The sign outside the UCC church near us announced that November 1, was Totenfest –“Festival of the Dead.” According to one church site, Totenfest comes out of the German Evangelical and Reformed church. It was established in 1816 by Prussian Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm III to remember the soldiers who had died in the recent war. In 1817 it was inaugurated for all church members who died in the last year.
The remembrance of saints, particularly those who died as martyrs dates back to the 4th century. In 609 Pope Boniface first announced the celebration of all Saints. It became part of the church Calendar under Pope Gregory III (731-741) and was moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in 835.
Some Lutherans celebrate November 1st as Totenfest; however, most call it All Saints Day. The day often features a commemoration of the faithful departed in which the names of the dead from the congregation are called out followed by the ringing of a bell. In some places a passage of scripture is read related to their salvation and eternal life.
The Proper Preface of the Communion liturgy remembers that we are part of something much larger than our local congregation. We are part of a church which extends beyond even our earthly living. “Therefore with angels and archangels and WITH ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying:”
Thus, we each time we celebrate Holy Communion is a Totenfest, as we celebrate with those saints who have preceded us into the Church Triumphant.