All Saints and All Souls
Today, Sunday, we celebrate All Saints Day, and tomorrow All Souls Day. We are enjoying a time of remembrance in our church. It always strikes me as appropriate for late autumn, as the days get darker, we start to look toward the end of the calendar year and tend to be more melancholic.
Most, if not all, will say, thank God that 2020 is going to come to an end. An annus horribilis if ever there was one!
Today and tomorrow we give thanks for those who have gone before us, whether saintly or not. The Feast of All Saints’ is the day on which we celebrate all the saints, known and unknown. It was Pope Gregory III (731-741) who named November 1 as the common date to celebrate the saints.
This is a day to celebrate all holy men and women, and ask for their prayers and intercession. We honour those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but also the unknowns and the misfits.
Robert Ellsburg, a Catholic writer and associate of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, says about saints, Each saint offers a unique glimpse of the face of God; each enlarges our moral imagination; each offers new insights into the meaning and possibilities of human life.
George Bernanos, the author of The Diary of a Country Priest, says, a saint doesn’t live on the interest of his income, or even on his income; he lives on his capital, he gives all his soul. In other words, a saint shows total dedication to God. It is because of their imperfections, searching, struggles, doubts, unique personalities, and daily efforts that we can relate to certain saints.
That is why so many of us think of certain saints as our patrons, asking them to intercede on our behalf. Whatever their quirks or oddities, it is helpful for us to know that there is a special saint who knows precisely what we struggle with.
Tomorrow we have the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. Commonly referred to as All Souls’ Day, it is an invitation for us to prayerfully remember those who have passed away. We pray that the faithful departed may enter the full beatific vision of union with God, thus seeing God face to face.
The first historical evidence for a celebration such as All Souls’ Day comes from St. Isadore of Seville, who died in 636. It gradually spread until Rome accepted it in the 13th century.
However, the practice of praying for the dead goes back to St. Paul and the early church. Tertullian, one of the Church Fathers, is the first to mention prayers for the dead: The widow who does not pray for her dead husband has as good as divorced him.
Subsequent writers similarly make mention of the practice as prevalent. The most famous instance is Saint Augustine‘s prayer for his mother, Monica, at the end of the 9th book of his Confessions, written around 398.
Many parish communities have a practice in November to remember the dead. Parishioners are invited to place at the altar lists of names of those to be remembered at the daily Mass.
In Latin America, it has become customary to call the word presente after the recitation of the name of someone who has died in the struggle for peace and justice. It is a way of honouring and calling forth the persons, in a sense indicating that they are still present with us.
By commemorating our faithful departed at the daily Mass, we are acknowledging the same thing – that they are present to us, in a new way. We recognize that presence each time we remember and live out of all that they taught us and passed on to us.
We celebrate those who have preceded us in death. We can take time to recall the many gifts they gave us. In that, they play a role similar to the saints. With both saints and the deceased, we have women and men who can intercede for us.