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In the Christian calendar, the month of November begins with All Saints’ Day, which is also known as the Feast of All Saints, or occasionally as All Hallows’ Day (All Hallows’ Eve is, of course, the night before, and it is from this we get the word Halloween, more properly spelled Hallowe’en, the apostrophe indicating that the letter v has been dropped).  The next day is All Souls’ Day, which celebrates the dead, and in some traditions has very powerful iconography and traditions, as in the Mexican Dia de los muertos.  The holiday as a whole commemorates the spiritual bond between those in heaven and those still living.  In the British Isles, it quite naturally combines with the Celtic holiday of Samhain, a festival of the dead as well as an end to the harvest season.

The most commonly sung hymn on All Saints’ Day is “For all the saints” written by William Walsham How, who held many posts in his lifetime but who at the time of the publishing of this hymn text in 1864 was Bishop of Wakefield.  It originally had eleven verses and was printed that way in the Sarum Hymnal of 1868.

The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a new tune for it for the English Hymnal printed in 1906, calling it Sine Nomine (literally “without a name”) which is now the tune to which “For all the saints” is sung almost universally.  Most hymns are written in four parts for choral and congregational singing.  We call this SATB writing, for the four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.  While some of the verses of this hymn can be sung in parts, most are usually sung in unison, sometimes alternating between the upper and lower voices of the choir as in the following recording:

St Edmundsbury Cathedral Choir:

  1. For all the saints, who from their labours rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;

Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. O blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,

And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. The golden evening brightens in the west;

Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;

Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;

The saints triumphant rise in bright array;

The King of glory passes on His way.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

  1. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

— Thomas B. Dawkins, music director and organist