Vigiling the Solemnity of All Saints
I saw pumpkins in the supermarket last week, not the usual varieties, but the colour of deep orange, the kind used in North America to celebrate Halloween. Australia has jumped onto the Halloween celebration in the name of commerce on October 31.
Halloween refers to the night before All Hallows or All Hallows Eve. When we pray the ‘Our Father’ we pray “hallowed be your name”, to bless or honour the Father’s name. ‘All Hallows’ refers to all the honoured and blessed ones – our Saints. We know the feast of All Hallows as the feast of ‘All Saints’ celebrated on November 1. As a Solemnity, the highest-ranking feast day on the Church’s calendar, All Saints’ Day begins the evening prior with the Vigils of Evening Prayer. All Saints’ Day honours all those canonized saints (of which John Henry Newman is one of our most recent) and those unknown who dwell in the fullness of God. All Souls’ Day on November 2 follows where we commemorate our recently departed.
All Saints’ Day was established on May 13 609 C.E. by Pope Boniface IV. Pope Gregory III later moved it to November 1 in the mid-eighth century. November 1 had long been on the pagan Roman calendar to celebrate the completion of the harvests where pantries were (hopefully) full for the approaching winter. The pagan Irish harvest festival of Samhain also occurred at this time where people celebrated the harvest and the dead; they dressed up to frighten ghosts by the light of bonfires. In Australia we need to remember that by November in the Northern hemisphere the days are marked by darkness and cold temperatures where bonfires are welcome.
In the Bible, harvests are a key image for Judgement Day. The First Reading for the Mass of All Saints is from the Book of Revelation (7:2-4, 9-14) and it tells of God sending his angels to harvest the earth; gathering and storing all that is fruitful. This alludes to the gathering up of the faithful on the day of resurrection to heaven—a place of abundance and joy.
Where the secular or pagan feasts focus on earthly harvests and the dead, the Christian calendar transfigures them by shining a light on the afterlife and the heavenly banquet. For us here in Australia, where November sees us enjoying long hours of warm daylight, perhaps we need to make more of an effort to focus on the Saints who accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage.