Catholic All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead

Catrinas, such as the above, are among the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico (Tomascastelazo).


Today is observed by many as All Saints’ Day and/or the Day of the Dead.

Is this a biblical holiday? How was it established? What exactly is the state of the dead?

Rod McNair, a minister in the Living Church of God, wrote:

In 610ad, Pope Boniface IV established the Feast of All Holy Martyrs, held annually on May 13. In 835, Pope Gregory IV transferred the celebration to November 1, a date he designated as “All Saints Day” in honor of martyrs for their faith. What activities are associated with that day? Even today, in some Catholic countries, a popular folk tradition holds that people’s departed loved ones return to their former homes once a year, during this day, also known as the “Day of the Dead.” Mabuhay magazine described a colorful tradition of the Philippines, where families “troop to cemeteries to light candles and offer flowers… to departed relatives… on All Saints Day (November 1)” (“Halloween High Jinks,” November 1997, p. 34).The November 2 festival known as “All Souls Day” was established based on “the [Roman Catholic] doctrine that the souls of the faithful which at death have not been cleansed from venial sins, or have not atoned for past transgressions, cannot attain the Beatific Vision, and that they may be helped to do so by prayer and by the sacrifice of the mass” (“All Souls Day,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. vol. 1, p. 709). This presumes a process by which those who are alive can perform ceremonies to somehow improve the condition of the deceased.

In Mexico, “Dia de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead” is observed by adorning gravesites with candles, marigolds, and deceased family members’ favorite foods, as if to attempt to persuade the dead loved ones to return for a family reunion. Note this description of how some celebrants observe this festival: “Some wear wooden skull masks known as calacas. Many families build altars, called ofrendas, in their homes, using photos, candles, flowers, and food… Toys and food, including breads and candies, are created in the shape of symbols of death such as skulls and skeletons” (“Day of the Dead,” Encyclopaedia Britannica online).

All these “festivals of the dead” are based on the same general theme—to commune with, appease, serve and even worship the dead. But are such practices based on the Bible? Should Christians observe them today? What does God say?

Where Are the Dead Now?

Many ancient religious traditions presume that the dead are somewhere other than in the grave. Many people assume that the departed dead are either in heaven, hell or some sort of intermediate conscious state. Yet the Bible clearly tells us where the dead are!

Notice what the Apostle Peter said in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.… For David did not ascend into the heavens…” (Acts 2:29, 34).

David did not go to heaven! The Apostle Peter, speaking centuries after David’s death, confirmed that David was still in his grave where he had been placed at death, and was still awaiting the resurrection! What a contrast Peter’s words are to the mistaken belief, so pervasive among professing Christians today, that the saints, right now, are looking down at us from heaven!

Jesus Christ plainly explained, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). He indeed had come down from heaven, and did return to the throne of the Father in heaven (John 20:17). But, on His faithful testimony, no one else has done so!

What, then, are the dead doing? The answer is neither mysterious nor spooky. The dead are simply “sleeping” in their graves, unconscious, waiting to be called to resurrection. What will happen when Christians are resurrected? The Apostle Paul explains: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18).

We can gain tremendous encouragement if we understand the truth about death, and resurrection, as taught in the Bible. We need not distress or confuse ourselves with the fearful superstitions fostered by the “festivals of death.”

Can We Communicate With the Dead?

If the dead are unconscious in the grave—not alert as disembodied spirits in heaven—can we communicate with them? On the “Day of the Dead” do deceased family members actually return to their living relatives, as some believe? What does the Bible say?

Solomon explained: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). When righteous King David cried out to be saved from danger, he reminded God, “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). Solomon and David both understood that human beings cease from consciousness at death.

The biblical account of King Saul’s séance sometimes confuses casual readers who wonder about spirits existing after death. At first glance, one might think that a medium had conjured up the spirit of Samuel, at King Saul’s request (1 Samuel 28:8–15). But did the medium really bring Samuel back? Scripture explains that Saul “perceived” it was Samuel (v. 14). The description was simply of “an old man… covered with a mantle”—apparently an unclean spirit appearing in a form much like Samuel’s. Scripture shows that lying spirits do go forth to deceive, as did this one seeking to deceive Saul (1 Kings 22:22–23).

