All Saints: Who are they?

All Saints.

Today, we are observing All Saints. Rarely do we have the opportunity to observe and celebrate this major feast of the Church on a Sunday, the weekly celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. Often All Saints’ Day shows up on a weekday and then observed on the Sunday following. Thus, this is a very special day for us and one which we should celebrate with joy. Today is a good time to ask the question, “What is a saint?” What do we mean when we say someone is a saint?

We name Churches after saints, we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, we bless animals on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, and we once announced the Gospels to be according to Saint John for example.

In Christianity, the word saint, which means holy, as being sanctified, has a wide variety of usages. The original Christian perspective was any believer who is in Christ and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or on earth. In the doctrines of the historic Christian communities (Episcopalians being among them), all of the faithful deceased in heaven are considered to be saints, but some, by official ecclesiastical recognition, are found worthy of greater honor, emulation, or veneration. However Christians in general, are saints in as described in the New Testament,[1] and the term is common in reference to the full membership of the Church. All Christians are identified as saints because they are in Christ Jesus.[2]

In Anglicanism, the title of Saint refers to a person who has been elevated by popular opinion as a pious and holy person and designated as such by a church council.[3] In the context of Anglican churches, the saints are seen as models of holiness worthy of imitation, and as a “cloud of witnesses” that strengthen and encourage Christians during their spiritual journeys. The opening verse of the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews supports this point of view:

Cloud of WitnessesTherefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

In out baptismal statement of faith, The Apostles’ Creed, we recognize the existence of the saints in heaven when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints…”

Episcopalians and Anglicans believe Jesus Christ is the Mediator between humanity and God. However, praying to saints, seeking their intercession, while not disallowed, is not widely practiced. However, those who do seek saintly intercession believe that asking a saint to intercede on one’s behalf is not different from asking a friend or fellow parishioner to pray them in times of need.

In The Book of Common Prayer Episcopalians proclaim not only in the Creeds but also in our prayers belief in the The Book of Common Prayer. jpg“communion of the saints.” The doctrine of the saints is they are the “chosen vessels of [God’s] grace and the lights of the world in their generations.”[4] The “obedience of [God’s] Saints” offers the Church “an example of righteousness” and “their eternal joy” gives us “a glorious pledge of the hope of our calling.” Despite these affirmations of the saints as members of our baptismal community, we, through the prayer book, show great reluctance to define the term saint or to make specific identifications of saints. Nevertheless, The Catechism touches on this issue only briefly, identifying the communion of the saints in broad interpersonal language:

The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt,[5]  bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. 

The canticle Te Deum laudamus[6] is another example of a place in the Payer Book that calls out categories of saints in classical terms,[7]

  • “the glorious company of apostles,”
  • “the noble fellowship of prophets,”
  • “the white-robed army of martyrs.”

Additionally, our prayers speak of the role of the saints within our baptismal community. A prayer found in the Office of the Burial of the Dead begins,

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear…

The prayer continues by identifying the saints,

…for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light…[8]

Therefore, the saints encourage us; they pray for us; they strengthen us.

Primarily, however, keep in mind that the baptized and sealed as Christ’s own forever are a part of the Communion of Saints, and tarnished as they may be at times, they can with confidence wear halos and celebrate this day as ours.


[1] Cf. Ephesians 1:1 and Ephesians 3:11.

[2] Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, “saint”, ISBN 0-8024-9697-0,

[3] The General Convention of the Episcopal Church approves additions to the “Canon of Saints” listed in The Book of Common Prayer.

[4] Page 380, Preface for All Saints’ Day, and Preface for a Saint, The Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayers A and B, 1979.

[5] Emphasis is mine.

[6] Canticle 21, You are God Te Deum laudamus, page 95, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.  

[7] SCLM Report to General Convention Published; https://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

[8] Additional Prayers, Burial of the Dead Rite II, page 504, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Cf., Post Communion Prayer, Burial of the Dead, Rite I, page 498The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

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