QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
ABOUT ALL SAINTS' DAY
Click here to return to the liturgical calendar page
is All Saints' Day?
When is All Saints' Day celebrated?
What does the word "saint" mean?
Who are the saints?
How do Lutherans honor the saints?
What is the liturgical color for All Saints' Day?
Why is All Saints' Day such a special event in the life of the church?
WHAT IS ALL SAINTS' DAY?
All Saints' Day is a festival on which the church remembers and honors all the Christian faithful, both known and unknown. This festival has its origins in the Roman Catholic church of the Middle Ages. Reflecting on the lives and examples of the saints had been a widespread practice of Christians since the earliest days of the church. By the early Middle Ages, the liturgical calendar was filled with the commemorations of hundreds of saints and martyrs. Many of these lesser observances were combined into a joint celebration called All Saints' Day.
WHEN IS ALL SAINTS' DAY CELEBRATED?
The traditional date for the observance of All Saints' Day is November 1. However, many churches choose to celebrate it on the first Sunday in November.
WHAT DOES THE WORD "SAINT" MEAN?
The English word "saint" derives from the Latin sanctus, which means "holy."
WHO ARE THE SAINTS?
God declares everyone who has been baptized and believes the promise of the gospel to be justified, holy, and blameless. The communion of saints therefore includes both those still living on earth and those who have died in the faith and are now living in heaven.
HOW DO LUTHERANS HONOR THE SAINTS?
Lutherans do not pray to the saints in heaven or invoke their help as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do. However, we do honor the saints. Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther's most important colleague in the Reformation, wrote of three ways that Christians should honor the saints: The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy… because He has given teachers or other gifts to the church… The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly super-abounds over sin, (Romans 5:20). The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues… (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI, paragraphs 4-6).
Dr. Melanchthon's second point is particularly important. Notice that when we honor the saints we actually give the glory to God and not to the saints themselves. All the saints who now live in heaven were in their earthly lives exactly like us: poor, miserable sinners and completely unworthy of God's favor. It is only God's undeserved grace through Jesus Christ that makes the saints righteous and holy.
WHAT IS THE LITURGICAL COLOR FOR ALL SAINTS' DAY?
The color for All Saints' Day is white. As the Book of Revelation testifies, God's saints are those who have …washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
WHY IS ALL SAINTS' DAY SUCH A SPECIAL EVENT IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH?
All Saints' Day is a very special festival, one that enriches the worship lives of all who observe it. It is a day on which we are edified by the lives of the saints of ancient times. We recall the faithful men and women of both Testaments of the Bible and praise God for their examples. In addition to the saints of Scripture, the church's nearly 2,000-year history is full of the stories of faithful Christians, some well known (like Augustine or Luther), but the vast majority known only to God. We commemorate these holy ones as well. However, we also remember the saints of the less distant past. Many congregations memorialize those parishioners who were called to be with the Lord in recent years, particularly in the last year. An All Saints' Day worship service can therefore be an especially personal celebration as each one of us recalls the loved ones, friends, and mentors now living in heaven whose faith in Christ inspired us and gave us joy. Finally, on this day we glorify God not just for the faithfulness of the saints, but most of all for His faithfulness to the saints. All Saints' Day can be seen as the summation of the great church festivals and seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost because it reminds us that it is only by the perfect life and saving death of Jesus Christ that Christians are made saints in the sight of the God.