Yes, the Bible clearly shows that we cannot communicate with the dead. The dead are not aware of treats or offerings brought to their graves. They neither hear nor benefit from prayers made to them, or on their behalf.

On the other hand, we do look forward to seeing our beloved friends and relatives in the resurrection! And it is certainly right to honor the memory of a deceased family member or friend at a funeral service, especially for the sake of the mourning relatives. We “honor the memory” of our deceased parents and grandparents not by leaving trinkets at their graves, or by hoping to welcome their spirits into our homes, but rather by following their edifying instruction and example, and by bringing honor to the good name they established while they lived.

Interestingly, some historians have suggested a link between ancient “Day of the Dead” practices and the destruction of Noah’s idolatrous and licentious generation. Noah’s Flood began in the “second month, the seventeenth day of the month” (Genesis 7:11). One year later, in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day, Noah exited the ark (Genesis 8:14–16). If we count the timing of Noah’s Flood according to the Jewish civil calendar, the seventeenth day of the second month would be somewhere from late October to early November.

As author Frederick Filby has observed, “Thus the old world perished and a year later a new era commenced in the same month. Both of these facts are indelibly enshrined in the memory of the human race. To many people right round the world November brings the Day of the Dead. In a number of ancient and primitive calendars November also brings a New Year at a time which has neither solstice nor equinox nor astronomical event to justify it” (The Flood Reconsidered, pp. 106–107)…

May God grant you the understanding and discernment to come out of the world, wholly follow Him, and reject the festivitals of death! (McNair R. Festivals of Death. Tomorrow’s World magazine. Sep-Oct 2008)

The Catholic Origin of All Saints’ Day

Catholic scholars themselves admit that the day they call “All Saints’ Day” was not observed by early Christians, but was a later addition:

ALL SAINTS. As early as the fourth century, the Greeks kept on the first Sunday after Pentecost the feast of all martyrs and saints, and we still possess a sermon of St. Chrysostom de-livered on that day. In the West, the feast was introduced by Pope Boniface the Fourth after he had dedicated, as the Church of the Blessed Virgin and the Martyrs, the Pantheon, which had been made over to him by the Emperor Phocas. The feast of the dedication was kept on the thirteenth of May. About 731 Gregory III. consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s Church in honour of all the saints, from which time All Saints’ Day has been kept in Rome, as now, on the first of November. From about the middle of the ninth century, the feast came into general observance throughout the West. (Addis W, Arnold T. Catholic Dictionary, 6th ed. The Catholic Publication Society Co, 1887. Nihil Obstat. EDUARDUS S. KEOGH, CONG. ORAT., Censor Deputatu Imprimatur. HENRICUS EDUARDUS, CARD. ARCHIEP. WESTMONAST. Die 18 Dec., 1883. Imprimatur. John Card. McCloskey, Archbishop of New York. Feb. 14, 1884. Copyright, Lawrence Kehoe, 1884/1887. p20).

ALL SOULS Day. A solemn commemoration of, and prayer for, all the souls in Purgatory, which the Church makes on the second of November. (Ibid, p. 20)

The Pantheon was originally a pagan shrine for multiple gods and was turned into a Catholic shrine for multiple “saints.”

Pantheon of Rome: A Symbol of Unity Among Confusion

How All Saints’ Day actually became a universal holiday shows another type of pagan connection:

All Saints’ Day…It was first celebrated on May 13, A.D. 610, as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs, when the Emperor Phocas gave the ancient Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV as a church (All Saints’ Day. World Book, vol 1. Chicago, 1966: 354).

The Romans built the Pantheon as a temple in honor of all their gods. The name means of all the gods…Agrippa first built the famous Pantheon in Rome in 27 B.C. (Pantheon. World Book, vol 15. Chicago, 1966: 111).

