Today is the Feast of All Saints’. Orate pro nobis.
The Church day by day gives special veneration to one or more of the holy men and women who have helped to establish it by their blood, develop it by their labors, or edify it by their virtues. But, in addition to those whom the Church honors by special designation or has inscribed in her calendar, how many martyrs are there whose names are not recorded! How many humble virgins and holy penitents! How many unknown anchorites and monks, Christian fathers and mothers, young children snatched away in their innocence! How many courageous Christians, whose merits are known only to God and His heavenly court!
Should we forget those who remember us in their intercession? Are not some among them our ancestors? members of our immediate family? our friends and fellow-Christians, with whom we have lived in daily companionship? In fact, all of Heaven is but one family — Our Lord’s, as He Himself said: Who is My mother and who are My brethren? And stretching forth His hand towards His disciples, He said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whoever does the Will of My Father in heaven, is My brother and sister and mother. Today we have the opportunity to thank God, if at other times we forget, for their aid and their love. And today we adore Him with them, for the grace which raised them to their present joy. The Church requires this homage of us, by making this day a holy day of obligation for all. Our place, too, is awaiting us in this home of eternal light, peace and love, if we persevere to the end in the fulfillment of God’s holy Will. (8)
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The Catholic Church, which, every day in the year, places some Saints before our eyes to honor and imitate, represents them all to us today; hence today’s festival is called: The Feast of All Saints. The origin of it was as follows : There was, at Rome, a magnificent temple, which had been built before Christ, by Marcus Agrippa, and was called the Pantheon or Temple of all the gods, because they were all worshiped therein. This idolatrous temple had not been torn down like many others, but Pope Boniface IV. consecrated it according to Catholic usage, to the Virgin Mother and all the Saints. To the greater edification of the people, he had many relics of holy Martyrs placed in it with due magnificence, whence this Church received the name of the Church of the holy Martyrs.
In after years, it was ordered by Pope Gregory IV. that, not only the festival of the holy Martyrs, but also that of all other Saints, should be celebrated in the above mentioned Church and in all Christendom. The reasons for instituting this festival were the following: First, it cannot be doubted that the number of Saints who reign with Christ in heaven is very large. “I saw so large a number,” says St. John, ” that nobody could count them.” To speak only of those who became martyrs for Christ’s sake, they, according to authentic historians, already in the first centuries of the Church, numbered 17 millions. Who can count the other Saints, as well of the Clergy as the laity, who served God faithfully and died in His grace? The number of the Saints is very great, but most of them are unknown to us. We know the names of the holy Apostles, of many apostolic men, many founders of religious orders, many popes, bishops, religious, hermits, virgins, widows, married people, nobles, princes, kings and emperors; but there is a number far exceeding these, whose very names are unknown to us. And as it is but just that we, who are yet in the Church Militant and are united by the bond of charity with the Saints, should honor them duly, as they are honored as true servants and friends by the Almighty Himself, the holy Church has appointed this day for honoring them all together, as it is not possible to consecrate a separate day to each of them.
The second reason is contained in the prayer which the Church on this day recites in Holy Mass: “That on account of the great number of our intercessors, God may bestow on us, more abundantly, the desired gifts of His liberality.” No Catholic doubts that the Saints in heaven, because they enjoy the favor of the Almighty, can obtain for us by their intercession many graces, of which we are not worthy, on account of our sins. For, it is known that, while they were still living on earth, they not only averted much evil from mankind by their intercession, but also drew down many benefits upon them. That we may therefore obtain more surely all that we need or that is useful for our salvation, the holy Church has ordered that we shall today call upon all the Saints as our intercessors, trusting implicitly that the Most High will not disregard the entreaties of so many of His friends.
The third reason is as follows: The Church according to St. Bernard, represents to us so many Saints, in every station in life, to encourage us so that we may not only venerate them, but also imitate their virtues; and that as we call them blessed, so we too should strive after that salvation which they have already attained. Hence, also, the Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is read today; as in it the road is pointed out and explained, by which the Saints have reached heaven; a road which we too must walk, if we wish to join them in heaven. We will now explain, in few words, three other points, namely; what we ought especially to meditate upon, to learn and to do, on this day. In regard to the first of these points, we ought to meditate on the happiness of the Saints in heaven, and on the way they walked, or the means they employed to attain their blessedness. This blessedness, to say much in few words, is so great, that it can neither be described nor comprehended. “We can obtain it,” says St. Augustine, “but cannot esteem it too highly. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and it has not entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those that love Him,” that is, for the Saints in heaven.
