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All Saints Day trivia

In advance of Halloween and All Saint's Day this week, Father Michael Witczak, associate professor of liturgical studies and sacramental theology at Catholic University in Washington, shared some facts about the history of this celebration of saints.

Father Witczak, an expert on the liturgical celebration of saints, says that Halloween (or All Hallows Eve), "is a parable of the journey we are all on to the life of the saints and the hospitality we all need to arrive with the rest of the saints in glory."

The next day, All Saints Day, Nov. 1, is a holy day of obligation.

Father Witczak shares the following facts about saints and All Saints Day celebrations:

• Saints are of all ages: 12-year-old martyrs like St. Agnes and St. Maria Goretti and the 105-year-old hermit Antony of the Desert.

• Many saints have a special day in the calendar of saints. More saints don't. For some saints we know a lot about their history, while others we know only their name and the date and place of their burial.

• A special feast honoring all the martyrs goes back to the fourth century in the Eastern part of the church. There it is celebrated in the spring, in present day on the Sunday after Pentecost.

• Pope Boniface IV instituted a feast of Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13, 609, when he dedicated the old Roman temple called the Pantheon as a church with that name.

• Pope Gregory III built a special chapel in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome in the 730s and he dedicated it on Nov. 1 in memory of all the saints.

• Pope Gregory IV and Emperor Louis the Pious extended the Nov. 1 feast of All Saints to the Holy Roman Empire in the 830s, and from there it spread to all of Europe.

• The Nov. 1 liturgy uses the imagery from the Book of Revelation: "Today … we celebrate … the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise. Towards her, we eagerly hasten as pilgrims advancing by faith."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013