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All Souls

All Souls Day

All Souls

History of All Souls Day

The origins of All Souls date to 1048 when Abbot Saint Odilo of the monastery of Cluny declared this celebration to commemorate departed Christians. In the course of several hundred years the feast spread across Europe to England and finally in the fourteenth century Rome made it an official feast on November 2.

“This millennium-old celebration is an expression of the Christian belief in the Communion of Saints, the mystical solidarity uniting all of the Body of Christ living on earth with those who have died and are now one with God. This web allows spiritual energy to flow between the living and the dead by way of prayer, various good works and especially Holy Communion, which unites the Head and all the Body of Christ.” (Edward Hayes, The Old Hermit’s Almanac, p. 312)

Various cultures have taken on this celebration and keep it with different observances. In many places, cemeteries are given special attention so that graves might be decorated with candles or flowers. In Latin America, this day is known as “Dia de los Muertos” or the “Day of the Dead” and is an occasion of great festivity. Bakeries sell sweets and cakes in the shapes of skulls, skeletons, and coffins. In Mediterranean cultures, children receive gifts of candy. It is also common to set up shrines to remember those who have died.


Prayers, readings, and litanies for the feast of All Souls

Prayers for All Souls Day

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.


We seem to give them back to you, dear God,
who gave them to us.
Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their returning.
Not as the world gives, do you give, O Lover of Souls!
What you give, you do not take away.
For what is yours is ours always, if we are yours.
Life is eternal; and love is immortal;
and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.

Lift us up, strong Son of God,
that we may see further;
cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly;
draw us closer to yourself that we may know ourselves nearer to our beloved who are with you.
And while you prepare a place for us,
prepare us for that happy place, that where they are, and you are,
we too may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

source of the horizon prayer

Merciful God,
your Son is the resurrection and the life
of all the faithful;
raise us from the death of sin
to the life of righteousness
that at the last,
with all your faithful servants,
we may come to your eternal joy;
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
[who is alive with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and for ever]

NZPB p.689
The above prayer is a revision of a 1549 collect for the funeral Eucharist.
Cranmer probably borrowed it from a collect in the Dirige in Bishop Hilsey’s Primer of 1539. Cf. the 1552 & 1662 final prayer in the Burial Service. Also Alternative Service Book (CofE) p834. Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. cf. ASB p612 Collect for Easter 3. NB Jn 11:25f

Father of all,
we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer.
Grant them your peace,
let light perpetual shine upon them,
and in your loving wisdom and almighty power,
work in them the good purpose of your perfect will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Book of Alternative Services (Anglican Church of Canada) p.429

Kontakion of the Departed

Images of the grave in darkness are contrasted with the eternal light of Christ and underscored with the ancient Kiev chant, the Kontakion of the Departed, and the chimes and chant of the Orthodox monks in Ukraine.

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more;
neither sighing but life everlasting.
Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man:
and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth,
and unto earth shall we return:
for so thou didst ordain,
when thou created me saying:
“Dust thou art und unto dust shalt thou return.”
All we go down to the dust;
and weeping o’er the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

From Holy Women, Holy Men

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.

It is believed by many scholars that the commemoration of all the saints on November first originated in Ireland, spread from there to England, and then to the continent of Europe. However, the desire of Christian people to express the intercommunion 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 days past, had entered into the nearer presence of their Lord, and especially of those who had crowned their profession with heroic deaths, was far older than the early Middle Ages.

Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day — “All Souls’ Day”— as a sort of extension of All Saints on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.

Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.

From Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints

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