The happiness of the least Saint in heaven is inexpressibly greater than the most perfect happiness on earth. We esteem those on earth happy, who are not persecuted, nor poor, nor sick, nor despised; but who are distinguished by their high rank, and are honored by all; who enjoy health, and possess a superfluity of riches and pleasures. And yet, how few ever attain such temporal happiness, and when they have attained it, how uncertain they are in its possession! But the happiness of the Saints is true, real happiness; for, nothing is wanted to make it most perfect. They are free from everything that could in the least sadden them; they possess all that can make them glad, all that they can desire, nay, much more than they can desire. They are surrounded by joys, they swim in happiness. Therefore it is written: ” Enter into the joys of the Lord!” The happiness of the Saints is a secure happiness; for they have nothing to fear. No one can disturb their joy; no one can lessen it; no one can take it away from them. But what increases the bliss of the Saints most is the thought that it shall last eternally.
The Saints are in glory, and for evermore. They are filled with joys for evermore, for all eternity. They possess all honor and wealth, and all without end, without interruption. Oh! how great a bliss! But how have the Saints attained it? By the use of those means which God has left in His Church, by true faith; by holy baptism; by observing the Commandments, by avoiding sin, by practicing good works, by patience in crosses and sufferings. They walked in the path which Christ shows us in His holy Gospel, the path of innocence, or the path of penance. They served God faithfully and constantly while they were on earth; they earnestly worked for the salvation of their souls; they either committed no sin, or did true penance. When God sent them poverty, sickness, or other adversity, they bore it with Christian patience. In this manner, they attained to such great and eternal felicity. From all this you will doubtless be able to draw the lessons which today’s festival offers. I will here give them to you in still shorter form.
Learn, firstly, how true to His promise God is and how richly He recompenses His servants. He leaves not the least good unrewarded, and the recompense He gives is great and eternal. For short labor and suffering, He gives great and everlasting joys. Who would not willingly serve so liberal a Master? Who would not gladly labor and suffer for Him? Who, that longs so ardently for the possession of mere temporal happiness, can hesitate to aim, with all the powers of his mind, at the eternal bliss prepared for the servants of the Most High? Should not every one be animated by the thought of eternal felicity, faithfully and zealously to serve the Lord?
Learn, secondly, that we can gain Heaven in any station of life; for in any station, we can make use of those means which God has given us to work out our salvation. In Heaven there are Saints of all ranks and conditions; emperors and empresses; kings and queens; princes and princesses; nobles and plebeians; learned men and unlettered men; poor and rich; officers and soldiers; magistrates, artisans and peasants; man-servants and maid-servants; unmarried and married persons; widowers and widows; youths, maidens and children. Many Saints lived in the same station in which you live; from it, they went to heaven; and so may you. You have only to live in your station as they did and use the means for your salvation as they used them.
Learn, thirdly, that you will have only yourself to blame, if you do not go to heaven to join the Saints; for, God asks no more from you than from them, and gives you the same means for salvation that He gave to them. The Saints were like you, human beings; like you, they lived in dangers and temptations; like you, they suffered and struggled; and yet they served God and went to heaven. Are you unable to do what they did? You are certainly able, if you have but a true and earnest desire to succeed. If you have it not, the fault is entirely your own. The example of so many Saints, who lived in your station, will convict you of falsehood, if you say that your station prevents you from gaining life everlasting.
All that now remains is to consider what must be done to celebrate today’s festival worthily. A few words will teach you this. If you desire to attain the end and aim of this feast, endeavor according to the instructions of holy Church to honor the Saints of the Almighty and invoke them as powerful intercessors at His throne. They are true servants and friends of God, and they are honored by Him. Their intercession is all-powerful with the Almighty. While still on earth, they obtained for others great gifts from God; why then should they not be able to do so now that they are in heaven? To say that the Saints know nothing of us or of our prayers, is a sign of ignorance, and is against Holy Writ; for, we are assured therein that the Saints are equal to the Angels, and we can not doubt that these have knowledge of us and of our prayers. The Gospel tells us that they rejoice when a sinner does penance; and St. John says that they offer our prayers to God. Hence, call on the Saints with confidence, that, through the merits of Christ, they would obtain for you the grace to live so that you may one day join them. But above all, endeavor to imitate the virtues of the Saints, as this is the best way to honor them. Each Saint calls from Heaven to us, in the words that St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ” Be my followers,” imitate my example. This is especially the call of those Saints, who lived in your station.
