This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 1, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Although I have to write my column a few days ahead of time, you should be reading this on November 1, which is known by some of us as All Saints’ Day, aka, All Hallows’ Day, aka, Hallowmas. As a child growing up Lutheran, I really didn’t understand the meaning of this church festival, and was further confused by the observances of my Roman Catholic friends, who were either Czech-American or Mexican-American.
The Roman Catholic Church in those days observed a three-day celebration called “Allhallowtide,” which included All Saints’ Eve or “All Hallowed Eve” (from whence comes the word “Halloween) on October 31, All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls’ Day on November 2.
All Saints’ Day, November 1, is an observance of all saints both known saints and unknown saints, but the Roman Catholic Church focuses on the known Saints of the Church. Since Lutherans believe that all true Christians, living and dead, are “saints,” our worship service would remember those saints who went before us, especially our loved ones, such as parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, etc. There was also some recognition of the famous Saints of the Church who gave their lives in Christ’s service, and who taught us through their letters and gospels how to serve and glorify God.
We Lutherans also observed Reformation Day on October 31, which sort of sidelined All Saints’ Eve (which we did recognize) and we celebrated All Saints’ Day on November 1, but we did not observe All Souls’ Day on November 2. The differences between us and them were never explained to me, so I remained confused until I was much older.
Over the years, I tried to sort this out in my mind, having some of it explained to me in Confirmation class. My understanding of All Souls’ Day in the Roman Catholic Church is that it’s a time to commemorate those who died baptized, but, because of unconfessed sin, were believed to be in purgatory. Observance of the Day would include prayer intercession for them to free them of their sins. Since Lutheran theology does not include the concept of purgatory, we did not observe All Souls’ Day.
Some of my Mexican-American Catholic friends observed the three days of Allhallowtide with a slight variation from the way Czech-American Catholics celebrated it. Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), observed on All Souls’ Day and celebrated throughout Mexico, was celebrated here in Texas in a similar way. It is an official holiday in Mexico.
Family and friends would gather together to remember and to pray for loved ones who had died. Families would set up altars at home with the favorite food and drink of the deceased loved one, and/or take these gifts to the grave of the dearly departed. Lighting candles for them was also done by both ethnic groups.
These special holy days are very meaningful for many Christians, coming as they do less than two months before Christmas when the birth of the Savior of the world is celebrated to assure us we will one day join the other saints in our eternal home, and coming less than a month before we Americans observe Thanksgiving Day. The daily news reminds us again and again what stressful times we are living in, and some of it causes us anger, depression, and anxiety, and even a tendency to lose faith in the goodness of God. These are times to let ourselves be pulled toward God rather than away from Him, times for prayers of supplication seeking God’s help and prayers of thanksgiving for the great blessings we do have, including thankfulness for those wonderful, cherished loved ones who have passed away.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor]]>