Where did it come from and why do we recognize it? For many, there is a confusion between All Saints and All Souls Day. There are some Catholics going through the motions of attending Mass simply because it is a holy day of obligation and for no other purpose. Each tradition the Church honors has an origin just as each tradition your family holds dear has an origin. It also has a purpose.
The recognition of Christian martyrs dates back to the 4th century when there were specific places and times when a feast was held to commemorate all those who gave their life for the sake of Christ. It was a time to honor and recognize those who served Jesus and paid with their life. It was a time to be strengthened and renewed with the hope and joy of eternal life given by the Lord. However, it started appearing on the official Church liturgical calendar during when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary in May 609. It is because of this dedication that the feast day started out being observed in the month of May. It was later moved to November during Pope Gregory III’s pontificate. (731-741 A.D.). The celebration was further recognized when Pope Gregory IV ordered it as a general observance in 837 A.D. It was extended to those beyond martyrdom and recognized all those who lived a life honoring and serving Christ.
The feast day has many different names: All Saints Day, All Hallows’ Day, Feast of All Saints, Feast of All Hallows, Solemnity of All Saints, and Hallowmas. It is because of the celebration of this feast day (All Hallows) on November 1 that we have Halloween (All Hallows Eve). The difference between All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day is that on November 1, Christians celebrate our brothers and sisters in Christ who have achieved spiritual maturity and, thus, are in heaven with Christ. It’s a day to venerate all the holy men and women canonized by the Church. It is, however, not exclusive to just canonized saints. The communion of saints (which we profess in the Apostles’ Creed each Mass), consists of every man and woman that has placed hope in Jesus Christ, been baptized, and have been adopted by Jesus into God’s family. One does not have to be officially canonized by the Church to be a saint. All Saints Day allows us to not only seek the intercession of our favorite saints, but to seek the intercession of our departed brothers and sisters we believe are already with God.
All Saints Day is typically commemorated by attending Mass (since it is a holy day of obligation), praying to our favorite saints, praying the rosary, or perhaps doing some spiritual reading or meditation on the saints. It is not a day to gloss over as another “rule” of the Catholic Church that “I have to go to Mass.” It is an opportunity to spend time with the saints. It’s an opportunity to remind us to set aside some time to focus on Christ through the lives of the saints. It's a chance for us to pause and ask ourselves “Am I living like a saint?” We are all called to be saints.