October 31- Nov 2 are busy days religiously… or at least they used to be: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. On Nov. 1 (or the corresponding Sunday) we honor all the saints, past, present and future. The next day is All Souls’ Day– which is a day to memorialize and honor the dead (Day of the Dead, anyone?). But most Protestants skip them.
It’s largely, I think, because most Protestants have a complicated relationship with the saints. We don’t ask them for intercession when we pray, but I should emphasize (again) that Catholics do not worship the saints. All Christians worship the same, and only God– we just disagree and kill each other over what’s the best way to do it. Driving our creator to drink since 4 BC/E.
The kerfuffle surrounding the saints started with the Reformation. Like I talked about last week, a grumpy German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 topics for debate to the church door in Wittenburg (on Oct. 31), and the situation quickly got out of hand. As the infant Protestant sects sprang up, some of the new thinkers really took the idea of breaking with the Catholic Church and ran with it– to the point of destroying church interiors by smashing ornaments, whitewashing paintings, and other forms of iconoclasm. They proclaimed religious artwork idolatry (and therefore evil) and made it a priority to have a stark place of worship. This trend took off among Calvinists, and spread to England where the Puritans brought it to the colonies. For his part, Luther was very critical of iconoclasm and called it idolatry. By his thinking, there was no harm in religious art– it was another way to glorify God and creation. But to get hung up on the image was to invite trouble.
The new Protestants generally agreed on dispensing with intercession and emphasized the individual’s relationship and ability to pray directly to the Lord. After all, God is a parent (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a hen protecting her brood, a mother in labor), and one should be able to come to their parent with anything.
Admittedly, the reasons for why All Souls Day gets marginalized (except as an excuse to dress up as a skeleton and eat spooky candy again) are not as well known to me. Maybe since we have several other days to honor the departed on the calendar now, it’s seen as superfluous. In any case, by ignoring it, we probably are missing out on a good experience. In France, the tradition for All Souls is to decorate the graves of loved ones with carnations– flowers that last practically forever. There’s plenty of good in that, or even just taking a moment to think about a dear departed soul and maybe saying a prayer for someone who recently experienced such a loss, or for yourself if you still keenly feel that loss.
As humans, we are both saint and sinner, traits often reflected in our daily actions. So, we should at least have a knowledge about the faithful who came before us, respect their words and deeds, and look to them as role models. Check out Saint Paul… born Saul, he originally persecuted Christians and was an accessory to the murder of Saint Stephen, before converting and becoming an apostle and eventually a martyr under an unsympathetic government. That’s a life definitely worth honoring, and you will still be monotheist. Get thee to an information source (try New Advent, yes, it’s Catholic, but by golly do they have information!), and glorify God with your learning. Celebrate a little, too. After all, that’s the occasion.