December 1, 2020

Preparing to Honor the Saints

Saints Like You and Me, Mills

By Chaplain Mike

In some traditions, All Saints’ Day was celebrated on Nov. 1, while others will honor the saints this coming Sunday, the first in November.

All Saints’ may be compared to American national holidays like Veterans Day or Memorial Day. On it we remember and honor the lives, faithfulness, deeds, teachings, and martyrdoms of God’s people, known and unknown, throughout the ages of the Church. We remind ourselves that they, like us, were but ordinary human beings—limited, sinful, and flawed in many ways—whose lives were inundated by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, so that they in turn overflowed in faith, hope, and love.

This is one celebration about which non-liturgical evangelicals know and care little. Besides the generally a-historical and non-liturgical perspective of revivalistic Christianity, many also view All Saints’ Day as utterly “Catholic” and therefore to be avoided. However, the earliest Protestants did not do away with this commemoration. Foundational Lutheran documents, for example, show that they sought to reform the festival, not abandon it.

Martin Luther’s close colleague, Philip Melanchthon, included an article about “The Invocation of the Saints” in The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession. After Melanchthon argues against the teaching that we should pray to the saints or invoke their help, he argues for practicing a proper honor to them.

Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved.

  • The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful businessmen, Matt. 25:21, 23.
  • The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20.
  • The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling.

Furthermore, Philip Melanchthon affirms that it is entirely reasonable to assume that the saints pray for us, as do the angels according to Scripture. But he protests the assertion that we must therefore invoke the saints or view them as mediators of redemption in any way. He objects to treating the saints as sources of merit, which may accrue to believers on earth through invoking them. No honor that belongs solely to Christ should be transferred to them. He also details the many abuses to which false ways of exalting the saints had led in his day. Nevertheless, he calls the church to honor the saints, learn from them, and imitate them.

The reformer’s approach shows us that Protestants may properly keep All Saints’ Day without participating in deficient theology or corrupt practices.

When we recite The Apostles’ Creed and confess our faith in “the communion of saints,” we are acknowledging our living unity with the church in all times and places. The Book of Revelation portrays those who have died in Christ not only worshiping before the throne, but also lifting up laments and intercessions for the church on earth (Rev. 6:9-10).

If one believes, as I do, that the spiritual realm is not some “place” far away, beyond the most distant star, but rather another dimension of reality that is all around us, then the spirits of the just are not far off, but close at hand and deeply interested in the fulfillment of God’s plan in our lives and in the world. Absent from the body, those who have gone before us are present with the Lord and still one with us in the Body of Christ.

Furthermore, although dead, their lives and examples still speak. Studying the lives of the saints, hearing their words, reflecting on the lessons they learned, analyzing the ways they answered the question, “How do I walk with Christ in my world?” and taking warning from their mistakes and failures, we can glean enormous benefit for our lives today.

I have seen strong, mature American adults reduced to tears at a Veterans’ Day commemoration. The sight of the flag, the playing of “Taps,” the solemn dignified movements of men and women in uniform, the reading of names, the singing of a patriotic song, the invocation “lest we forget”—these simple acts move those who love their country and give them opportunity to express profound thanksgiving and honor for those who sacrificed their lives for our personal and political freedom.

How can we care less, how can we feel less, how can we do less for the “holy nation” of saints who have marched beneath the banner of the cross? May God grant to his people a blessed All Saints’ celebration!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

“For All the Saints,” by William W. How, 1864


  1. ALL Saints Day is rather quite fitting.

    As we (those who have been born again) are saints.

    It is not just for those who are prayed to when they are dead!

    • Quite right! We born from above ones are the saints, whether we are dead or alive now. We pray to the Father in Heaven, not to dead human beings. They can do nothing. The Bible says nothing about praying to dead people. They are either in heaven with God or in Hell with the Devil and there is no place in the Bible that says to pray to any of them.

    • It’s a day to celebrate those who have entered into the glory of heaven. Those who “see face to face”, while we’re still seeing through the “dark mirror”. Whether we pray to them or not, whether we’re absolutely assured of a place among them or not, they are there and we are not. Chaplain Mike gave a Protestant perspective on the day, anyways…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      As we (those who have been born again) are saints.

      It is not just for those who are prayed to when they are dead!

      Every time I have heard someone say this, it has been the initial prepwork for an in-your-face Catholic-bashing monologue/rant.

  2. Every year on All Saints day in the LCMS congregations I have been a member of, the day is marked by the Pastor reading the names of all those members who have died since the founding of the congregation. We call it the ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’. No music plays, but a bell tolls after each name is read. The names of husbands and wives and even their children are often read together. In older congregations this can take no small amount of time. By the end everyone is in tears and we usually finish with all the verses of the hymn ‘For all the Saints’ and ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns.’

    It’s a powerful, powerful, service, and one I look forward to every year.

