'All Saints' — Who Are They?

Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1, 2020
•Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
•Ps 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6
•1 Jn 3:1-3
•Mt 5:1-12A

By Marc Massery

The Church has so many martyrs and saints that we could not possibly commemorate them each individually throughout the year. That’s, of course, why we have the Solemnity of All Saints, which the Church has celebrated formally since the early seventh century. 

In 609, Pope Boniface IV received permission from the emperor to repurpose and consecrate the infamous, second century pagan temple in Rome known as the Pantheon. The Pope had about 28 cartloads of relics transferred from the catacombs and interred beneath the altar of the once pagan temple. On May 13, he dedicated the Pantheon to “St. Mary and the martyrs.” Later, Pope Gregory IV would transfer the feast to Nov. 1. According to one historian, Pope Boniface dedicated the Pantheon to the martyrs “so that the commemoration of the saints would take place henceforth where not gods but demons were formerly worshipped.” Far from being a pagan holiday, the Solemnity of All Saints was meant to make holy what had once been unholy. 

Isn’t that, after all, what life is all about: making holy what had once been unholy? That’s who we mean when we say “all saints." They’re not only those whom the Church has canonized. The saints are those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven — those who have received God's mercy, lived saintly lives, and passed into paradise.  

So, it makes sense that the Gospel reading for the Solemnity of All Saints consists of the beatitudes. Those who have lived the beatitudes have lived holy lives. In the beatitudes, Jesus speaks to the blessedness of certain virtues: poverty, empathy, meekness, righteousness, mercy, to name a few. Perhaps the most powerful beatitude, though, is the last one: 

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. (Mt 5:11-12)

Etymologically, the word “saint” means to be “set apart.” Who could be more set apart than those whom the world insults, persecutes, and mocks on account of their faith? Ultimately, the world rejects holiness. That’s, of course, why so many of the saints have died martyrs. 

As Christ says, this isn’t a reason to be sad. This is a reason to rejoice, “for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:12). In the end, Heaven is all that truly matters. Now, hopefully most of us are not called to a bloody martyrdom. All of us, however, are called to live the beatitudes and become saints. In order to live holy lives, worthy of Heaven, we need to rely upon the grace and mercy of God. Saint Faustina wrote:

I want every soul to glorify the mercy of God, for each one experiences the effects of that mercy on himself. The Saints in heaven worship the mercy of the Lord. (745)

In the end, none of the saints entered into Heaven solely on their own merit. They became saints because they cooperated with the grace and mercy of God. So, on this Solemnity of All Saints, let's remember to trust in God's mercy. Let's ask for the grace to live the beatitudes as best we can, relying upon the saints in Heaven to pray for us in the hopes that we may one day end up where they are for all eternity. 

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