All Saints’ Day — Celebrating Our Spiritual “Tour Guides”

True or False:

All Saints’ Day is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church?

All Saints DayIf you guessed true, you’re right! In the United States, the Church celebrates six Holy Days of Obligation—feast days when Catholics are mandated to attend mass. The other five Holy Days of Obligation are: Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God; The Ascension of Our Lord; The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; and Christmas. (FYI: Easter isn’t usually listed as a Holy Day of Obligation because it always falls on a Sunday—the day Catholics are already obligated to attend mass). The feast of All Saints’ Day is celebrated every November 1. As one of only six Holy Days of Obligation, let’s take a moment to learn about the history and the significance of this day.

The History & Significance of All Saints Day

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) defines a saint as, “persons in heaven who lived lives of great charity and heroic virtues and who are worthy of imitation.” As the name implies, All Saints’ Day, or the Solemnity of All Saints, is a day to recognize and honor ALL the saints–known and unknown—in heaven. It’s also a day to thank God for sending these chosen, holy individuals into our lives to show us how to live a truly virtuous, righteous life.

This day also serves as a reminder that the saints are available to us to serve as our intercessors before God. We can pray to them for whatever needs we may have and see God’s divine mercy work through them. They are our spiritual “tour guides” and advocates on our journey of life.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this day is to remind us that we, too, are called by God to live a life of holiness and to learn how to pave our own path to sainthood. You, me, anyone can be a saint. While only a select few actually become saints, we are all called to live our lives as saints. What does that mean? The Lumen Gentium, one of the principle documents of the Second Vatican Council, says it best: “we must follow in His [God’s] footsteps and conform ourselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. [We] must devote ourselves with all [our] being to the glory of God and the service of [our] neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”

If you think trying to live like a saint is impossible, remember that like us Saint Therese of Lisieux, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Benedict, and many other saints endured immense suffering during their life on earth—they suffered from depression, were persecuted, physically and emotionally battered, and struck with illnesses. They were all human and as such, many of them had a great number of flaws—they were sinners and were tempted by the devil—just like us. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (who is on her path to becoming a saint) even doubted her faith throughout much of her life and doubted if God existed. What distinguishes a saint from a “regular” person is his or her ability to believe in the word of God and His promises even in the midst of trials and difficulties in their lives. Although they are suffering in mind, body, or spirit, they never stop trying to live the life God chooses them to live. As the Our Father prayer says, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

History of All Saints’ Day

Historians have traced the history of the feast of All Saints’ Day in the Western Church back to the seventh century, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Roman Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs on May 13, 609 or 610. The feast was observed each year on this date until the pontificate of Gregory III (731-741) when he changed the date of observance to November 1. It was on this date that Gregory dedicated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter’s to “All the Saints.” Throughout the eighth century worshippers fluctuated between celebrating All Saints on May 13 and November 1. In 835, Gregory IV formally ordered the Feast of All Saints to be universally observed on November 1.

Who are the most popular saints?

While the exact number of saints dating back to the early Church is uncertain, the number is believed to be in the thousands. Search any book on saints and there’s a patron saint for virtually every ailment, conflict, or state in life. From accountants and widows to drivers and those afflicted with a disease, there is a saint that can intercede on the behalf of many. While each saint has his or her special place in our faith, there are some saints who have had a distinct impact on the Church and are popular among the devoted. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops offered a list of “10 Saints Who Were Great Evangelizers.” They are:

  • Saints Peter and Paul
  • St. Jerome
  • St. Augustine
  • St. Patrick
  • St. Francis of Assisi
  • St. Ignatius of Loyola
  • St. Francis Xavier
  • St. Juan Diego
  • St. Daniel Comboni
  • St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus

This November 1, don’t just sit back and admire the lives of saints. Rather, strive to actively imitate how they lived their lives. They have gone before us and have paved the way, leaving behind many valuable life lessons for us to take on our journey of life.