This coming week, November 1st, is the Solemnity of All Saints, the day we honor all those in Heaven, especially the “small s” saints who are not canonized and whom God alone knows. The saints are not just our models they are also our friends. They cheer us on in our earthly struggles and support us with their prayers so that we might eventually join them in the praise of our God in Heaven.
The veneration of the memory of the saints (not worship or adoration) goes back to the earliest days of the Church, to the middle of the second century precisely. It was recorded that the memory, as well as the bones, of St. Polycarp were honored by the early Christians following his martyrdom. It was around the martyrs in general that the veneration of saints began and by the sixth century that veneration extended to other men and women who themselves did not die a martyr’s death, but who nonetheless lead lives that were models of holiness.
In the early seventh century, following successive attacks on Rome, during which the catacombs were raided by barbarians, the bones of the martyrs in Rome were all gathered together and buried beneath the Pantheon, a pagan temple dedicated to all the Roman gods. The Pantheon was then dedicated by Pope Boniface IV as a church to the honor of the Blessed Mother and all the Martyrs with the feast being celebrated on May 13. A century later, Pope Gregory III dedicated a new chapel in the first St. Peter’s Basilica that was dedicated to the Apostles and all saints on November 1, suppressing the former feast celebrated on May 13. Some have attributed All Saints Day being on November 1st because of the Irish pagan traditions of celebrating the dead at that time. This is historically dubious since the November 1 celebration of All Saints did not begin as a universal feast but started in Rome, then spread to Germany, and finally to the rest of the Church.
Immediately following All Saints Day, the Church remembers all the faithful departed on All Souls Day (November 2nd) as well as through the whole month of November. The Church is especially mindful of those souls who, while dying in the state of grace, died with some remaining attachment to venial sin and are experiencing a process of spiritual cleansing and perfection in purgatory. The custom of praying for the dead is found in the Scriptures with one of the primary references found in 2 Maccabees 12: 26, 32 which says, “turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. Thus they made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin.”
Beginning on All Souls Day, the Book of Remembrance will be placed in front of the baptismal font so that within it you may inscribe the names of family and friends who have died. They will be remembered at all Masses throughout the month of November.
Father Christopher House is the Rector-Pastor of the Cathedral and serves in various leadership roles within the diocesan curia, specifically Chancellor and Vicar Judicial.