Druid…priests worshiped some gods similar to those of the Greeks and Romans, but under different names (Druid. World Book, vol 5. Chicago, 1966: 289).

Of course, some feel that although the Druids worshiped the pagan deities under different names that is wrong, yet they accept the change of the names of the “gods” in the Pantheon to the “Catholic saints” is perfectly acceptable.

Here is a bit more on how and why the Pantheon became acceptable to the Roman Catholics:

In 607 A.D. the Roman Emperor Phocus defeated the Barbarians who were in control of Rome. The Pantheon in Rome, a pagan edifice which had been wrested from the barbarians, was given to pope Boniface IV. Originally, Emperor Hadrian built the Pantheon — around 100 A.D. He dedicated it to the pagan goddess Cybele and to the other Roman deities. This temple became the central place in Rome where the pagans honored and commemorated their gods. With this splendid edifice now falling into the hands of professing Christians, the question was, What should be done with it?

The pagans had dedicated it to Cybele and all their gods. But the Roman bishop now CONSECRATED IT TO THE VIRGIN MARY AND ALL THE SAINTS of both sexes (see “The Mysteries of All Nations”, Grant, p. 120). Thus this pagan building became “holy.” No more did the pagan Romans use this edifice to pray for their dead. It was now the professing Christians who employed the Pantheon in praying for their dead.

This re-dedication of the pagan temple to Mary and others occurred in 610 A.D. Now converted into a Christian shrine, an annual festival was instituted to commemorate the event. The day chosen was May 13.

This May 13 commemoration of the dead saints was known by the name of “All Saints Day.” It continued to be held in May for over two centuries — until 834 A.D. In that year the NAME and the DATE WERE CHANGED.

Notice! “The time of celebration was altered to the FIRST OF NOVEMBER, and it was then called ALL HALLOW” — from where we get the name Hallowe’en, ALL HALLOW merely meaning ALL HOLY, and the “een” is a contraction of evening (“Folklore”, James Napier, p. 177).

Thus in 834 A.D. the Church in the Middle Ages began to celebrate Hallowe’en on the FIRST OF NOVEMBER for the first time. This was the very same day the Druids in Britain, the Norsemen in Scandinavia, and the pagan Germans among others were keeping their festival of ALL SOULS EVE, in commemoration of Saman, lord of death, and his demons (Marx, Gerhard O. The Origin of Halloween. Plain Truth Magazine, October 1967).

How Was November 1 Chosen for All Saints Day?

Now why was November 1, chosen? Notice the following:

“It was a Druidical belief that on the eve of this festival Saman, lord of death, called together the wicked spirits that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals” (“Enc. Brit.”, 11th ed., v. 12, pp. 857-8). Read what this November celebration was like! It was a pagan belief that on one night of the year the souls of the dead return to their original homes, there to be entertained with food. If food and shelter were not provided, these spirits, it was believed, would cast spells and cause havoc towards those failing to fulfill their requests. “It was the night for the universal walking about of all sorts of spirits, fairies, and ghosts, all of whom had liberty on that night” (“Highland Superstitions”, Alexander Macgregor, p. 44). Literal sacrifices were offered on this night to the spirits of the dead, when, so the belief went, they visited their earthly haunts and their friends.

There was a reason why November was chosen for that particular event. The Celts and other Northern people considered the beginning of November as their New Year. This was the time when the leaves were falling and a general seasonal decay was taking place everywhere. Thus it was a fitting time, so they reasoned, for the commemoration of the dead. Since the Northern nations at that time began their day in the evening, the eve leading up to November 1st was the beginning of the festival. According to the Roman calendar it was the evening October 31 — hence, Hallowe’en — the evening of All Hallows.

To exorcise these ghosts, that is, to free yourself from their supposed evil sway, you would have to set out food and provide shelter for them during the night. If they were satisfied with your offerings, it was believed they would leave you in peace. If not, they were believed to cast an evil spell on you. “In Wales it was firmly believed that on All Hallows Eve the spirit of a departed person was to be seen at midnight on every crossroad and every stile” (“Folklore and Folk-Stories of Wales”, Marie Trevelyan, p. 254).

