafter it was lengthened to a week-long celebration, which is why we still refer to the ‘Octave of All Saints’ (and celebrate the day on the Sunday that falls within the octave).

All Souls’ Day references not just the well-known Saints but the souls of all the faithful departed. It dates back to the French Benedictine communities of the 10th Century. Often, in the Bible, all the faithful are called “saints” so it is unclear if this celebration was conceived as a populist attempt to close the gap between the heroes of the faith and everyday Christians.

Then of course there is Halloween, a contraction of ‘All Hallows Eve’, a reference to All Saints’ (‘hallowed’ meaning ‘holy’, hence, ‘all the holy ones’). Placed on the last night of the ancient Celtic calendar, it wants to add, “… and all the others too”, ushering the profane into the company of the holy.

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