All Saints feast
Each age has produced its crop of holy men and women who go to make the amazing galaxy of saints in the Catholic Church. There are the canonized, the beatified, the venerable, the well-known and the little known, coming from all walks of life, cutting across all time frames as well as age and gender divides, some named in the book of saints, many others not, all too numerous to be counted! Indeed, it is to celebrate the grace- filled memory of all those in the realm of heaven who have accepted the saving grace of Christ, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the Church has instituted the “Feast of All Saints”. The exact origin of this feast, which has been accorded the highest rank among feasts, viz., a “Solemnity”, is unclear, observed as it has been on different days in different places. According to Sts Ephraem Syrus (c.306-373) and John Chrysostom (c.349-407), a feast honouring all the martyrs of the Church was already being observed on 13 May in the Eastern Church in the 4th century. It is this date that may have prompted the choice of the same date on the part of Pope Boniface IV when he dedicated the Pantheon in Rome which he had received from Emperor Phocas (d.610) in 609 or 610 to Our Blessed Mother and the Martyrs.
The first evidence of 1 November as the date of the celebration, however, was noted in England during the Papacy of Gregory III (73 l-741) who dedicated an oratory in St Peter’s, Rome, to all the saints. The broadening of the feast to include all the saints and martyrs of the Universal Church and its observance on 1 November is variably ascribed to Pope Gregory IV (827- 844) and Gregory VII (1020-1085).
Among the saints, who have lived and borne witness to the Paschal Mystery, Mary stands out as the Prima Donna of motherhood and virginity because of her intimate involvement with God’s plan of salvation. She is per se the perfection of the co-operation of humankind in the sacrifice of Christ. The saints are exquisite masterpieces of God’s work. But this feast is meant to remind us that the stuff each of them is made of is human flesh and blood like our own; that to be counted among the highly favoured of the Lord, it is not enough to be a Christian. Rather, we ought to cherish in our heart, points out St Alphonsus de Liguori, “a desire to achieve sanctity”, to enter ever more deeply into the death-resurrection mystery of Christ. The liturgical celebration of the feast of any saint and all the saints provides such an occasion.