In Cambodia people used to chant: “O all you our ancestors, who are departed, deign to come and eat what we have prepared for you, and to bless your posterity and to make it happy” (“Notice sur le Cambodge”, Paris 1875, E. Aymonièr, p. 59).

This sort of Hallowe’en festival was strenuously observed throughout the non-Christian world. Pagans would pray to their false gods to prevent “DEMONS” and “witches” from molesting them. Notice! “The Miatecs of Mexico believed that the souls of the dead came back in the twelfth month of the year, WHICH CORRESPONDED TO OUR NOVEMBER. On this day of All Souls the houses were decked out to welcome the spirits. Jars of food and drink were set on a table in the principal room, and the family went out with the torches to meet the ghosts and invite them to enter. Then, returning to the house they knelt around the table, and with their eyes bent on the ground, prayed the souls to accept the offerings” (“Adonis”, Frazer, p. 244).

This, then, is the way the heathen world celebrated their Hallowe’en, their “All Souls Day”. Although some aspects of the Hallowe’en festival varied with each country, the overall pattern and purpose remained the same…

When the German Frankish king Charlemagne invaded and conquered parts of Eastern Germany, he compelled the conquered German king, Wittekind, to be baptized and to accept Christianity. Having no choice and seeing his life was at stake, this heathen ruler who knew little or nothing about Christ — was forced into this “conversion.” And with him his entire people. This policy brought complex problems. These pagans, who were usually baptized EN MASSE, were still pagans at heart. Even though they became nominal Christians, they still yearned for many of their heathen practices, which they were expected to discard…

Wittekind’s Germans, now professing Christians, and other conquered pagans, had a profound influence on the ecclesiastical affairs of the church in the early 800’s A. D. These barbaric and uncultured people brought with them many outright pagan practices and celebrations, Hallowe’en merely being one of many. They were fervent in clinging to their past ceremonies and observed them openly — yet supposedly converted to Christianity. What was the church to do? Excommunicate them and thus reduce her membership? This she would not do. Was she to force them into discarding their heathen practices and adopt Italian or Roman ones? This, as she had learned in past times, was not possible.

There remained only one other way. Let the recently converted pagans keep certain of their heathen festivals, such as Hallowe’en or All Souls Day — but label it “Christian.” Of course the Germans were asked not to pray to their ancient pagan gods on this day. They must now use this day to commemorate the death of the saints. To make it easy for them, the Roman Church even CHANGED HER DATE of All Saints Day from May 13 to November 1st to satisfy the growing numbers of Germanic adherents. The Church understood the yearnings the Germans and others had for their old ways (Marx, Gerhard O. The Origin of Halloween. Plain Truth Magazine, October 1967).

Since the date was not original, and was even changed, All Saints’ Day obviously never was an original apostolic practice.

Furthermore, notice what a Catholic writer wrote, that republished:

Why would a pope put the Catholic celebration of the dead on top of the pagans’ celebrations of the dead? Because the Catholic feasts are in continuity and fulfill the meaning of the pagan ones.  (Killian Brian. Halloween, as autumn celebration, reminder God’s name is hallowed. Catholic Online International News. 10/31/06.

It is a fact that many associated with the Church of Rome relish and boast about pagan connections for their faith.  It is the Bible that they and all should look to.

What About the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead is of pagan origin. The Burke Museum of Natural History notes:

“The Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival combines ancient Mesoamerican and Christian beliefs. The Aztecs believed that the souls of the dead traveled to Mictlan, where they found rest. Several Aztec festivals merged with the Christian All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days to become the Day of the Dead. El Día de los Muertos begins on October 31, All Hallows’ Eve. Families clean and decorate their relatives’ graves and eat picnic meals in the graveyard. They sing songs and reminisce about the deceased. Los Angelitos (“little angels”) return on this day. On November 1, All Saints’ Day, adult spirits return, drawn by the ofrendas (altars with offerings), which serve as thresholds between this world and the next.

