Celebrating All Saints Day

Celebrating All Saints Day

All Saints' Day (also called All Hallows), is celebrated on November 1 in the Western Church. This year the solemnity falls on a Sunday and is celebrated in place of the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The feast of All Saints recognises all the saints - those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven - both known and unknown, in a single celebration. The feast of All Saints first appeared in the fourth century when the Eastern Church introduced a feast to celebrate martyrs on the Sunday after Pentecost. The Eastern Church still observes All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

By the seventh century, the feast was being observed in the West and included those saints who were not martyrs. The present date of 1st November follows a tradition established in England and Ireland.

All Saints Day is celebrated by Christian from a number of different traditions. Because of our differing understandings of the identity and function of the saints, however, the liturgical practices associated with the feast vary.

For some, the day is observed by remembering and thanking God for all saints, both dead and living. It is a day to glorify Jesus Christ, who by his holy life and death has made the saints holy through Baptism and faith. For Roman Catholics, All Saints is a day to remember, venerate, imitate and invoke the saints.

We venerate the saints as human beings transformed by the grace of God. When we celebrate the feast of a saint, we give glory to God who has done marvellous things in the life of one of us.

We imitate the saints because they offer examples of how to be disciples of Christ. When the calendar was pruned after Vatican II, it was not to downplay the role of the saints, but to ensure that those which remained offered models of discipleship which are relevant for the Church in all ages and places.

We invoke the intercession of the saints in the sense that we ask them to pray for us, just as we might ask a friend or family member to pray for us. Catholics are sometimes accused of denying the basic Christian doctrine that Christ is the one mediator between humanity and God because they pray to the Saints. While it is no doubt true that some Catholics do pray to the saints, orthodox Catholic teaching is that we ask the saints to pray to God on our behalf.

As always, what the church believes is expressed in its liturgical prayers:

“Today we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place.
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love.” (Opening Prayer for All Saints)

“May the prayers of the saints deliver you from present evil;
may their example of holy living
turn your thoughts to service of God and neighbour.” (from Solemn Blessing for All Saints)

“All holy men and women, pray for us.” (Litany of the Saints)

“The work of your hands is manifest in your saints,
the beauty of your truth is reflected in their faith.
May we who aspire to have part in their joy
be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives,
so that having shared their faith on earth
we may also know their peace in your kingdom. (Alternative Opening Prayer for All Saints)


Elizabeth Harrington