The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

The Feast of All Saints — November 1

In the evening of the 31st of October, the bells ring out as joyously as on the brightest days. They announce the great solemnity of the closing liturgical cycle: the Feast which shows us time stamped with the impress of eternity, and God taking possession of the declining year and gathering in its harvest. At the sound of their triumphant and harmonious peals, the Church, prostrate and fasting since morning, raises Her brow to the light. Guided by St. John, She penetrates the secrets of Heaven; and the words of the beloved disciple, uttered now by Her lips as She begins First Vespers, assume a tone of incomparable enthusiasm. This feast is truly the triumph of Her motherhood; for the great crowd of the Blessed before the throne of the Lamb are the sons and daughters She alone has given to the Lord: I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, standing before the throne.

When Rome had completed the conquest of the world, she dedicated to all the gods, in token of her gratitude, the Pantheon, the most durable monument of her power. But when she herself had been conquered by Christ, and invested by Him with the empire over souls, she withdrew her homage from vain idols and offered it to the martyrs; for they, praying for her as she slew them, had rendered her truly eternal. To the martyrs, then, and to Mary their Queen, she consecrated forever, on the morrow of her merciful chastisement, the now purified Pantheon.

Come forth from your dwellings, ye Saints of God; hasten to the place prepared for you (Ritual for the Dedication of a Church). For three centuries the catacombs were the resting-place of Our Lord's athletes, when they were borne from the arena. These valiant warriors deserved the honors of a triumph far better than did the great victors of old. In 312, however, Rome, disarmed but not yet changed in heart, was not at all disposed to applaud the men who had conquered the gods of Olympus and of the Capitol. While the Cross surmounted her ramparts, the white-robed army still lay entrenched in the subterranean crypts that surrounded the city like so many outworks. Three centuries more were granted to Rome, that she might make satisfaction to God's justice, and take full cognizance of the salvation reserved for her by His mercy. In 609 the patient work of grace was completed; the Sovereign Pontiff Boniface IV uttered the word for the sacred crypts to yield up their treasures. It was a solemn moment, a forerunner of that wherein the angel's trumpet-call shall sound over the sepulchers of the world. The Successor of St. Peter, in all his apostolic majesty and surrounded by an immense crowd, presented himself at the entrance of the catacombs. He was attended by eighteen chariots magnificently adorned for the conveyance of the martyrs. The ancient triumphal way was opened before the Saints; the sons of the Quirites sang in their honor: You shall come with joy and proceed with gladness; for behold, the mountains and the hills exult, awaiting you with joy. Arise, ye Saints of God, come forth from your hiding places; enter into Rome, which is now the holy city; bless the Roman people following you to the temple of the false gods, which is now dedicated as your own church, there to adore together with you the majesty of the Lord (Ritual for the Dedication of a Church).

Thus after six centuries of persecution and destruction, the martyrs had the last word; and it was a word of blessing, a signal of grace for the great city hitherto drunk with the blood of Christians. More than rehabilitated by the reception she was giving to the witnesses of Christ, she was now not merely Rome, but the new Sion, the privileged city of the Lord. She now burned before the Saints the incense they had refused to offer to her idols; their blood had flowed before the very altar on which she now invited them to rest, since the usurpers had been hurled back into the abyss. It was a happy inspiration that induced her, when she dedicated to the holy martyrs the temple built by Marcus Agrippa and restored by Severus Augustus, to leave upon its pediment the names of its original constructors and the title they had given it; for then only did the famous monument truly merit its name, when Christian Rome could apply to the new inhabitants of the Pantheon those words of the 81st Psalm: I have said, you are gods. May 13th was the day of their triumphant installation.

The Pantheon in Rome - Dedicated as the Church of St. Mary of the MartyrsEvery dedication on earth reminds the Church, as She Herself tells us, of the assembly of the Saints, the living stones of the eternal dwelling which God is building for Himself in Heaven. It is not astonishing, then, that the dedication of Agrippa's Pantheon, under the above-mentioned circumstances, should have originated the Feast of All Saints. Its anniversary, recalling the Church's desire of honoring year by year all Her blessed sons who had died for the Lord; for, at an early date it became impossible to celebrate each of them on the day of his glorious death. In the age of peace there was added to the veneration of the martyrs that of the other just, who daily sanctified themselves in all the paths of heroism opened out to Christian courage. The thought of uniting these with the former in one common solemnity, which would supply for the unavoidable omission of many of them, followed naturally upon the initiative given by Boniface IV.

