The Eve of the Feast of All Saints (AKA Halloween)

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
All Saints’ Eve
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today, or more appropriately this evening, is the eve before the feast of All Saints. Tomorrow is an important day in the life of the Church. All Saints’ Day and its twin feast of All Souls’ Day on 2 November are the days set aside when we who remain remember all those who have gone before us. For many Protestants, today is Reformation Day. Today celebrates the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the issues of the sale of indulgences in the Catholic Church, to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. This is celebrated as the unofficial beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It’s taken me a while to be reconciled to this, in truth. The Protestant Reformation caused many good reforms in the Church (both Roman Catholic and otherwise), but it also caused so much division and violence. Today it is perpetuated by finger-pointing and a lack of communion between the Protestant churches as a whole and the Roman Catholic Church. Good may have come from the evils of division, but the divisions are still evil. This is why I choose to honour instead the more ancient holiday of All Saints tomorrow and its eve tonight.

In the Church, traditionally, the evening of a given day is actually the beginning of the next, typically after Vespers (an even fixed hour prayer, typically between 5 and 7 pm) has been said. It is, typically, the beginning of the celebration. Think about Christmas Eve and it’s relationship to Christmas Day, we often think of Christmas Eve as fully part of Christmas and yet distinct. In my family we opened presents from and to those who wouldn’t be together on Christmas Day, but not the others. All Saints’ Eve, or All Hallow’s Eve as it is more anciently known, works like this as well. Tonight begins the celebration or commemoration of the lives of the Christian Saints.

It is, therefore, a day where we remember death. Death is a funny thing in Christianity. On the one hand death is a consequence of our sinfulness. It isn’t how God wanted us to exist, and it isn’t how we will exist in the life to come. Death is defeated in Christ and has no more sting. Yet, St Francis of Assisi calls the death we die when our souls are separated from our bodies, sister death. The Second Death, however, of Hell is for Francis an evil, one from which we must flee. Death is not only swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s resurrection, it is transformed. It becomes the passage by which most of us, those who die before Christ’s return, will move a step closer to God’s intended end for us, namely deification and the beatific vision, also known as life eternal in the presence of God. So today, to an extent, we begin the celebrations of Sister Death, she who has been transformed from serpent into friend. The Saints teach us not to fear death any longer, it has become part of the process of our redemption and deification.

Yet it isn’t simply death that we celebrate on All Saints and All Souls, we also celebrate the great and the weak in the faith who have died. We pray to them because they are not gone, death is not the end. We pray to them, just we as ask each other to pray for us. Fr Robert Barron, in the video below, will explain why so many Christians have prayed to the Saints. For many protestants it can seem that praying to the saints takes the place of praying to God in Christ and through the Spirit. This is not, suggest Fr Barron, how we ought to view it. Rather, just as when we ask those still living to pray for us we are not praying to them in place of God, we are praying to God through them. God has ordained that it is right for us to pray, that in fact his own will will be accomplished at times through our prayers. Therefore, we should not limit ourselves to ask only for the prayers of those around us now, but of those the Church has deemed particularly holy by the fruit of their lives, whether they are on this side of the veil or not.

I encourage you then, as you or your children get dressed in costumes and collect candy or party, to remember that tonight we prepare ourselves to celebrate those who have come before us and that we ought to ask them to intercede for us because God is not in competition with them, but rather works through them.

Sincerely yours,

David

8 comments on “The Eve of the Feast of All Saints (AKA Halloween)

  1. David,
    I’ll have to disagree with you, in love, on the praying to/through the departed saints.
    I didn’t watch the video yet, so I’m basing my response off of your remarks.

    Scripture is clear prayer is a form of worship, and worship is for God alone. In fact when believers fall down before angels in worship, it’s forbidden,

    Scripture is clear there is one mediator between man & God, Jesus – I Tim 2:5

    Scripture is clear there’s a “gulf” between realms, e.g, LK 16:26

    When we ask for fellow believers to pray for us in the here & now, they share in our earthly existence and common struggles, the saints in Heaven are not there as go-betweens for us, they are encircled around the Throne in praise & song.

