Q. How does the Church choose which date will be celebrated as the memorial for each saint?
A. A saint’s feast day is typically the day on which the saint died (if that date is known). Sometimes there may be a liturgical reason for moving the day: For example, if a saint died on December 25, the memorial would be moved to another day so that its celebration would not always be overshadowed and preempted by Christmas. The day chosen might, for example, be the anniversary of that saint’s canonization.
In our culture, we celebrate birthdays as a person’s special day. But since ancient times, the day of a saint’s passing has been considered his or her “birthday” into a new and everlasting life after death. As early as the second century, St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote that he was experiencing “birth pangs” as he approached his death by martyrdom, when he would be born into heavenly life.
It’s a wonderful reminder that for the faithful Christian, death is not the end but the beginning. If birth into a short life here on earth is to be celebrated as a special day, how much more so birth into the beginning of the next life, a joyful eternity with God. Even for those who will be cleansed through the purgatorial process before entering heaven, it’s a day to be marked and celebrated: The final journey into eternal life has begun.