That’s right! November 1st is All Saint’s Day – or in the French, Toussaint’s Day. Odd isn’t it? I guess technically, it is “tous saints” but it is the day each year that Christian denominations celebrate the saints who have contributed to the betterment of God’s kingdom. Frankly, and this gets a little dense, how one approaches All Saint’s Day depends on your theological position.
In the Catholic Church, for example, there are three different kinds of saints. There are those who are still living and fighting the spiritual fight on the earth, against the forces of darkness, referred to as the “Church Militant.” Then there are those who comprise the “Church Triumphant;” those saints who are in heaven, and finally, the “Church Suffering” – those saints who are in limbo; dead but not yet in heaven – in Purgatory.
Traditionally, Nov 1st is the day that the Church Triumphant is celebrated. In other words, we remember those saints who have arrived in heaven. The next day, Nov. 2nd, is traditionally called All Soul’s Day, and in the Catholic Church, is set aside for remembering those who are in Purgatory but have not yet arrived in heaven.
Christian denominations other than Catholic tend to only divide the saints into two groups – the living and those who are in heaven. There is no Purgatory in the Methodist, or other non-Catholic denominations. Fundamentally, there is also a theological difference in the way that people think about heaven and eternity.
Another point that I should make known is that the Catholic Church celebrates certain saints on each day of the year. But throughout the generations there have been many believers who have given their lives as martyrs or defenders of the faith and have died without specific days being assigned to them for remembrance. Therefore, more than 1000 years ago, the Catholic Church decided to remember all the saints, known and unknown – currently celebrated on Nov. 1st each year. It is believed that because there is a brotherhood of all believers, that these saints who are now in heaven intercede with God through Christ for us on a daily basis. Although they are not divine, they have influence in heaven and that is why our brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith pray to invoke the assistance of the saints in heaven.
A contrary view is found in most of the other Western Christian denominations. For example, the prevailing belief in most churches is that as New Testament believers, we are all able to approach Christ directly through prayer and do not need the intercessory prayers of those saints who have died before and are already in heaven. So All Saint’s Day is celebrated in such a way as to honor all believers – both dead and living, as an acknowledgment that we have all been in “communion” together as having a common element in our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Similarly, on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd, the Catholic Church honors those who comprise the Church Suffering, defined as those who are in Purgatory, while other Christian denominations celebrate the dearly departed who have died in the last year. The association with All Soul’s Day does not acknowledge any particular state of the soul as much as a remembrance of those who have left this earth since the last memorial service. Usually, the names of the departed members of the congregation are read, one at a time, and sometimes a bell is rung, as a reminder of the loss of the person to the church.
Interestingly, there is some attachment to the day of Halloween. The original idea of providing treats to beggars was to enlist their help in offering prayers to God in the hopes of moving people from Purgatory to heaven. This effort is compounded by the people who pray for the recently deceased in church services throughout the land.
However you were raised, or currently look at the theological implications of differing, and sometimes opposing, church views, one thing that we can stand united on is the fact that as believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we intend to end up in heaven. The verse for tonight is Ps. 30:4, “Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name.” Short, but to the point.
My encouragement tonight is to let you know that God is worthy of our praise. And today, as on all other days, we can give thanks to God for all the believers who have given of themselves to advance the Kingdom of God on this earth. My prayer is that if you have lost a loved one this past year, you may rest in the knowledge that there are people all over the world praying for them and their successful welcome into heaven. And as much as you sense the loss of those who have left us this past year, know that the angels in heaven celebrate the return home of those believers…….. Grace and Peace,