November 1st is the Solemnity of All Saints. According to the Roman Missal, this feast day celebrates all God’s holy ones in heaven, known and unknown, from the first martyrs to the recently canonized, and everyone in between. This feast day spans 2,000 glorious years of the Church’s history.
HISTORY OF THE FEAST DAY
Today’s solemnity, a Holy Day of Obligation, originally began in the 4th century to commemorate all the Christian martyrs during those centuries of brutal persecution before Christianity was legalized.
There were so many martyrs that a separate feast day could not be given to each one individually, yet, the Church did not want to leave any martyr without proper veneration. A common feast day developed and was usually celebrated in the Easter season.
In the 9th century Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to all the saints and moved the feast day to November 1st. His successor, Pope Gregory IV, extended the feast to the universal Church.
All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, and thus a major feast on the liturgical calendar. All Saints Day is preceded by Halloween (the vigil of All Saints Day) and followed by All Souls Day. These three days taken together are traditionally called Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, or Hallowmas (‘hallow’ means to honor as holy). This is great festival is a celebration of the communion of saints, the time of year when the living (i.e. the Church Militant) collectively honor all the dead in Christ: all the saints in heaven (i.e. the Church Triumphant) as well as all the Holy Souls detained in purgatory on their way to heaven (i.e. the Church Suffering). Read more below!
THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN
What are the saints in heaven experiencing as we celebrate their feast?
All of the saints presently in heaven are enjoying the same thing, beholding God face to face, also known as the ‘beatific vision’. The beatific vision—the blissful union with God—is our final end and our true happiness. It is the ineffable joy that comes from perfect union with the Holy Trinity. It is what we were made for. Beatific means, ‘exalted joy’, ‘holy bliss’, ‘blissfully happy’, or ‘making happy’.
St. John the Evangelist captures the happy scene the saints enjoy in heaven in a vision he relates in Revelation 7:9-12:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.'”
ONE CHURCH, THREE PLACES
Christ’s Church, although one through him, exists in three places. The Church triumphant are the saints in heaven; the Church militant are those of us still on earth struggling to love God and turn away from sin and the devil; the Church suffering are the dead in Christ who must pass through purgatory before entry into heaven.
Those who have died in God’s favor but have not yet attained the beatific vision await in purgatory until their final purification is complete before entering God’s presence. We remember these souls on the All Souls feast day on November 2nd. So between the two side-by-side feast days on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints and All Souls, we remember all the dead in Christ together.
Today we should ask for the intercession of the saints in heaven to pray for us; and tomorrow we ourselves should pray for the Holy Souls in purgatory. Through the Communion of Saints each part of the Mystical Body of Christ helps every other.
Today’s solemnity is a very special time of year indeed, and a reminder of the true purpose of every human life: to live for God, and to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
THE LITANY OF THE SAINTS
Today, be sure to pray the Litany of the Saints, the oldest litany of the Church still in use! A partial indulgence is granted to those who piously recite the Litany of Saints (under the usual conditions), which can then be applied to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
Read more: 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2015. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.