Saints are not superhuman. They were people who loved God in their hearts and shared this joy with others. -Pope Francis
November 1st is known by many titles including Hollowmas, All Hallows Day, The Feast of All Saints and most commonly, All Saints’ Day. It is a holy day celebrating all Christian saints who have obtained heaven. Although many well known saints are honored and recognized on specific feast days throughout the year, there remain many unknown saints, either forgotten or who have never been specifically acknowledged. On All Saints’ Day, Christians acknowledge these known and unknown religious men and women and ask for their intercessions or prayers.
Since the second century, Christians have acknowledged martyrs and saints with feast days throughout the calendar year. At first, people in different regions celebrated on varying dates, but after a while feast days became more universal. The first mention of a well-known date to honor all saints and martyrs together is from St. John Chrysostom. In one of his homilies, St. John Chrysostom cites the feast being celebrated on every first Sunday after Pentecost. In some Eastern Churches, All Saints’ Day is still celebrated on this date.
After about four centuries, in 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV moved the feast day for saints and martyrs to May 13. Two centuries later, Pope Gregory III officially established All Saints’ Day as November 1st. This final shift of the date still stands over a millennium later as Catholics recognize martyrs of the faith, and all saints, whether or not they have been officially canonized. It’s a chance to reflect on their examples of faithfulness and unity with God, a work perfected by Christ. As Upper School History teacher Mr. Edward Hester pointed out, “It is very important to acknowledge and ask for prayers from saints because they are in heaven already, so their prayers are perfectly conformed to the will of God.” Hester continued, “In many cases, saints have endured the same things we are enduring, or worse”, a reality that often prompts the faithful to ask for the prayers of a particular saint.
Many Catholics find images of the saints to aid in this devotional practice. Over a decade ago, the St. Paul Seminary commissioned PA art teacher, Mr. Christopher Santer, to draw portraits of the saints. Santer has since completed over 100 beautifully detailed drawings. To begin drawing modern saints, Santer studies photos, but for the others he researches “traditions of the saint, the common portrayals that have endured through the centuries in art and writing”.
Though centuries may separate us from many saints, an image, a story, or a prayer all bring them closer to us and us closer to God. As Mary Rillens Lee ‘22 reflected, “Saints are wonderful role models because they show us that it is possible to live a good life and follow Christ, even though we are imperfect”.