    • Yes – and that’s the power of the Catholic Litany of Saints, too. (And the Biblical geneologies too, come to that.) Even if you don’t know more than a sentence or two about any person named, and even that much for only half or so…in those names are our history.

  3. I read somewhere the phrase “celebrating God’s triumphs in redeemed humanity.” I love that. To me, that sums up All Saints’ Day as well as anything can.

  4. My ELCA congregation – and others I know – will also read the names of the deceased (like the LCMS congregation mentioned above). We also will sing all the verses of that great hymn ‘For all the Saints’ – 4 as we process in, and 3 as we go out into the world.
    This was a very nice piece on a Protestant theology regarding ‘the saints’ – honoring them, learning from them and imitating them. Thank you.

  5. textjunkie says

    Love All Saints’ Day. Some of the best hymns for kids on that day–

    I sing a song of the saints of God
    Patient, and brave, and true
    Who toiled and fought and lived and died
    for the Lord they loved and knew!
    And one was a doctor, and one was a priest,
    and one was slain by a fierce wild beast–
    and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
    why I shouldn’t be one too!

    –which is pretty funny when you’re six years old and thinking, “What was that in the middle there about the wild beast?” ::chuckle::

    But the point is made: They are a role model to consider.

    • Well, in the vein of encouraging six year olds to seek martyrdom… 😉

      From Richard Crashaw’s “A Hymn to the Name and Honour of the Admirable St. Teresa”:

      “Scarce has she learn’d to lisp the name
      Of martyr, yet she thinks it shame
      Life should so long play with that breath
      Which spent can buy so brave a death.
      She never undertook to know
      What death with love should have to do;
      Nor has she e’er yet understood
      Why to show love she should shed blood;
      Yet though she cannot tell you why,
      She can love, and she can die.

      Scarce has she blood enough to make
      A guilty sword blush for her sake;
      Yet has she’a heart dares hope to prove
      How much less strong is death than love.

      Be love but there, let poor six years
      Be pos’d with the maturest fears
      Man trembles at, you straight shall find
      Love knows no nonage, nor the mind.
      ‘Tis love, not years or limbs that can
      Make the martyr, or the man.”

      • textjunkie says

        hee! Yeah, I remember the story of little Teresa and her even littler brother heading off to seek martyrdom at the hands of the infidels–kids in those days, I swear…. 😉

        But still, the last verse always got me:
        You can meet them in lanes, or shops, or at sea,
        In church, or on trains, in school, or at tea–
        for the saints of God are just folks like me,
        and I mean to be one, too!

        (Or something like that–the versions of the hymn I can find online to doublecheck my memory aren’t the right ones… 😉

        • Yeah, that bit always made me laugh; Teresa dragging her little brother along as she runs away from home to be a martyr to the Moors. “Bye mom, bye Dad, I’m just going off to be killed! Oh, and I’m taking José with me!”

          You can see how Catholicism has a long history of repressing female empowerment, can’t you? Just imagine how she would have blossomed if only she could have been a priest!


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Isn’t the feminine form of “priest” PRIESTESS?

          • Dear, sweet, innocent Headless. Have you not heard of Roman Catholic Women Priests? Why, they’re all over the place, ordaining genuine Roman Catholic priests – who are women!

            They get very annoyed if you call them priestesses, or say they may be Catholic but not Roman Catholic, or not genuine priests, or maybe not even Catholic but some form of non-denominational Christian (a lot of them seem to be attached to Lutheran or Baptist or Methodist or some other denomination for the use of facilities such as worship space, since the mean ol’ Catholic Church won’t let their local parish priest hire them on).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            In English (not Newspeak or txtg), the feminine form of “Priest” is “Preistess.”

            NOT “Womanpriest.”

            That’s on a level of clunkiness with “GLBTQ” or “Global Replace String “man” with String “person”.

  6. If All Saints’ Day is neglected, the immediately following All Souls’ Day is treated even worse. It’s either completely forgotten or muddled with All Saints’.

    November is considered the month of the Holy Souls in the Catholic tradition – the whole month. So you can pray for and with your deceased family, friends, benefactors (as the older prayers like to remind us), and beyond – all the faithful departed, all “those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith”, as it says in Eucharistic Prayer I.

    I like to complain about the Cathedral in Los Angeles as being unbearably beige and stripped-down modernist good taste, but to give credit where it’s due, I really, really like their tapestries of the Communion of Saints:

    • Thank you, Martha. Those are beautiful! Now I want to see them in person and find out who everyone is.

    • Thanks for the links to those tapestries, Martha. I love them too.

      • Every time I see a picture of the Cathedral of Our Lady, Queen of Angels, it makes my hands itch to start slapping on coats of paint and plasterwork decoration everywhere.

        But they got it right with the tapestries.


        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Maybe covering EVERYTHING with Tapestries would help?

