All Saints, Nov. 5

Rev. 7:9-17Ps. 34:1-10, 221 John 3:1-3Matt. 5:1-12

There are saints, known and unknown, who by the example of their lives show us how to live and how to hope for the joys of the age to come. Though virtuous and godly, they were not perfect, and their imperfections often promoted their superstar status. Great saints are the great heroes of faith. Some of their names are written in our calendar, most are not, though they are all written in the book of life. Christianity is what it is because of these people; they were witnesses in their generation to the transforming power of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. “Grant that we may find our inheritance with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all the saints who have found favor with you in ages past” (Eucharistic Prayer D).

The New Testament has a different and broader definition of saint, using the word repeatedly to address the entire Christian community. St. Paul writes, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7); “To the church of God that is in Corinth to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2); “To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). There is no question that the earliest definition of the word saint is every believer.

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A feast day is appointed for the great saints, November 1, and the day following is a remembrance of All Souls, every departed person united to Christ by faith and baptism. Observance in local parishes, however, often conflates these two days on the Sunday following All Saints.

In the parish I served for 19 years, the emphasis was clearly in the direction of All Souls, as we had a tradition of reading a long list of the faithful departed before offering the eucharistic prayer. Standing behind the altar, commending our loved ones to God, I would take a sheet of paper and read, carefully and slowly. A deep silence would fall over the congregation as names evoked memories, as the nave filled with invisible souls. In this way, parishioners prayed individually and for each other, a real and profound sharing in sorrow and joy. In 2008, on All Saints Sunday, I read my daughter’s name, barely two months after her sudden death in a car accident. Where are the souls we love? And is love stronger than death?

Prayer for the dead is a form of protest, a refusal by God’s grace to consign our loved ones to nothingness. We hold them up to God with all our love; we see them in a great multitude, among nations and tribes, people and languages, robed and victorious. We believe and hope that hunger and thirst are no more; there is no scorching heat, they walk along springs of living water, God wipes the tears from their eyes (Rev. 7:9-17). They look upon the throne and are radiant (Rev. 7:9; Ps. 34:5). And yet “what we will be has not been revealed.” We pray in signs and metaphors, but our hope is in the name of the Lord. And our hope is secure. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9, KJV). “There we will rest and we will see, we will see and we will love, we will love and we will praise. Behold, in the end there will be no end” (St. Augustine, The City of God). Let prayer be hope and love, and love, and more love.

Look It Up
Read Revelation 7:9.

Think About It
Love is the link between the living and the dead.

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