    There’s simply no Biblical support for praying to saints in heaven, God hears us clearly who are here on earth, and He needs no help from those who have entered their eternal rest.

    Peace,
    Craig

    • Craig,

      Thank you for your comments. Allow me to respond, in love as well.

      First, we have a problem with your univocal use of the word prayer. Praying to saints is not the same as praying to God, it is an entreaty for prayer. Therefore it is not worship when we pray to saints, but supplication (like when we ask each other to pray for us). In the instances where humans bow down to angels, they are bowing down in worship, not praying to them or asking them to pray for them, so the analogy doesn’t work.

      You’re right, Scripture does tell us that there is only one mediator between man and God. However, there are at least two ways to look at this. First, if asking for prayer from the saints is mediation then asking for prayer from each other is also mediation and therefore not allowable. However, since we know that we can and ought to pray for one another and ask one another for prayers, then either it is not a mediation, or we need to understand lower levels of mediation as participating in the mediation of Christ. I incline to the latter.

      Scripture is not clear that there is a gulf between the realms. The passage you cite is a parable, which means we need to be wary of interpreting it literally (in the modern sense of that word). Second, the chasm is between Abraham’s Bosom and Hades, not Abraham’s Bosom and Earth or Heaven and Earth. Also, the parable is clearly about those who will reject Christ’s resurrection and the Gospel.

      Those in Heaven are also praying (Rev. 8.4). However, they aren’t meant to be go-betweens for us unless living humans are go-betweens for us. Also, they have not entered their eternal rest, they await the resurrection just like we do.

      Finally, the Bible may not give the explicit command to ask the dead to intercede for us, but neither does it disallow it. Frankly, to me, it makes metaphysical sense. Since we are created as are Heaven and Earth (and Hell), it stands to reason that all created realms have something to do with one another. If the angels who live eternally seeing God’s face are also concerned with us, as the Scriptures make clear, then why not the departed? Why would Christ make such a big deal of God being the God of the living and not the dead in reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? And why should the soul’s separation from the body mean a lack of concern for the goings on of the Earth? If the saints await the resurrection as we do, and desire God’s kingdom coming to Earth, as we do, then it stands to reason that they can be counted on to pray for us as well.

      Yours,
      David

  2. David,
    You make the assumption that the saints in heaven have gained the supernatural ability of omniscience or omnipresence, that they could be close enough to hear us or know all our thoughts and hear our petitions in their name…

    As for Lk 16, that is not unilaterally agreed as a parable, since Jesus names the actual individuals. The analogy still holds, there is a gulf between natural and eternal realms. Satan in the book of Job had access to heaven and earth, yet in Lk 10:18 we see Satan has fallen or been cast from heaven.

    As for the presumption saints in heaven can hear our prayers and intercede for us being metaphysically sound or making sense, the reverse is actually more accurate. Humans who have entered their eternal rest, to worship their Creator, would not have the ability nor prerogative to hear earthly prayers or thoughts, not the right to approach the throne to tell God what He already knows.

    The whole idea of asking each other to pray here on earth for each other bonds us, helps us participate, and helps keep us faithful. To ask the saints in heaven to “pray” for us is not at all the same as asking people who are still in the trenches with us to pray, and, to ask spirit beings to help us is to trust God less…

    Peace,
    Craig

    • Craig,

      As you have noted multiple times, the saints are with God. Now, while I would argue that this isn’t their eternal rest since they await the resurrection as we do, I nevertheless agree that they are with God and to that extent are further on the path of deification/sanctification than we are. Being so filled with God, seeing him insofar as they can without their bodies, would certainly, for me, allow for the possibility that they are, in a limited, creaturely sense, omniscient. Omnipresence I reject as a misunderstanding of where the saints are, let alone where God is (which is at once everywhere and nowhere).

