The Feast of All Saints is an ancient feast day, going back to at least the fourth century and celebrated on the first of November since the ninth century. From the Franciscans at American Catholic:
The earliest certain observance of a feast in honor of all the saints is an early fourth-century commemoration of "all the martyrs." In the early seventh century, after successive waves of invaders plundered the catacombs, Pope Boniface IV gathered up some 28 wagonloads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. The pope rededicated the shrine as a Christian church. According to Venerable Bede, the pope intended "that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honored in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons" (On the Calculation of Time).
Bede is the guy in the middle of the group of saints in the picture, by the way.
"Some 28 wagonloads of bones." Cool. Also cool is the fact that the reading for today is from the Book of Revelations:
After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”
All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
I'm sorry, did you want more profound commentary than just "cool"?
Speaking of saints, there was a great article by James Martin, S.J., in the Times today. He comments on last month's canonization of Mother Théodore Guérin. Mother Guérin founded a religious order and several schools in what was then the wilds of Indiana. She did this fighting tooth and nail with her bishop. Father Martin mentions she was not the only saint who was at odds with the Church hierarchy during their lives:
Many people think of the saints as docile, but Mother Guérin is not the only saint to have found herself at odds with local bishops, church officials or even the Vatican. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake at the behest of church officials. The writings of the great theologian Thomas Aquinas came under suspicion during his lifetime in the 13th century. And Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was jailed during the Spanish Inquisition over complaints about his ideas on prayer.
Somewhat more recently, in 1871, Mother Mary MacKillop was excommunicated — the church’s severest punishment — four years after founding a religious order for women in Australia. One biographer wrote that the bishops of the day were intimidated by Mary’s “independent spirit and steely character.” In 1995, Mary MacKillop was beatified, the final step before canonization, by Pope John Paul II.
Of course, one could think that canonization after death is the way the hierarchy appropriates and domesticates its dissidents, but I would think rather it is all a part of the continuing dialogue between individuals and the institution in preserving the Church. When either of those two parts of the Church act as if it is the whole Church, problems arise. The institutional Church has realized this at certain inspired moments, like Vatican II. Martin comments on this:
The church’s long history of “faithful dissent” offers both hope and perspective to Catholics in our time. It echoes the call of the Second Vatican Council, which, in 1964, declared that expressing opinions “on matters concerning the good of the church” is sometimes an obligation for the faithful.
An obligation. Of course the leash has shortened since 1964:
But, as some saints knew firsthand, a sincere intention is no guarantee that everybody in the church will listen — even today. Members of Voice of the Faithful, the lay organization founded in response to the sexual abuse scandals, are sometimes barred from meeting in Catholic parishes. Local chapters often gather in nearby Protestant church halls. Who knows which future saints are lurking there?
Read the whole article, it's good. And then get to Church, it's the Feast of All Saints.