“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.... [One of the elders] said to me, 'These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'” (Revelation 7:9,14).
All Saints Day is a surprisingly old feast. It arose out of the Christian tradition of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on the anniversary of their martyrdom.
When martyrdoms increased during the persecutions of the late Roman Empire, local dioceses instituted a common feast day in order to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were properly honored.
By the late fourth century, this common feast was celebrated in Antioch, and Saint Ephrem the Syrian mentioned it in a sermon in 373.
In the early centuries, this feast was celebrated in the Easter season, and the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, still celebrate it then.
In the early seventh century, after successive waves of invaders plundered the catacombs, Pope Boniface IV gathered up some 28 wagonloads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods.
The pope rededicated the shrine as a Christian church. According to Venerable Bede, the pope intended "that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honored in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons" (On the Calculation of Time).
But the rededication of the Pantheon, like the earlier commemoration of all the martyrs, occurred in May. Many Eastern Churches still honor all the saints in the spring, either during the Easter season or immediately after Pentecost.
How the Western Church came to celebrate this feast in November is a puzzle to historians. The Anglo-Saxon theologian Alcuin observed the feast on November 1 in 800, as did his friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg. Rome finally adopted that date in the ninth century.
The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration.
This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.
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This feast first honoured martyrs. Later, when Christians were free to worship according to their conscience, the Church acknowledged other paths to sanctity. In the early centuries the only criterion was popular acclaim, even when the bishop's approval became the final step in placing a commemoration on the calendar. The first papal canonization occurred in 993; the lengthy process now required to prove extraordinary sanctity took form in the last 500 years. Today's feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known.
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NOVEMBER - Praying for the Faithful Departed
Throughout November, which begins with All Saints Day (today, November 1) and All Souls Day (Monday, November 2), Catholics remember and pray for those who have gone ahead "marked with the sign of faith".
From earliest days, Christians have recalled their dead in prayer, particularly at Mass, living out the "communion of saints" which Vatican Council II described as follows:
"When the Lord comes in glory ..., death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating in full light God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.... All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.
"So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods" (Lumen Gentium #49).
All are encouraged to assist at Mass on these important days [this year, All Saints falls on the Lord's Day and so, like other Sundays, Catholics are bound to attend Mass] and--to the degree possible--visit cemeteries to pray for the repose of the souls of the deceased clergy, religious and lay faithful.
Tomorrow afternoon, I will celebrate the Cathedral's regular 5:15 Mass in the Archbishops' Chapel, where Mgr Guigues and his successors Archbishops Duhamel, Gauthier, Emard, Forbes, Vachon and Lemieux are entombed.
In this Year of the Priest, the Mass will be offered particularly for all our deceased clergy.
All are welcome to participate in this celebration.