In the New Testament, “saints” are all the baptized, the entire membership of the Body of Christ, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. But from early times, the word “saint” came to be applied particularly to persons whose lives bore exemplary witness to the grace of God in Christ, whose witness was recalled with gratitude by later generations of believers.
Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day, as a kind of extension of the feast of All Saints, on which the Church commemorated that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown to the wider fellowship of the Church. At first a commemoration of the departed of the monastic orders, under Odilo of Cluny (†1049) it was extended to include “all the dead who have existed from the beginning of the world…until the end of time”. Evidence for its English celebration is found in the Monastic Constitutions of Archbishop Lanfranc (†1089) and in at least four ancient dedications of churches and a college at Oxford. All Souls is also a day for particular remembrance of faithful departed family members and friends.
The observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of its association with the doctrine of purgatory and the abuses associated with Masses offered for the dead, but a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread reclamation of this commemoration among Anglicans and to its inclusion in the calendars of the Church of England, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada, among others.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.