All Saints’ Day: What It Is and Where It Came From

On November 1, Western Christian communities commemorate All Saints’ Day (also called All Hallows’ Day, Feast of All Saints, and Feast of All Hallows), in honor of all the saints in the Church whether they are known or unknown in Christian history.

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The origins of this holy day of obligation are uncertain, but the Encyclopedia Brittanica states that as early as the 4th century, certain places have been commemorating a feast day for all Christian martyrs on May 13, on the First Sunday after Pentecost, and on the Friday after Easter.

May 13 was eventually chosen to be the anniversary of this celebration by Pope Boniface IV in 609-610 as it was the date of the Roman pagan festival called Lemuria, during which the Romans performed rites to exorcise the evil spirits of the dead from their homes.

It was during the reign of Pope Gregory III in 731-741, however, that the Christian community started celebrating All Saints’ Day on November 1. The Pope had dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for all the saints and martyrs on November 1. The date was then kept by churches around Europe until it was eventually made into a day of obligation in 835 by a decree of Emperor Louis the Pious. In 837 Pope Gregory IV ordered its general observance and the May 13 was then deleted from liturgical books.

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So why celebrate an All Saints’ Day when each saint has their own Feast Day throughout the year?

While many canonized saints have their own special days, there are others that are not canonized and are not given a holiday to be remembered. As it is a holy day of obligation, Catholics are urged to attend mass on this day.

In the Philippines, it is treated as a non-working holiday together with All Souls’ Day on November 2, and they are collectively known as “Undas.” During these days, Filipinos not only remember the saints and martyrs but also honor their departed loved ones.

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