All Saints / All Souls

All Saints Day is a Solemnity celebrated on the first of November. It is instituted to honor all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful's celebration of saints' feasts during the year.

 

Ephrem Syrus (d. 373) mentions a Feast dedicated to the saints in his writings. St. Chrysostom of Constantinople (d. 407) was the first Christian we know of to assign the Feast to a particular day: the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Feast did not become established in the Western Church, however, until the Roman bishop Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to Christian usage as a church on May 13, 609 or 610.  The Feast was observed annually on this date until the time of Bishop of Rome, Gregory III (d. 741) when its observance was shifted to Nov. 1, since on this date Gregory dedicated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter's to "All the Saints." It was Gregory IV (d. 844), who in 835 ordered the Feast of All Saints to be universally observed on November 1st.

 

"Most people are shocked the first time they visit Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. They cannot believe their eyes when they see what the great master had painted. The colors are so vivid, so stunning! The blues, the deep, deep blues, the reds and pinks, the brilliant flesh colors.

 

Michelangelo's great masterpiece, from Creation to Last Judgment was unveiled on All Saints Day of 1541. I think of this great masterpiece on All Saints Day 1996 in all of its vivid brightness as but a shadow of God's own creation of the human soul leading through faith to an appreciation of God himself. And how grateful I am for my Catholic faith: faith that makes it possible for me, for the me that I so often hate with such good cause, for so many sins of commission and omission, so much that is repulsive in one who is supposed to be a "man of God" and a leader of others, it is possible for me to be a saint.

 

What a marvel, what a mystery, what a joy that to be a saint is never more than a step away, a step into the Sacrament of Penance, a step into total reconciliation, into perfect sanctity. And if that is possible for me, is it not wonderfully possible for millions who are immeasurably better than I, even though many think they are far worse?

 

Just as with the saints, God constantly offers his grace to us. And grace seldom comes in a form we might welcome. It demands the abandonment of every security to which we cling. Grace rarely comes in the shape of a gentle invitation to change. More often than not it appears in the form of an assault - something we are at first tempted to flee. That was the prophetic experience of Jonah and Jeremiah. Receiving God's grace is more like being hit in the head with a book and called a warthog from hell, Ruby Turpin's disconcerting experience in Flannery O'Connor's story, Revelation. Grace takes on as many forms as there are people and times and human events.

 

Grace cannot always be "nice". Sometimes only in harshness can it heal. O'Connor tried to explain this to those readers (including her own mother) who thought she ought to write pleasant things that people would like. O'Connor despaired of the idea that good Christian stories should offer instant uplift, happy endings and easy transitions that leave the reader undisturbed and feeling good. Is that not the same with our spiritual lives?

 

The saints teach us that the spiritual life is seldom a matter of painless, uninterrupted growth. And sometimes we do not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace because God's grace bursts forth from absurd sources. Sometimes we have to reconsider the way we have come to picture God. God does not replace personality. He works through it. Grace takes on a thousand different faces, but the unifying element for the saints, for us is a generous loving God who created the world, sent the gift of himself in Jesus and who continues to be present and active through the Holy Spirit.

 

O'Connor wrote, "To the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures." Repeatedly with the saints we discover men and women dealing with a God who makes himself accessible in pathos and tears. God is never what Peter, Augustine, Martha or Teresa expect. This is God as mystery.

 

On this Feast of All Saints, we remember that grace is thanks, grace is assault, grace is real, grace brings us to sainthood." (Quoted text by Fr. Michael F. Dogali, appearing in "Spirituality For Today" ©1996 by Clemons Productions Inc. and the Diocese of Bridgeport. Used with permission)

 

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On November 2nd, we celebrate All Souls Day. "The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, alms, deeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass."

 

"In the early days of Christianity the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. In Spain there was such a day on Saturday before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany there existed (according to the testimony of Widukind, Abbot of Corvey, c. 980) a time-honored ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church. St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) ordered the commemoration of all the faithful departed to he held annually in the monasteries of his congregation. Thence it spread among the other congregations of the Benedictines and among the Carthusians. Of the dioceses, Liège was the first to adopt it under Bishop Notger (d. 1008). It is then found in the martyrology of St. Protadius of Besançon (1053-66). Bishop Otricus (1120-25) introduced it into Milan for the 15 October. In Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, priests on this day say three Masses. A similar concession for the entire world was asked of Pope Leo XIII. He would not grant the favor but ordered a special Requiem on Sunday, 30 September, 1888.

 

In the Greek Rite this commemoration is held on the eve of Sexagesima Sunday, or on the eve of Pentecost. The Armenians celebrate the passover of the dead on the day after Easter." (Catholic Encyclopedia on-line ed. © 2003 by K. Knight)
 

For a long time now, All Souls Day is celebrated on the day following All Saints Day. And that makes sense. The Souls in Purgatory are going to Heaven, they are being prepared for the Beatific Vision, to see God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in their full glory along with all those already there. There are many people in Heaven, not only those Beatified or Canonized by the Church, those are just the souls we know about through miracles that have occurred that have proven to us that he or she is a Saint or Blessed in Heaven. To those we can ask for intercession to help us pray and to have our favor granted. Many times people ask others to pray with them, and certainly, this is good to involve your brother or sister in Christ in asking for something. But all to often we forget that a tremendous cadre of Saints and Blesseds and many other holy people are in Heaven, ready and waiting to help us when we but ask.

 

(This page appeared in an older website by Fred S.)

 

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