If you would enjoy their society in heaven, you must live as they lived on earth. To live as those lived who are in hell, and yet to hope to go, after this life, where they are whom we venerate as Saints, is senseless. Live as the Saints lived, and you will go to heaven as they did. Walk in their footsteps. No one ever obtained life everlasting without the true faith. No one was saved by faith alone. The Saints labored and suffered for heaven. You too must labor and suffer; heaven is worth it. (6)
Feast of All Saints’
by Abbot Gueranger
The Feast of All Saints’ — November 1
In the evening of the 31st of October, the bells ring out as joyously as on the brightest days. They announce the great solemnity of the closing liturgical cycle: the Feast which shows us time stamped with the impress of eternity, and God taking possession of the declining year and gathering in its harvest. At the sound of their triumphant and harmonious peals, the Church, prostrate and fasting since morning, raises Her brow to the light. Guided by St. John, She penetrates the secrets of Heaven; and the words of the beloved disciple, uttered now by Her lips as She begins First Vespers, assume a tone of incomparable enthusiasm. This feast is truly the triumph of Her motherhood; for the great crowd of the Blessed before the throne of the Lamb are the sons and daughters She alone has given to the Lord: I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, standing before the throne.
When Rome had completed the conquest of the world, she dedicated to all the gods, in token of her gratitude, the Pantheon, the most durable monument of her power. But when she herself had been conquered by Christ, and invested by Him with the empire over souls, she withdrew her homage from vain idols and offered it to the martyrs; for they, praying for her as she slew them, had rendered her truly eternal. To the martyrs, then, and to Mary their Queen, she consecrated forever, on the morrow of her merciful chastisement, the now purified Pantheon.
Come forth from your dwellings, ye Saints of God; hasten to the place prepared for you (Ritual for the Dedication of a Church). For three centuries the catacombs were the resting-place of Our Lord’s athletes, when they were borne from the arena. These valiant warriors deserved the honors of a triumph far better than did the great victors of old. In 312, however, Rome, disarmed but not yet changed in heart, was not at all disposed to applaud the men who had conquered the gods of Olympus and of the Capitol. While the Cross surmounted her ramparts, the white-robed army still lay entrenched in the subterranean crypts that surrounded the city like so many outworks. Three centuries more were granted to Rome, that she might make satisfaction to God’s justice, and take full cognizance of the salvation reserved for her by His mercy. In 609 the patient work of grace was completed; the Sovereign Pontiff Boniface IV uttered the word for the sacred crypts to yield up their treasures. It was a solemn moment, a forerunner of that wherein the angel’s trumpet-call shall sound over the sepulchers of the world. The Successor of St. Peter, in all his apostolic majesty and surrounded by an immense crowd, presented himself at the entrance of the catacombs. He was attended by eighteen chariots magnificently adorned for the conveyance of the martyrs. The ancient triumphal way was opened before the Saints; the sons of the Quirites sang in their honor: You shall come with joy and proceed with gladness; for behold, the mountains and the hills exult, awaiting you with joy. Arise, ye Saints of God, come forth from your hiding places; enter into Rome, which is now the holy city; bless the Roman people following you to the temple of the false gods, which is now dedicated as your own church, there to adore together with you the majesty of the Lord (Ritual for the Dedication of a Church).
Thus after six centuries of persecution and destruction, the martyrs had the last word; and it was a word of blessing, a signal of grace for the great city hitherto drunk with the blood of Christians. More than rehabilitated by the reception she was giving to the witnesses of Christ, she was now not merely Rome, but the new Sion, the privileged city of the Lord. She now burned before the Saints the incense they had refused to offer to her idols; their blood had flowed before the very altar on which she now invited them to rest, since the usurpers had been hurled back into the abyss. It was a happy inspiration that induced her, when she dedicated to the holy martyrs the temple built by Marcus Agrippa and restored by Severus Augustus, to leave upon its pediment the names of its original constructors and the title they had given it; for then only did the famous monument truly merit its name, when Christian Rome could apply to the new inhabitants of the Pantheon those words of the 81st Psalm: I have said, you are gods. May 13th was the day of their triumphant installation.
Every dedication on earth reminds the Church, as She Herself tells us, of the assembly of the Saints, the living stones of the eternal dwelling which God is building for Himself in Heaven. It is not astonishing, then, that the dedication of Agrippa’s Pantheon, under the above-mentioned circumstances, should have originated the Feast of All Saints. Its anniversary, recalling the Church’s desire of honoring year by year all Her blessed sons who had died for the Lord; for, at an early date it became impossible to celebrate each of them on the day of his glorious death. In the age of peace there was added to the veneration of the martyrs that of the other just, who daily sanctified themselves in all the paths of heroism opened out to Christian courage. The thought of uniting these with the former in one common solemnity, which would supply for the unavoidable omission of many of them, followed naturally upon the initiative given by Boniface IV.
