The Solemnity of All Saints, a celebration of the unity of the church across time, is celebrated on Nov. 1.


This feast, originally a celebration of all the nameless martyrs of the persecutions, arose first in the East, where it was celebrated on May 13, or on the Sunday after Pentecost (Antioch), or the Friday after Easter (East Syria), or in the fall (Armenia and among the Copts).

In Rome, the day was first celebrated under Boniface iv in 609 on May 13, when the Pantheon became a Christian church honoring Mary and all martyrs.

Under Gregory iii (731–741), a chapel in honor of the Savior, Mary, the apostles, martyrs and confessors was opened in St. Peter’s Basilica. It seems that the chapel may have been dedicated on Nov. 1. This date and feast spread throughout the West, at first particularly in England, and then the northern countries. The feast had a vigil from the beginning, and in the Middle Ages an octave was added. Both were abolished in the 1955 simplification of the rubrics.


The eucharistic liturgy for the feast is a celebration of sanctity and holiness in the church. This manifests itself in a variety of ways.

It is joy-filled (entrance antiphon, preface, prayer after communion). The people who live the lives of saints are happy, blessed, bearing the characteristics of the Beatitudes (gospel, Mt 5:1–12).

Holiness entails forgiveness and love (opening prayer, prayer over the gifts).

This holiness is rooted in the fact that each person is created by God and thus becomes a manifestation of God’s love and saving plan. We are God’s children, and will one day live in the light (alternative opening prayer, prayer after communion, second reading: 1 John 3:1–3).

To arrive at this life of holiness is a journey of pilgrimage. We are nourished by the eucharistic bread and sustained by those who have gone before us and even now accompany us on our journey (preface, prayer after communion [the pilgrimage motif does not get translated into English]).

The goal of this journey is the new and eternal Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the site of God’s throne and where the hosts of God’s court sing songs of endless praise. It is the place where all God’s people are in communion with one another (preface, prayer after communion).

The liturgy of the hours presents three themes. The first is the idea, found also in the eucharist, of the fundamental unity of heaven and earth, of those in heaven and those yearning for heaven while still on earth. The basis of that unity is Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain (Office of Readings: Rev 5:1–4; Bernard of Clairvaux). The second is that the heavenly Jerusalem is our goal. It is the place where God’s children are gathered in praise and rejoicing (Evening Prayer I: Heb 12:22–24; Daytime Prayer: Isa 65:18–19; Rev 21:10–11a; 22, 3b–4). The third is that the church, God’s temple made up of his faithful ones, is a holy place, and building towards holiness: towards likeness to God in Jesus Christ (Morning Prayer Eph 1:17–18; Daytime Prayer. 1 Pet 1:15–16; Evening Prayer ii 2 Cor 6:16b; 7:1).

The solemnity of All Saints is both a look back at those who have gone before, as well as a commitment to what we must become: a holy people united together by a common life in God. It is a hope of our future glory in the new and eternal Jerusalem.

See also Calendar, liturgical


Bibliography: A. Adam, The Liturgical Year (New York, 1981), pp. 228–230. A. Nocent, The Liturgical Year (Collegeville, 1977), Vol. 4:403f. A.G. Martimort, et al., The Liturgy and Time, The Church at Prayer iv (Collegeville, 1986), esp. pp. 114–117.


The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship