Today is the Feast of All Saints, which is celebrated every November 1. By the fourth century, this Feast of All Martyrs, as it was then known, was celebrated on May 13. The words “martyr” and “saint” originally meant basically the same thing — someone who is a witness to Christ even unto death.
The early Christians usually placed the body of the martyr who had died for his faith in a tomb that was easily accessible. Then on the anniversary of that martyr’s death, the faithful would come and pray and celebrate the Eucharist. Eventually, these celebrations were held in local churches to commemorate not just one martyr, but all who had given their lives for their faith. By the fifth century, this feast of “All Saints” was held on the Friday of Easter week.
However, in the ninth century, Pope Gregory the IV changed the date to November 1. Those Christians who endured torture for the faith, but did not die, were treated with great respect. Therefore, their local church often acclaimed those who led heroic and faithful lives as saints after their deaths.
The theology of this feast emphasizes the bond between those Christians already with God and those still on earth. Consequently, the Feast of All Saints points to our ultimate goal — eternity with God.
In 1484 Pope Sixtus IV established November 1 as a holy day of obligation. The vigil for this feast day was known as “All Hallow’s Eve,” today called by its shorter version. Hallowed means holy (as in “hallowed be Thy name”). The abbreviated name for evening became “e’en” and this is where we get the name “Halloween.”
Rather than concentrating on witches, ghosts, and goblins, let us think on those who have gone before us, having persevered in holiness and faithfulness, setting before us the way unto salvation of our souls. This is a time to celebrate their lives and give our children real heroes that they can look up to and pattern their lives after.
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself enflamed by a tremendous yearning.
— From a discourse of St. Bernard
Of all the saints, who enflames me the most with “a tremendous yearning” for the things of God? Why? How can I emulate him or her in one specific way today?
Holy Spirit, anoint us with the oil of joyfulness in the midst of our sufferings and the gift of perseverance during persecution, that we may run the race of those saints who have gone before us, keeping our eyes on the crown of glory and eternity with You. Amen.
image: Feast of All Saints from BL Royal 2 B XIII, f. 34 from the British Library / europeana (Public Domain)