On November 1, we celebrate Christian Community—All Saints’ Day. Previous posts on community¹ were not intended to mark this celebration, but still we can give thanks for God’s providential timing and add a quiet, “Hooray!” for All Saints’ approach, especially given the ghouls and ghosts our society celebrates at Halloween.
Now called The Solemnity of All Saints, this celebration once was titled Hallowmas, just as September 29 was Michaelmas (for the celebration of St. Michael and the Angels) and December 25 is still Christmas (for the celebration of Our Savior’s birth). Hallowmas was instituted to recognize and remember “the holy apostles, all saints, martyrs and confessors, [and] all the just made perfect who are at rest.”² Hallowsmas was sometimes called All Hallows. This led to the secular Halloween (short for “All Hallows Evening” or “Hallows E’en”).
Why should we care about All Saints? That’s like asking, “Why should we care about departed members of our biological families?” We care because those family members who were committed Christians nurtured us; they served as our examples; they prayed for us. The Christians in our families from previous generations served as beacons, guiding lights toward which we could walk on our own pilgrimage. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
We are encouraged to demonstrate the same discipleship and imitation of those whom, like St. Paul, the Church recognizes as Saints — particularly the martyrs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples! (CCC 957)³
Not all Saints are martyrs, however. Others lived long lives of faithfulness to Christ. Equally significant, the Church recognizes there were (and are today) even more men and women whose lives of heroic virtue qualify them as Saints, but they are yet unknown to us. All Saints’ is a day to celebrate them, too.
Finally, all who have died in Christ and have entered eternity before us, whether formally recognized as Saints or not, are part of the same Body of Christ as we are:
[A]t the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating “in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.”
All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together. (CCC 954)
How do we cleave, while separated by temporal death, as we presently are, from the Saints who are with Christ? One way is by asking the Saints to pray for us:
Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped. (CCC 956)³
This in no ways contradicts the wonderful promise made in Hebrews 7:25, that Christ lives forever as our eternal High Priest to make intercession for us. But we can ask the Saints in heaven to pray for us, just as we ask family and friends on earth to include us in their prayers! The Saints are not indifferent to our needs. Have you asked for a Saint’s prayer recently? Just as we imitate the Saints’ holiness, we can ask their intercession. This privilege is underscored in during the Sacred Liturgy, when the priest prays:
Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognizing the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself … May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect, especially with the most Blessed Virgin Mary, other of God, with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs, and with all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help. (Eucharistic Prayer III)
The immense richness of this doctrine, the great opportunity the Communion of Saints places before us, constitutes an entire section of The Catechism. It is very much worth our attention. But for brevity here, we can summarize and conclude preparation for All Saints’ Day with this:
None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Charity does not insist on its own way. [T]his solidarity with all men, living or dead … is founded on the communion of saints. (CCC 953)³
And that is is another magnificent example of Christianity Richly!
² In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III moved the date from May 13. That was the date on which All Saints’ had been celebrated since 609 or 610 when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs (Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres). The Pantheon is still standing, of course, and well worth a visit.
³ Catechism of the Catholic Church. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Libreria Editrice Vaticana (2011-11-02). Kindle Edition.