The Feast of All Saints
On the Feast of All Saints, the Church celebrates every saint of God, those formally canonized as well as those known to man or known only to God who contended valiantly in this life and now enjoy the blissful vision of God for ever in heaven. The Church thus honors all the saints reigning together in glory to give thanks to God for the graces and crowns of his servants; to move ourselves to strive after their virtues by considering their example; and to implore divine mercy through this multitude of powerful intercessors.
In this, as in all other feasts of the saints, God is our only object of supreme worship, and the veneration paid to the saints is directed to give sovereign honor to Him alone whose gifts their graces are; and our prayers to them are only petitions to holy fellow creatures for the assistance of their prayers to God for us. When, therefore, we honor the saints, in them and through them we honor God and Christ, the King of Saints and their source of holiness and virtue.
These glorious citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem God has chosen out of all peoples and nations without any distinction, persons of all ages and out of all states and conditions. They were all made saints by the very occupations of their state and by the ordinary occurrences of life: prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, honor and contempt, riches and poverty—all these they made the means of their sanctification. God does not require, then, that men abandon their employments in the world, but that they hallow them by disengagement of heart and intention. Every station of life in the world has been adorned with saints.
The saints are far from having simply ethical significance only in patterns of virtuous life; they also have immense religious significance as functioning members of the mystical Body of Christ, who by intercession with Him, are in vital contact with the Church militant and suffering; they are also the fruits of redemption who have attained their last end in the vision of God: “They who have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God…” (Revelation 7:14-15)
All Saints is one of the great feast days of the Church because Our Lord is only perfectly fulfilled when he is united to all his members, the saints. The Feast of All Saints is glorious because it is an exterior manifestation of the hidden life of Jesus Christ. The greatness and perfection of the saints is entirely the work of his spirit dwelling in them.
Celebration of the Feast of All Saints began in the fourth century. At first it was observed on the Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, in order to link the disciples who received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the foundation of the Church, with those who were martyrs, giving their lives as witnesses for the faith. In the eighth century, a pope dedicated a chapel to All Saints in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on November 1, and within a century this day was being observed in England and Ireland as All Saints’ Day.
—Notes on Movable and Immovable Holy Days, taken from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Catholic Encyclopedia, and Shepherd’s Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary.