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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Reformation, All Saints, All Souls

This year November 2nd falls on a Sunday. All Souls Day, also called the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a Feast of the First Class, so may appropriately take precedence.  
            It’s not uncommon for this to be confused with All Saints’ Day, November 1st, since Lutherans tend to think of all the faithful departed as saints; and indeed in an important respect, of course they are saints. They are translated to the Church Triumphant, with all the company of heaven.
            Traditionally, however (dating to the seventh century), All Saints was a day on which to commemorate especially those saints of yore whose lives were marked by a special confession of Christ unto death; that is, who were martyred. Many of those martyrs have days appointed specifically for them on the Western Calendar, such as the Apostles, or St. Laurence (August 10), or the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (August 29). There are in fact many post-biblical martyrs whose days are on the full Western Calendar. But there are many more, who never had dates attached to their martyrdom in any calendars, so All Saints was a day meant for commemorating all of them. That is why the more traditional color for All Saints is red, not white. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints or Hallowmas or All Hallows (from which, of course, the evening before derives its name: Halloween).
            And that is also why the day for commemorating all of the faithful departed is not November 1st, but November 2nd. Incidentally, in recent years The Catholic Church has, like many other churches these days, also dropped the specific distinction of martyrs for All Saints, and remembers all the faithful who are in the Church Triumphant. The way they then distinguish between All Saints and All Souls is to count All Souls as those who are still in purgatory and have not yet achieved the beatific state of having been purified of all sins and arrived in heaven. We Lutherans, of course, have always firmly condemned such nonsense as not only contrary to Scripture, but contrary to the merit and worthiness of Christ: He alone is our Purifier. There is no such thing as purgatory.
            Providentially, ironically, and most fittingly, we have traditionally observed the Festival of the Reformation on the Eve of All Saints, October 31st. The Reformation was for us a recovery of the Gospel in its purity; so it is right then, that we note in an evangelical way the difference between All Saints and All Souls as something other than the folly of purgatory. We rejoice in the confession of martyrs unto death on All Saints, and in all the faithful departed, who are in the Church Triumphant, on All Souls. The color for that day is historically black, and a requiem mass is said (though again, requiems ought never be said among us in according to the false view that our prayers help souls fly from some imaginary purgatory). Since as most parishes do not have black paraments, white is used to emphasize the Church Triumphant, from which, in glory, the faithful departed all await the resurrection of the body at the Last Day.
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