The impulse of Christians to express the communion of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ by a commemoration of those who, having professed faith in the living Christ in former days, had entered into the nearer presence of their Lord, and especially of those who had crowned their witness by giving up their lives for sake of the Gospel of Christ, goes back to the early days of the Christian Church. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonder Worker), writing before the year 270, refers to the observance of a festival of all martyrs, though he does not give a date. A century later, Ephrem the Deacon (†373) notes such an observance in Edessa on the thirteenth of May, and John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople (†407) writes that a festival of All Saints was observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Constantinople at the time of his episcopate, which remains the feast of All Saints in the Orthodox Churches to this day. In the West, a commemoration of All Saints became established with the rededication of the Pantheon at Rome – originally a pagan temple dedicated to “all the gods” – as a Christian church under the name Sancta Maria ad Martyres (Saint Mary and All Martyrs) by Pope Boniface the Fourth on the thirteenth of May in the year 610. In Ireland and England the focus of the day was slightly different. Some manuscripts of the Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee (fl. early ninth century) note a commemoration of All Martyrs on the seventeenth of April and of All Saints of Europe on the twentieth of April. The metrical English calendar (tenth century, probably from Winchester) also includes the latter commemoration. However, from about the year 800 the first of November gained in popularity as a commemoration of All Saints. Alcuin (†804) mentions the date in a letter of that year, and manuscripts of the Martyrology of Bede have it as a marginal addition at about the same time. Arno, bishop of Salzburg (†821), had it adopted by a synod in the year 798.
The date of the first of November is probably based on the dedication of a chapel in Saint Peter’s, Rome, for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world” by Pope Gregory the Third (†741). A November commemoration of All Saints was already widespread in Frankish lands during Charlemagne’s reign (†814). Pope Gregory the Fourth, under Gallican influence, ordered the observance of the first of November as a feast of All Saints, and by the early ninth century an English calendar (of Oxford) ranks the day as a principal feast. There were over twelve hundred ancient church dedications to All Saints in England, a number surpassed only by dedications to Saint Mary the Virgin.
All Saints’ Day has been preserved in all editions of the Book of Common Prayer, from 1549 onwards. In the 1979 Prayer Book, All Saints’ Day is classed as a Principal Feast, along with Easter Day, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany; and alone of the seven, All Saints’ Day may be observed on the Sunday following, in addition to its observance on its fixed date. It is also recognized as a baptismal feast, being one of the four recommended in the 1979 Prayer Book for the administration of Holy Baptism.
prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980),
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, and other sources
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
I will bless the LORD at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
I will glory in the LORD; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; *
let us exalt his Name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.
The LORD ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.
1 John 3:1-3
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Lesson, Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).