In 732, in the first half of that 8th century which was such a grand age for the Church, Gregory III dedicated, at St. Peter's on the Vatican, an oratory in honor 'of the Savior, of His Blessed Mother, of the holy Apostles, of all the holy Martyrs, Confessors, and perfect just, who repose throughout the world.' A dedication under so extensive a title did not, it is true, imply the establishment of our Feast of All Saints by the illustrious Pontiff; yet from this period it began to be celebrated by divers churches, and that, too, on November 1, as is attested, with regard to England, by Venerable Bede's martyrology and the pontifical of Egbert of York. It was far, however, from being universal, when in the year 835 Louis the Pious, son of St. Karl the Great, at the request of Gregory IV, and with the consent of all the bishops of his realm, made its celebration obligatory by law. This decree was welcomed by the whole Church and adopted as Her own, says Ado, with reverence and love.

The councils of Spain and Gaul, as early as the 6th century, mention a custom then existing, of sanctifying the commencement of November by three days of penance and litanies, like the Rogation days which precede the Feast of Our Lord's Ascension. The fast on the Vigil of All Saints is the only remaining vestige of this custom of our forefathers, who, after the institution of the Feast, advanced the triduum of penance, so as to make it a preparation for the solemnity itself. "Let our devotion be complete," is the recommendation of Alcuin, a contemporaneous author; "let us prepare ourselves for the most holy Solemnity by three days of fasting, prayer and almsdeeds."

When extended to the entire world, the Feast became complete; it was made equal to the greatest solemnities, and widened its horizon till it reached the infinite, embracing uncreated as well as created sanctity. Its object was now, not only Mary and the Martyrs; not only all the just children of Adam; but, moreover, the nine choirs of Angels, and above all the Holy Trinity Itself, God Who is the King of kings — that is, of the Saints. Hear how the Church awakes Her children on this day: Come let us adore the Lord, the King of kings, for He is the Crown of all the Saints.

In many churches the ancient Office of the Feast, up to the 16th century, had this peculiarity: that at the Nocturns, the first antiphon, the first blessing, the first lesson and the first responsory, treated of the Blessed Trinity; the second of these respective pieces spoke of Our Lady; the third of the Angels; the fourth of the Patriarchs; the fifth of the Apostles; the sixth of the Martyrs; the seventh of the Confessors; the eighth of the Virgins; the ninth of all the Saints. On this account the first lesson, contrary to the custom of the rest of the year, was given to the highest dignitary of the choir, and the first responsory to the first cantors. The rest followed in order down to the children, one of whom sang the lesson of the Virgins, and five others, clothed in white and holding lighted tapers in the hands in memory of the five wise virgins, sang the eighth responsory before Our Lady's altar. The ninth lesson and responsory were again chanted by the priests. All, or nearly all, of these customs have been successively modified; but the arrangement of the responsories remains the same.

Ancient documents referring to this day inform us that on the 1st of November the same eagerness was shown as at Christmas to assist at the Holy Sacrifice. However general the Feast was, or rather because of its universality, was it not the special joy of everyone, and the honor of Christian families? Taking a holy pride in the persons whose virtues they handed down to posterity, they considered the Heavenly glory of the ancestors, who had perhaps been unknown in the world, to be a higher nobility than any earthly dignity.

Faith was lively in those days; and Christians seized the opportunity of this Feast to make amends for the neglect, voluntary or involuntary, suffered during the year by the Blessed inscribed on the general Calendar. In the famous Bull Transiturus de hoc mundo, by which he established the Feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Urban IV mentions this as one of the motives that had led to the prior institution of All Saints; and expresses a hope that the new Solemnity may in like manner compensate for the distractions and coldness of the rest of the year towards this divine Sacrament, wherein He resides Who is the Crown and Glory of all Saints.

The Introit antiphon resembles one read on some Feasts of Our Lady. This Feast is indeed a sequel to Mary's triumph. As Our Lord's Ascension called for His Mother's Assumption, both required for their completion the universal glorification of the human race which provides Heaven with its King and Queen. Joy, then, on earth, which continues thus magnificently to give its fruit! Joy among the Angels, who see their vacant thrones filled up! Joy, says the Verse, to all the blessed who are receiving the congratulations of Heaven and earth! Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honor of all the Saints: at whose solemnity the Angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God.

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