      As for Lk 16, a rather pivotal point for your argument, Jesus only names one person in the entire story, Lazarus. Why? I’m not sure, perhaps, given the resurrection overtones of the story it is because of the Lazarus who was resurrected, but that’s pure speculation. Nevertheless, there’s only one name, so that’s a lot to base off of one name. Equally, the only gap given is between hades and Abraham’s bosom and Abraham does not reject sending Lazarus to the rich man’s brothers because it is impossible, but because it will not benefit them.”He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”” As for Satan, this analogy would require the saints being cast out of Earth in similar fashion to Satan being cast out of heaven, but if the goal of the Kingdom of Heaven is the reunification of Heaven and Earth, then we should not think of the saints being separated from Earth in the same fashion as Satan is separated from Heaven.

      On the metaphysical fitness of it, you say the saints, “would not have the ability nor prerogative to hear earthly prayers or thoughts, not the right to approach the throne to tell God what He already knows.” I’ve already responded to the ability side of things. Now, you say that would not have the right to approach the throne to tell God what he already knows. Two thoughts on this: First, in praising and worshipping God that is precisely what they’re doing. When the angels and saints sing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, he already knows that. So your statement needs to be qualified as to what kind of things God already knows that saints do and don’t have the right to tell him. Equally, why would the saints, who are in the presence of God, not have the right to intercede for us when we do? That is, why is it not an effrontery when we present to God things he already knows? Have they ceased praying for God’s will to be done on Earth as in Heaven? If not, why would not their prayers include praying for real people and situations on Earth now?

      You say that asking others here in this life to pray for us is different because it bonds us? If, as Hebrews says, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, ought we not to desire bonding with those who have come before as well?

      You say that to ask spirit beings to pray for us is to trust God less. How? That’s a bold statement, but it needs defending. Again, I would recommend watching the video, it’s not even two minutes long. Fr Barron argues that God does not compete with his creation. This is why asking others to intercede for us is not trusting God less, whether living or dead. Just as I love God through my love for wife, so too I pray to God when I ask others, living or dead, to pray for me.

  3. David,
    I’ve given some thought to your responses, and it hit me: I don’t really have the responsibility to disprove much. Since, as I thought over your unconvincing suppositions, I realized you really haven’t provided much support at all for the basis of praying to departed saints. Once you have something of substance on this, we can exchange further thoughts. I watched the video of the Fr., it was unmoving too.

    Peace,
    Craig

  4. I do not share the presupposition that the saints in heaven serve as intermediaries between the living and God. Praying for God’s will on earth, as living saints, is not equated with praying for His will on earth once a saint enters the Throne room. The saints in heaven ask how long until God restores Justice and they are told to rest. They don’t offer God any advice on handling the requests of the saints still struggling on earth. Rev 6:9-11

    • Craig,

      Good. This is a good place to begin. Let me first dispel some of your assumptions about my presuppositions. I have never said that the saints in Heaven are intermediaries. I will concede that they are only if the saints on earth also serve as intermediaries between us and God when we ask each other to pray for us. My whole starting place for asking the saints to intercede for us is the fact that not only are we allowed to ask fellow Christians to pray for us, we told to do so. Now, I do assume that there is a continuity between how we pray now and how dead Christians pray. I assume this because there is no reason given in Scripture to believe otherwise. Even your suggestion that the saints ask how long and are told to rest isn’t quite fitting since it seems to primarily be referring to those who died for the faith, namely martyrs. Equally, I find it hard to take a passage in the midst of the opening of the seals and say it is a hard and fast rule for what the dead in Christ are solely doing (namely resting and not praying) while they await the resurrection. As to the offering advice comment, I never said they offer advice, this is not a presupposition I hold. They no more offer advice to God by praying than we do, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t or don’t pray for us.

      You have suggested that the burden of proof lies with me, not you. But I wonder if this is true. After all, people having praying to saints longer than they haven’t been.

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