Friday, October 17, 2008

All Saints’ Day and an LDS Context

On November 1, some Christian faiths celebrate All Saints’ Day. Although we don’t officially recognize this holiday in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are some traditions of this day that we have inherited and can have meaning for us.

All Saints’ Day is also called “All Hallows” or “Hallowmas.” Thus, Halloween, or “All Hallows Eve,” is the day before All Saints’ Day, or October 31. According to tradition, November 1st is the time to celebrate the lives of the martyrs. 
Traditionally, this holiday is directly followed by “All Souls’ Day” on November 2, also called “The Day of the Deceased” or “The Day of the Dead,” although some cultures have blended All Saints’ and All Souls into one day. The context of these dates gives Halloween traditions a little more relevance. For example, Halloween obsessions with death make more sense when the next two days are supposed to be holidays about the dead.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don’t have canonized Saints, but we do believe that we are all saints in the kingdom of God. This is why the tradition All Saints’ Day festival hymn, “For All the Saints,” is also included in our LDS hymnbook

“For All the Saints” was written by Anglican Bishop William Walsham How and published in 1864. When we sing this hymn in our congregations, we think of “All Souls” as “All Saints”; we think of the “saints” in this hymn as the many beloved people we have known and loved who have departed from this life and are now at rest.

Below are the lyrics of “For All the Saints,” as included in our hymnbook:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

Oh, may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the Saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

Thou art our rock, our fortress, and our might;
Thou, Lord, our captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, our one true light.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

This wonderful hymn expresses faith in Jesus Christ as “our rock, our fortress, and our might” and as our captain. As November begins, as the holiday season approaches, the words of this All Saints’ Day hymn can lend us strength, faith, and courage, even though during the next few months may be when we miss deceased loved ones most.

Among several other additional verses, Bishop How originally had these two beautiful additional verses appear between the two final verses in our hymn:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

In this season, we can remember all the saints, all our loved ones who have passed from this life. As Bishop How’s hymn says, “Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed. . . . But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day.” On this All Saints’ Day, we can remember the hope of that glorious day and the faith we can have in Jesus Christ which comforts all our pain and enlivens all our hope.

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