The Feast of All Saints has its roots going as far back as the late 4th century. At least, some places kept such a feast then. Gradually the celebration became fixed on 1 November, and gradually it spread all over the Church, until in the 9th century Pope Gregory IV decreed it had to be kept universally as we keep it now: a major solemnity of the year. Even after Vatican II, All Saints remains a feast of the 1st rank, taking precedence even over Sunday.
You might think it odd to celebrate Saints, even lots of them, in precedence to celebrating Christ’s resurrection on a Sunday. But actually this also is a feast of Christ’s resurrection. With and in all the Saints we celebrate Christ’s victory; the consummation of what he came to do, and to bring. Nor can the Saints be separated from the Lord. They are one with him; perfectly united with him in charity, and in his Body. In them all of Christ’s redeeming work is seen in its achievement. He was born, and died, and rose again, not just to save us from hell, but to draw us to heaven; not just to cleanse us from our sins, but to make us truly holy; to make us Saints. So when we celebrate Christ’s victory in the Saints, with them all we give great glory to God.
I suppose that in heaven everyone is a Saint. Whatever was unworthy of perfect holiness in anyone’s life on earth must first be purged away before they get there: but then they will truly be fit for heaven, and for God’s all-holy presence, in purity and glory and endless joy. But many many needed no such purgation after their death: they were already Saints before that. And there are so many of them - of every conceivable rank and age and state of life, from every country and period of history. There’s no such thing as a standard Saint.
Of course all the Saints do share this: that they are people who were somehow extraordinarily close to God - filled with his holiness - conformed to Christ - heroic in the practice of virtue, and of Charity. These people were - are - absolutely good - always most attractive - completely unselfish - absolutely given, according to their own particular vocation - filled to the brim, and overflowing, with love. They must be the most convincing proof, or demonstration, of the truth of the Catholic Faith. Reading about them and their lives will always remain a strongly recommended practice, resulting in the strengthening of our own faith, and a re-inspiring of our own commitment, and determination, and courage.
Often the canonised Saints performed miracles, after the manner of their Master; often also they carried out works of great historical importance in the Church; often they shed their blood for Christ.
But today’s feast reminds us of countless others, who will always remain unknown on earth, though very well known to God, to the Angels and all the other inhabitants of heaven. They will never be formally canonised, because they were apparently so ordinary - though actually very extraordinary. Not for them fame, or miracles, or a cult of devotion among the faithful in all the following centuries. Perhaps they died, like their Master, in apparent failure and wretchedness. But now they shine with him in glory, and today we honour them, and express our gratitude to them, along with all the famous ones.
All these Saints in heaven are our friends. It’s useful to be privileged to meet and know some on this earth too, who will also automatically be our friends, since we will share with them their love for God and for Jesus Christ our Lord. As for all those up there now in heaven: they may be far above us in merit and holiness and glory; but still we are in communion with them. We can’t pray for them, because they need nothing; but we can pray with them, and they certainly pray for us - and with great efficacy and power.
I have just 3 points now to leave you with.
From St. John’s letter: we are already children of God. We have been given everything we need in the Sacraments. Already we’ve been radically freed from our sins, and lifted up to share in Christ’s own divine sonship. So radically we are already Saints: as St. Paul called the Christian communities he wrote to. But St. John reminds us that something very great, very wonderful remains in store for us. We can’t yet see it. We will then; and in that vision of his face will be all our bliss without end.
Rather as an extension of that point: here’s another. We shouldn’t be ever content with not being Saints, even great Saints. We shouldn’t be content with mere worldly mediocrity, and giving in to our weaknesses, and drifting easily along with the secular consensus. There’s always a sadness if someone refuses an opportunity for growth in holiness and goodness; refuses to grow in blessedness; refuses to take a great gift offered by God. They will be like the Rich young Man: offered a great gift, he turned it down, and was so much the poorer and sadder for that.
Finally: today is a day of joy and of victory. So it’s a reminder never to get despondent about the Church, as if she could be, or even has been somehow defeated. Yes, we see the results of sin and infidelity all around us. But also we see signs of real goodness, and in some few people nothing but goodness. We rejoice in that, and we know that this is the side which has the final victory; for Christ has not died in vain.