          (Especially the statue of Popeye/Mary…)

          • I actually think that statue might work as a young Joan of Arc (while she was still a shepherdess before she became the figurehead of the French army) and I do see what they were trying to do, but –

            – eh. Not so successful in the execution. I’m not particularly big into Marian devotion myself, and that statue makes me wince.

  7. Steve Newell says

    I believe that every Christian should study the history of the Church and the writings of the Church Fathers. We can learn so much from those who have gone before us.

    As Tertullian wrote in the Second Century AD “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”.

    • Couldn’t agree more.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Problem is, a lot of Evangelicals, Nondenominationals, and other non-liturgical Protestants have a Mormonesque view of church history. That is:

        Christ founded the One True Church in 33 AD, and It Was Just Like Us. But after the end of the Book of Acts, the church went apostate (usually into Romish Popery) and became a Satanic Counterfeit. Until, that is, (in the words of Martha from Ireland) “We Came Along (anything from the 16th century Reformers to 1956 Truly Godly Genuine Pure Bible Personal Revelation To Pastor Billy-Bob, Founder of Our One True Church)” and We Alone Restored Original New Testament Christianity. (Eagle: just substitute “Joseph Smith” for “Pastor Billy-Bob” and you have the essentials of the Mormon origin story. As you could do with William Miller or David Koresh or even Jim Jones. Where does it all end?)

        And this leaves the member of such churches without any solid historical trace between the “Holy History” of Bible times and the founding of their particular church. Well over a thousand-year gap during which there WAS no True Church. And without a solid historical trace, said “Holy History” becomes just another mythology “once upon a time…”, divorced from any connection to the present.

        1) Maybe this is why Evangelicals are so obsessed with Biblical Archaeology to “Ark-ology” — it’s the only way they have left to give them the solid historical evidence and connection. (And in the process play “I’M RIGHT! SEE? SEE? SEE?” with skeptics.)

        2) Extreme “Reformed” versions of Islam are also destroying their solid historical trace, such as when the Wahabi who run Saudi Arabia bulldozed the still-surviving houses of Mohammed and other early Islamic figures in Mecca “to prevent Idolatry” and replaced them with public toilets. Another historical connection gone, until the Koran becomes just another storybook of mythological “holy history” without backing evidence.

  8. But which saints? Different churches have different saints. Some of them curse each other. There are saints who fought against Protestantism…against one or another of the credal councils…

    And which Protestant figures would you declare to be saints? Luther the anti-semite? (Not that that would be terribly unusual.) Calvin, who founded a police state? Pat Robertson? Everybody’s grandmother…?

    Nice art, by the way. Funny how their diversity doesn’t extend to their clothing. (Everybody’s dressed in the same Jedi suit.)

    • A typical example of someone unclear on the concept…

      Oh, and sorry the art doesn’t meet your highly refined sense of political correctness.

    • textjunkie says

      But which saints? Different churches have different saints. Some of them curse each other. There are saints who fought against Protestantism…against one or another of the credal councils…

      Yeah, funny, ain’t it. Sainthood is very much in the eye of the beholder… or the heart of the seeker…

    • As a very traditional Irish Catholic, replete with the history of the Eight Hundred Years, I am saying that yes, it is entirely possible that Luther, Calvin, Pat Robertson and my granny could be saints.

      That’s why All Saints’ Day commemorates all the saints; we know those who have been raised to the altars of the church, but there are others we do not know who are equally saints.

      And that’s why All Souls’ Day follows, for the rest of us – the departed members of the Church Militant, not damned but not having perservered in growth to be admitted immediately into heaven without the transformative agency of purgation, and those we have no idea about but are clinging to the mercy of God on their behalf (my cousin who killed himself, that neighbour who drank and whored around, but would give you the shirt off his back, that man who rejected all attempts to share the Good News of Christ with him because early experiences with the church embittered him to deny God) – everyone like us, in other words; the ordinary Jacks and Jills who are stumbling through this Valley of Tears.

      The notion of the robes in the picture above seems to me to have two or three elements: (1) the Scriptural reference to those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (2) deliberate timelessness so that you can’t tell by clothing who lived three hundred or thirty or three years ago, so we can’t say “Yeah, but things were different back then, it was easier to be a saint or a believer, they didn’t have SCIENCE!!!!” (for one) (3) symbolising the unity of the Body of Christ in the Communion of Saints.

  9. “In some churches the communion rail extends out from the front wall and bends around the front of the altar. What if the rail extended through the wall where we can’t see and joined together on the other side? We’d then have a completed circle. This is a good way to ponder “all the company of heaven.” Even though we can’t see our fellow saints, we have the promise of God’s Word that in Christ we are all one. What the saints now have in full-life and salvation-we also receive as we join in this sacred meal.”

    – From “This is Heaven on Earth” posted on the Missouri Synod website (author unknown)