Growing up in an Ohio farming community in the 1950s and 1960s, I was vaguely familiar with the terms All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. I knew that both of them were days of special observance for families of certain religious beliefs. For my own nominally Protestant family, they weren’t.
As an adult, I’ve come to associate this pair of special days as bookends. All Souls’ Day occurs each year on October 31, better known as Halloween in the secular world. All Saints’ follows on November 1 and is a Roman Catholic holy day of obligation in the United States except when it falls on a Saturday or a Monday. When it does, there is no obligation of attend a special mass associated with the day.
In the early Christian church, the faithful celebrated a day of recognition for each saint. By the fourth century, however, there was an annual feast to honor all the saints on the same day, according to AmericanCatholic.org.
Although my family never observed All Saints’ Day, it’s now one of the most important days in my life. American Catholics and several Protestant denominations include it in their respective liturgical calendars.
It’s a time to honor the saints both famous and obscure we believe are in heaven. Certainly some are more popular than others. Americans are particularly fond of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, for example. On All Saints’ Day, however, we honor all of them.
Some years back, I pondered at length whether this special day isn’t also significant for remembering all those individuals without St. in front of their names who contributed so much to our lives and who’ve reached the end of their earthly existence. When I thought about growing up, I was surprised to first recall several people who were the toughest taskmasters in town.
One was the piano teacher who insisted any student with talent attend an Interlochen Summer Arts Camp (then by audition for the gifted). Although musically inclined, I hated her lessons and her refusal to include any popular music so much that I took my mother up on her promise that I could quit at age 13. On my birthday, I telephoned the music teacher and did exactly that, much to my parents’ horror. Today, however, I’m incredibly thankful for the self-discipline she taught me.
Like so many girls of my generation, I was closer to my dad than to my mom. It was a good year if he managed more than 10 sentences. The man just didn’t like to talk but was full of grace. He really didn’t need to say much to convey a profound love of animals to his only child, now a rescuer of cats, dogs and horses.
On this All Saints’ Day, I have a new but very simple thought. How much more meaningful would our lives be if we paused to also remember our respective living saints on a regular basis? These are the special people who still live among us and show us the better side of life by their examples.
We’re often quick to pray for the friend who’s having surgery in two days or the family member going through a divorce. Why not take just five minutes a day – every day – to honor all those living individuals whose words and actions bless our lives?