From the earliest years of the church, Christians have honored and celebrated the great heroes and martyrs of the faith. On Nov. 1, Catholic parishes across the Anchorage Archdiocese will join the faithful around the world in continuing this ancient practice as the church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints.
The day is set aside to commemorate all the holy men and women of the church — both the famous and much admired as well as those who are unknown and unrecorded in history.
In the earliest days of the church, Christians observed the anniversary of a martyr’s death at the place of martyrdom. This practice grew during the bloody 4th century in which the Roman Emperor Diocletian slaughtered untold Christians in a failed attempt to destroy the faith. During this time the number of martyrs grew so large that the faithful began setting aside a common day in which to honor all of the martyrs.
According to the Catechism, the church is a “communion of saints” that shares “holy things” in common — chiefly the sacraments. This communion is also “the unity of believers, who form one body in Christ.” This is a body that suffers together and bears fruit together for all.
In the early 8th century, Pope Gregory III fixed Nov. 1 as the day in which the Catholic Church would celebrate all the saints.
On the Solemnity of All Saints the church highlights the connection of the faithful on earth with the many saints who have gone on to heaven. The church teaches that those holy men and women in heaven have a dynamic connection to the faithful on earth and pray for their sanctification. All Saints day also highlights the belief that God calls each person to holiness and sainthood.
At last year’s Solemnity of All Saints, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to view the church as more than just a human institution, marked by human weakness, but to see the church as Christ willed it — as ‘the communion of saints.’”
The pope noted also that celebration of the saints is intrinsically linked to the celebration of All Souls Day, which occurs the following day on Nov. 2. This is the day in which the church prays for all souls still in Purgatory — those who are still preparing for heaven.
All Souls Day, the pope said, “helps us to remember our loved ones who have left us, and all the souls on their way to the fullness of life, just on the horizon of the heavenly church.”