Tuesday, November 1, 2011
All Saints Day
Today 1 November is All Saints Day which is believed to have been established in the early part of the fourth century and was known as 'Martyrs Day'. All Saints is a Feast Day which honours and remembers all Christian saints whose names we know and those we don't. Western Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans celebrate this feast today whereas the Eastern Orthodox churches observe it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
In the early days many Christians were persecuted by the Romans and died for their belief in God. To remember those martyrs, various dioceses set aside special days to celebrate. In the early seventh century the Roman Emperor handed over the Pantheon Temple to the Pope who removed the statues of the Roman gods and consecrated it as 'All Saints in recognition of those who had died from persecution during the first three hundred years after Christ. Pope Gregory III instituted the 1 November as 'All Saints' in the diocese of Rome as he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in st Peter's Basilica. Pope Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire church and that is where it remains today except in the Orthodox churches.
That is how people came to be made saints in the early days and when Christians became free to worship openly, the church found other ways to recognize sanctity. Early in Christianity people were made saints by popular acclaim which was then sanctioned by the local bishop. For the last 500 years, the path to sainthood has been a much lengthier process and includes necessary proof of extraordinary sanctity.
In Catholic countries this day is a Public Holiday and is seen as a holy Day of Obligation meaning that one is required to attend Mass. In other countries, the day is moved to the nearest Sunday. Countries and cultures have different ways of acknowledging and celebrating this feast. In Spain, Portugal and Mexico offerings are made. In Belgium, Hungary and Italy flowers are brought to the graves of dead relatives. In other parts of Europe such as Austria, Croatia, Poland and Romania it is customary to light candles which are placed on the graves. In parts of Asia such as The Philippines it is also observed. Relatives go to the graves of the dead, clean and repair them, lay flowers and light candles. In France, church services are held but by evening the focus has moved towards the dead. People crowd cemeteries and there is much cleaning and lighting of candles. All Saints is closely tied to All Souls' Day, held on the 2 November which is dedicated to prayers fir the dead who are not yet glorified.
'All Saints' is not a public holiday in Trinidad but the tradition of the living, visiting the family grave in preparation for the 2 November, is strong and very much part of its culture. On the night of the 1 November, some Trinidadians still put lighted candles in their windows carrying out the age old belief that 'lost souls' will be able to find their way home.