A Catholic Guide to Celebrating All Saints Day
Growing up, one of my favorite Masses to attend all year was the Easter Vigil, and not because I was an exceptionally pious child who would rather attend a three-hour service than the usual one-hour one. Like most children, I had a hard time sitting still through the entirety of the vigil, but calming my fidgets was worth it to me for one major reason: the Litany of the Saints.
The Litany of the Saints is one of my most beloved pieces of Catholic music, and the only time we sang it at my home parish growing up was during the Easter Vigil after the adults who had prepared to receive the Sacraments of Initiation throughout the year were officially received into the church, thus uniting themselves with the communion of saints. It still gives me goosebumps to think about singing the somber melody, calling to mind all the saints who surround us as a cloud of witnesses, and asking for their intercession while sitting with my family in a radiant church, fragrant with the smell of Easter lilies.
Decades later, I still wish that the Litany of Saints was played more frequently at Masses (as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic parish, I’m always trying to talk our music director into including the Litany at our Confirmation service; no luck yet), but I also have access to my own Spotify library these days and so I am able to listen to and sing along with the song whenever I like (and Matt Maher's Litany is on heavy rotation now, too).
One day that I always listen — on repeat — is All Saints Day. All Saints Day is the feast day on which Catholics remember and celebrate all of the saints who have gone before us, both those who are officially recognized by the church (the Capital “S” Saints), and those who aren’t canonized but lived holy lives, devoted to following Jesus and serving their neighbors (the lower case “s” saints). It’s one of my favorite days of the liturgical year for many of the same reasons that I loved singing the Litany of Saints at the Easter Vigil. I love feeling connected to my inter-generational family of faith and it nourishes my spirit to remember and celebrate the lives of my deceased loved ones.
All Saints Day is coming up, and so it’s on my mind to prepare for the day by getting my rituals and practices in order. Besides listening to the Litany of Saints, here are a few ways I commemorate All Saints Day with my family.
Take a Tour of the Saints in Our Home
Our house is full of saint statues, wall hangings, and quote plaques, and while I try to point them out to my children at various times, and to regularly pause before them to say a prayer as I wander through my house, I don’t always succeed in these endeavors. What can I say? The items hanging on the walls often start to fade into the walls once I become accustomed to their presence. All Saints Day is an opportunity to pay special attention, though, and I use the occasion to walk with my kids throughout our house and teach them a little bit about each saint that we have present with us.
Read All the Saint Books
Okay, I’m not pulling out Butler’s Lives of Saints and reading it cover to cover on November 1, but I absolutely gather all of our children’s books about saints into one basket and make sure to read them all to my kids on All Saints Day. There are so many great illustrated books about saints; I think You Were Born to be a Saint — with its lovely illustrations, saint bios, and understandable explanation of the process of canonization — is especially sweet.
Decorate our Foyer Table with Pictures of Our Family’s Saints
I think I got this idea from Kendra Tierney’s wonderful guide on liturgical living, Catholic All Year, a few years ago, and it’s become one of my family’s most consistent All Saints Day traditions: for the whole month of November, starting on All Saints Day, we decorate a special spot in our home with depictions of our family’s “personal" saints. Sometimes I’ll move our namesake saint statues over to our mantel or table top, but usually we just include framed photographs of our deceased loved ones who walked with God in this life and we know are united with God in the next. My daughters, who notice any small change I make to anything in our home (for better or for worse) gravitate to the table with pictures the moment they wake up and are eager to hear stories about my husband’s and my grandparents, two of my aunts, and other important people in our lives. Talking about the photographs is a special way for us to remember our loved ones and it’s also a great opportunity to talk to my kids about how anyone can be a saint.
Say a Saint Prayer
Some of my favorite prayers were written by saints — The Suscipe, by St. Ignatius Loyola; St. Francis’s Peace Prayer; St. Teresa of Avila’s Guided by You prayer — and I often turn to these beautiful writings when I want to pray but don’t know what to say. On All Saints Day, I turn to them because I like to feel — on this day more than usual — as if I am praying not alone but as part of the communion of saints. Joining thousands of people across eras and areas in using the words of the saints to call out to God gives me this feeling.
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