Festival of All Saints

All Saints is one of the feasts of the Church year which occupies the second rank of festivals, after the great trio of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, All Saints Day runs in the pack with Trinity, Ascension, Epiphany, and a few other festivals. In Roman Catholic circles these were days of general obligation, when every congregation was obliged to observe the festival. This was not true for the many festivals which dot the calendar of the liturgical year. After all, if one observed them all, there would be time for little else. Not even the monastic communities which gather daily observe them all. A parish or community would observe some, often a local saint’s feast, the patron of the parish, the priest’s favorite, etc. But they all observed this one.

This festival has an interesting history. Running strongly through the whole thing is a baptism of pagan culture. The Christians were not fighting against the culture as much as they were adapting it, fitting it into the Christian sphere. This has long been the genius of Christianity, it is not rigidly tied to one culture. Where Hinduism or Islam often has a difficult time crossing cultural divides, Christianity has seemed to be particularly adaptable in this. Now, that is not to say that every Christian sitting in an LCMS pew this Sunday is good at this. Christianity also has its cultural brakemen as well. Contrary to the accounts of his life I grew up with, St. Boniface (Wynfrith) spent much of his career wrestling already baptized Christians out of pagan practices and into what he saw as normative Christian behavior and worship. He was not fond of recycled pagan elf-prayers in church or services conducted at sites sacred to Thunor, one of the Saxon deities. He was the Apostle to the Saxons and this may explain some behaviors we see in the LCMS today – being largely made up of Saxons.

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