Here is another report about the Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos:

“Dia de Los Muertos has its roots in Aztec tradition and is celebrated like a holiday in Mexico. NoMar is celebrating the event early, the actual holiday is November 1st and 2nd. According to legend, the spirits of the dead meet with the living as heaven’s gates open on October 31.”,0,988587.story

Some seem feel that combining pagan practices are fine, as the following also shows:

All Saints Day comes to Silicon Valley — Filipino style

The Filipino graveside tradition resembles the Mexican “El Dia de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, which also coincides with All Saints Day. While the Mexican tradition has migrated to America mainly in the form of home and community altars, one local cemetery last year resurrected the graveyard tradition as it has been celebrated in Mexico for centuries.

Last year, Calvary Catholic Cemetery in East San Jose and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley invited families to decorate the graves of loved ones with candy skulls, photographs, ribbons and favorite food items of the deceased.

More than 500 people attended last year’s inaugural event, according to Calvary spokeswoman Nicole Lecheler. This year’s celebration on Oct. 29 will include Aztec dancers, skull-decorating workshops, food booths and Day of the Dead altar displays by artists, students and local community groups.

Again, these are not biblical practices. And having Aztec skull dancers should be an obvious clue to any who does not believe that they should compromise the faith of the Bible with paganism.

The dead, of course, will be resurrected, and that is the day that the dead will be revived–and modified Aztec practices will not change that.

The Bible Lists God Holy Days and Warns About Pagan Practices

In Leviticus chapter 23, it lists:

“The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (vs.2).

All Saints’ Day or the Day of the Dead is not listed as one of them. Neither are biblically enjoined feasts day for Christians (there is not any hint of either in the Bible; they may even be warned against in Deuteronomy 4:15-24). Actually the Bible warns against worshipping God the way the pagans, etc. did (Leviticus 18:3; Deuteronomy 12:31, Jeremiah 10:2-3).

And it specifically warns against creating images such as those used in the Day of the Dead:

15 Keep therefore your souls carefully. You saw not any similitude in the day that the Lord God spoke to you in Horeb from the midst of the fire: 16 Lest perhaps being deceived you might make you a graven similitude, or image of male or female (Deuteronomy 4:15-16, Douay OT).

Note: I intentionally used the Douay OT translation above as it is an official Catholic-accepted translation to point out that Catholics are violating their own Bible when they are involved with images.

The Bible repeatedly warns against the practices of witches (Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10, Galatians 5:20) and dealing with ghosts/etc. (Deuteronomy 18:11, I Chronicles 10:13).

Christians who wish to remain faithful to the original apostolic faith will not observe All Saints Day nor the Day of the Dead.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Is Halloween Holy Time for Christians? This article provides some historical and biblical insight on this question. When did “All Saints Day” and the “Day of the Dead” begin?
Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality? What does John 3:16, and other writings, tell us? Did a doctrine kept adopted from paganism?
What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection? Is there more than one future resurrection? Did early Christians teach a physical resurrection? Did early Christians teach three resurrections?
The Feast of Tabernacles: A Time for Christians? Is this pilgrimage holy day still valid? Does it teach anything relevant for today’s Christians? What is the Last Great Day–is it a dead of the dead? What do these days teach?
Are The Wicked Tormented Forever or Burned Up? How does one explain Revelation 14:11 in light of Malachi 4:3? What happens to the incorrigibly wicked?
Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory? Is there a place called purgatory? Does God have a plan to help those who did not become saints in this life?
What is Limbo? Is There Such a Place as Limbo? What Happens to Babies When They Die? When did Limbo start being taught? What is the truth about dead babies?
What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons? What about the use of the cross, by the early Church?
Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis Do you believe what the Bible actually teaches on this? Will all good things be restored? Will God call everyone? Will everyone have an opportunity for salvation? Does God’s plan of salvation take rebellion and spiritual blindness into account?

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