In 732, in the first half of that 8th century which was such a grand age for the Church, Gregory III dedicated, at St. Peter’s on the Vatican, an oratory in honor ‘of the Savior, of His Blessed Mother, of the holy Apostles, of all the holy Martyrs, Confessors, and perfect just, who repose throughout the world.’ A dedication under so extensive a title did not, it is true, imply the establishment of our Feast of All Saints by the illustrious Pontiff; yet from this period it began to be celebrated by divers churches, and that, too, on November 1, as is attested, with regard to England, by Venerable Bede’s martyrology and the pontifical of Egbert of York. It was far, however, from being universal, when in the year 835 Louis the Pious, son of St. Karl the Great, at the request of Gregory IV, and with the consent of all the bishops of his realm, made its celebration obligatory by law. This decree was welcomed by the whole Church and adopted as Her own, says Ado, with reverence and love.
The councils of Spain and Gaul, as early as the 6th century, mention a custom then existing, of sanctifying the commencement of November by three days of penance and litanies, like the Rogation days which precede the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension. The fast on the Vigil of All Saints is the only remaining vestige of this custom of our forefathers, who, after the institution of the Feast, advanced the triduum of penance, so as to make it a preparation for the solemnity itself. “Let our devotion be complete,” is the recommendation of Alcuin, a contemporaneous author; “let us prepare ourselves for the most holy Solemnity by three days of fasting, prayer and almsdeeds.”
When extended to the entire world, the Feast became complete; it was made equal to the greatest solemnities, and widened its horizon till it reached the infinite, embracing uncreated as well as created sanctity. Its object was now, not only Mary and the Martyrs; not only all the just children of Adam; but, moreover, the nine choirs of Angels, and above all the Holy Trinity Itself, God Who is the King of kings — that is, of the Saints. Hear how the Church awakes Her children on this day: Come let us adore the Lord, the King of kings, for He is the Crown of all the Saints.
In many churches the ancient Office of the Feast, up to the 16th century, had this peculiarity: that at the Nocturns, the first antiphon, the first blessing, the first lesson and the first responsory, treated of the Blessed Trinity; the second of these respective pieces spoke of Our Lady; the third of the Angels; the fourth of the Patriarchs; the fifth of the Apostles; the sixth of the Martyrs; the seventh of the Confessors; the eighth of the Virgins; the ninth of all the Saints. On this account the first lesson, contrary to the custom of the rest of the year, was given to the highest dignitary of the choir, and the first responsory to the first cantors. The rest followed in order down to the children, one of whom sang the lesson of the Virgins, and five others, clothed in white and holding lighted tapers in the hands in memory of the five wise virgins, sang the eighth responsory before Our Lady’s altar. The ninth lesson and responsory were again chanted by the priests. All, or nearly all, of these customs have been successively modified; but the arrangement of the responsories remains the same.
Ancient documents referring to this day inform us that on the 1st of November the same eagerness was shown as at Christmas to assist at the Holy Sacrifice. However general the Feast was, or rather because of its universality, was it not the special joy of everyone, and the honor of Christian families? Taking a holy pride in the persons whose virtues they handed down to posterity, they considered the Heavenly glory of the ancestors, who had perhaps been unknown in the world, to be a higher nobility than any earthly dignity.
Faith was lively in those days; and Christians seized the opportunity of this Feast to make amends for the neglect, voluntary or involuntary, suffered during the year by the Blessed inscribed on the general Calendar. In the famous Bull Transiturus de hoc mundo, by which he established the Feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Urban IV mentions this as one of the motives that had led to the prior institution of All Saints; and expresses a hope that the new Solemnity may in like manner compensate for the distractions and coldness of the rest of the year towards this divine Sacrament, wherein He resides Who is the Crown and Glory of all Saints.
The Introit antiphon resembles one read on some Feasts of Our Lady. This Feast is indeed a sequel to Mary’s triumph. As Our Lord’s Ascension called for His Mother’s Assumption, both required for their completion the universal glorification of the human race which provides Heaven with its King and Queen. Joy, then, on earth, which continues thus magnificently to give its fruit! Joy among the Angels, who see their vacant thrones filled up! Joy, says the Verse, to all the blessed who are receiving the congratulations of Heaven and earth! Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honor of all the Saints: at whose solemnity the Angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God. (8)
Image: All Saints, artist: Fra Angelica, circa 15th Century (13)
Research by REGINA Staff