The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).
This passage is a beautiful description of the communion of saints, something so fundamental to the Christian faith that all Christians express their belief in it when reciting the Apostles’ Creed.
A saint is someone who is in heaven — it is as simple as that. While “saint” as a title is reserved to those whose lives the church has thoroughly investigated (typically through whose intercession two miracles can be demonstrated to have occurred), the term applies to anyone in heaven.
Everyone from your saintly grandmother to the martyrs facing death for Christ: They are all part of the communion of saints. The church commemorates all these saints on All Saints’ Day.
All Saints’ Day was not always a solemnity observed by the universal Church, and is not celebrated everywhere on Nov. 1. The feast originated in the earliest centuries of the Church, when Christians commemorated the many martyrs who died at the hands of their Roman persecutors. Because there were so many martyrs, they could not each have their own feast day; but they were seen as such important witnesses that the Christians did not want to leave any of them out.
As a result, a single commemoration for “all the martyrs” was observed each spring, which celebrated those who did not have their own unique feast.
All Saints’ Day is a holy day of obligation and recognized as one of the most important feasts on the liturgical calendar. However, the celebration of Halloween typically overshadows the commemoration of All Saints’ Day. Most of us realize that Halloween is in reality the vigil of All Saints (“Allhallows Eve” or “Hallow E’en”), but All Saints’ Day itself has become a bit of an afterthought.
It shouldn’t be this way. The saints are our friends, our intercessors, our brothers and sisters in Christ. They care deeply for us, and their lives are recognized by the church as exemplary, as models to follow.
So how can we celebrate this wonderful feast of All Saints’ Day?
Whether you are commemorating individually or in a group or a family, there are many ways to observe this solemnity. The most obvious is: Go to Mass! It is a holy day of obligation, and there is no more appropriate way to commemorate the saintly lives of those who have gone before us than the eucharistic sacrifice.
It is also good to do other liturgical or prayerful things to mark the day: Pray the Divine Office for All Saints’ Day; read the lives of the saints; watch a movie about a saint; pray the litany of saints; think back to your confirmation saint and study that saint’s life.
Similarly, if any of your children share the name of a saint, learn about that saint together: Read about the saint and pray together, asking for the saint’s intercession.
All Saints’ Day is the perfect time to pray to all these holy men and women, asking for their intercession for the conversion of sinners, so that we might all become saints.