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Feasts of Saints, Souls and a King - 1st November 2015
Today is the first day of November, a month which begins with the celebration of all the saints and culminates is the feast of Christ the King.
All Saints’ Day (also called All Hallows), is celebrated on 1st November in the Western Church. This year the solemnity falls on a Sunday and replaces the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time.
The feast of All Saints recognises all the saints, both known and unknown, in a single celebration. The Preface used at Mass on this day reminds us that we are joining in the feast day of “the heavenly Jerusalem, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives God eternal praise”.
The feast 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 Roman Catholics, All Saints is a day to remember, venerate, imitate and invoke the saints.
We remember and thank God for all saints, both dead and living and glorify Jesus Christ who by his life and death has made the saints holy through baptism and faith.
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 such wonderful things in the life of one of us.
We imitate the saints because they offer examples of how to be disciples of Christ. The preface for the feast emphasises this:
“We eagerly hasten as pilgrims advancing by faith,
rejoicing in the glory bestowed upon those exalted
members of the Church
through whom you give us, in our frailty,
both strength and good example.”
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.
Celebrating All Souls Day on the day after All Saints reminds us of those who have not yet achieved the goal of their pilgrimage, the Kingdom of Heaven. As part of the communion of saints, they need our prayers. This feast is an opportunity for us to pray in unity for our relatives and friends and for those who have no one to pray for them.
The feast of Christ the King which brings the liturgical year to a close was instituted by Pius IX in 1925 to mark the close of a Year of Jubilee. This feast should inspire all Christians with a sense of confident hope that Christ will come again as the supreme ruler over “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace”. (Preface of Christ the King)