All Saints, All Souls, and Dia de los Muertos

By Marjorie George 

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The lines are thin that mark the boundaries of the celebrations of life and death in South Texas. From Halloween (more correctly, All Hollow’s Eve) on October 31 through All Souls’ Day on November 2, influences of early Christianity, the structured Roman Catholic Church, and Mexican folk rituals mix into a multi-colored pot that is part witches brew and part holy water.  

As the night before All Saints’ Day, Halloween precedes the “thinning of the veil,” a symbolic dissolution of the boundaries that separate the living and the dead. The notion that all who are in Christ – living or dead – are alive in Christ is a mark of Anglican theology. Traditionally, from perhaps the ninth century, Christians have remembered those who have gone before, especially those who “have crowned their profession with heroic deaths” in the words of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (page 436). The observation became normalized when Pope Gregory IV ordered church-wide observance of such a day, now All Saints’ Day, which we celebrate on November 1.

Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day – as a sort of extension of All Saints’    on which the Church remembered the less-well-known faithful who have died in the Lord. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends. The observance of a wide-spread All Souls’ Day was abolished during the Reformation but continues as a holy day in the Roman Catholic Church and has received renewed interest among Anglicans. It is an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church, titled All Faithful Departed in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Often this day is folded into our All Saints’ remembrances.  

With long-obscured origins, the Mexican culture adds to the pot the celebration of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Some say the spirits of the dead cross over the thin veil at that time and visit their families from October 31 to November 2. In celebration and welcoming, families make altars and place ofrendas (offerings) of food, candles, incense, yellow marigolds known as cempazuchitl, and photos of their loved ones.  

All of these celebrations and commemorations, the secular and the sacred, tumble together in our part of the country. Dia de los Muertos altars are constructed in many formal Episcopal churches, photos of loved ones decorate the altar steps in others, and the solemnity of saintliness is stressed in still others with the intoning of the names of all in the parish who have died in the past year. In all, the pot overflows with the blessings of God in the joy of the living Christ and all who follow him. 

Marjorie George is Communications Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at

This article is from the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Reflections magazine. To read the entire magazine, click here.




 Welcome, All Hallow´s Eve — The Christian Roots of Halloween Christians are often surprised to learn that Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve in traditional church parlance, has a strong and rightful place in the liturgical calendar as one of the holiest nights of the year. Read about its origins at

Is Halloween a Witches Brew?
What is this mishmash of innocent fun, ugly pranks, and witches’ taunts? And what indeed, might be “holy” about All Hallow’s Eve? From the website of Christianity Today:

The Christian holiday of All Saints’ Day honors and recognizes all of the saints of the Christian church, many of whom were martyrs. The church sets this day aside to celebrate over 10,000 recognized saints. Did you know that All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day were originally in May? Learn more about why they were moved to November at:

What is Dia de los Muertos? Translated to English, this is “The Day of the Dead.” In actuality, Dia de los Muertos is two days spent in honor of the dead. The first day celebrates infants and children who have died. This group is believed to have a special place in heaven, and they are referred to as “angelitos” or little angels. The second day is in honor of adults who have passed away. While Americans shy away from talking about death, our Mexican counterparts embrace it.  Learn more about the customs at

 In Mexico, it is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2. City streets, particularly near cemeteries, are filled with papel picado (brightly colored tissue paper flags) flowers, and candy calaveras (skulls and skeletons).  For more information on the customs surrounding this day, visit this website,

 More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered Aztec natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death; one the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. It is known today as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  For more information on the history, traditions and symbology of this ritual, visit

Q – Can you say how many churches in the Diocese of West Texas share the name of All Saints? Answer at the bottom of the page.

 Collect and Readings for All Saints’ Day, November 1 and/or the Sunday immediately following

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Psalm: 149
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17
Matthew 5:1-12
Ecclesiasticus 2: (1-6) 7-11
Ephesians 1:(11-14)15-23
Luke 6:20-26 (27-36) 

 Collect and Readings for All Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), November 2

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. 

Psalm 130 or 116:10-17
Wisdom 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9
I Thessalonians 4:13-18 or I Corinthians 15:50-58
John 5:24-27

Read them at 


A – There are three churches named All Saints in the Diocese of West Texas – All Saints’, Corpus Christi; All Saints’, Pleasanton; and All Saints’, San Benito.

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From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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