Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges
Today I am starting a new series of reflections, in honour of All Saints’ Day.
Let me start with some words by way of background. Since at least the 5th Century AD, it has been the custom of many Christians to set aside a specific day in the Church’s calendar to celebrate all the saints, known and unknown. By the 8th century, Christians in western Europe had decided on 1st November as the official date for this festival, and this date has stayed the same ever since. At the Reformation, the Church of England decided to retain the festival. The first edition of the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1549, contains the following collect for All Saints’ Day : “O Almighty God, who hast knit thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord : Grant us grace to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys , which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord”. This collect is still used to day, although the festival is usually now celebrated on the Sunday nearest to 1st November, rather than necessarily on 1st November itself.
In old English, All Saints was sometimes referred to as All Hallows – the saints being the “hallowed” ones. By tradition, major church festivals begin the evening before the day itself, so the festival of All Hallows began on All Hallow’s Eve- this in turn became known as “Hallow e’en”, which is the origin of the modern word Halloween.
Associated with the festival of All Saints is the festival of All Souls, traditionally observed on 2nd November. This is a commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed. It is based on the belief that it is good and helpful to pray for the souls of those who have died. At the Reformation, this belief was challenged by many Protestants, and so the Church of England chose to omit the festival of All Souls from the Book of Common Prayer. However, in recent years many Church of England congregations have found it helpful to hold a service dedicated to remembering the faithful departed, and so some churches observe both All Saints and All Souls. This is our tradition here in the Churn Benefice.
The Prayer Book collect for All Saints’ Day reminds us that the saints provide us with examples of “virtuous and godly living”. In the days ahead, I shall look at the lives of some modern saints, and how their examples might help us as we try to live out our Christian faith amidst the challenges of the modern world.