October 31st begins a stretch of time known informally as Hallowtide – an Old English word for “Saints Season”. One way to understand this holy moment in the Church Calendar is call it a Triduum, a three-day period.
October 31st, Halloween, is the opening celebration in which we acknowledge the thinning of the barrier between the living and the dead. Some say this derives from the language of Celtic Christianity, but it’s very difficult to discern fact from fad when it comes to referencing the belief in practice of the early Church in the British isles, so let’s not take that too seriously. In any case, this evening, All hallows eve, is the liturgical start of All Saints Day itself, and the party begins.
All Saints Day, November 1st, is when we particularly celebrate the church triumphant – that victory over sin and death itself that God’s people have in Christ and even now enjoy in paradise, even though they have not yet tasted of the general Resurrection of the Body.
All Souls Day, November 2nd is when the Roman Church remembers those who are still in purgatory, and have not yet attained to the beatific vision of the Saints in heaven. This is not an Anglican take on the holy day, obviously, and so the optional commemoration on this day in our prayer books now typically turn it the commemoration of the faithful departed. So rather than talking about those in heaven and those in purgatory, as the Romans erroneously do, we celebrate two different aspects or realities that the Saints departed presently experience. November 1st is the day of joy in triumph, we give thanks to God for their victory in him, and we are stirred up to follow their good examples that we might share in that eternal inheritance with them. November 2nd is the day of rest and mourning, where we lament the ongoing present reality of death, acknowledge the pain of losing people to that death even temporarily, and are comforted in the knowledge that they are at rest with the Lord.
Beyond this triduum one could also identify hallowtide as an octave. An octave is a stretch of eight days, which is represented in our prayer book by the fact that when All Saints Day is not on a Sunday we are allowed to celebrate it on the first Sunday in November. This results in a span of 7 days (November 1st through 7th) in addition to the evening of October 31st bringing us to a total of eight different days in which we could be celebrating the hallowed ones continuously!
One way this can be observed is by singing. This customary has proposed the following recommendations for observing the All Saints / All Souls dynamic throughout the octave:
- 31st: Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
- 1st: For all the saints, and, Lord who shall come to thee
- 2nd: Behold a host arrayed in white, and, O Lord my God I cry to thee
- 3rd: Who are these like stars appearing
- 4th: I sing a song of the saints of God
- 5th: The saints of God! their conflicts past
- 6th: Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
- 7th: I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds