Sunday, November 1, 2009

Solemnity of All Saints

Morning Offering: O Jesus, through the most pure heart of Mary, I offer you all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your divine heart, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass. I offer them especially for the Holy Father's intentions:

Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for November is: "That all the men and women in the world, especially those who have responsibilities in the field of politics and economics, may never fail in their commitment to safeguard creation".

His mission intention is: "That believers in the different religions, through the testimony of their lives and fraternal dialogue, may clearly demonstrate that the name of God is a bearer of peace".

Prayers this week: Let us all rejoice in the Lord and keep festival in honour of all the saints. Let us join with the angels in joyful praise to the Son of God.

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, today we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place. May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

The earliest certain observance of a feast in honour of all the saints is an early fourth-century commemoration of "all the martyrs." In the early seventh century, after successive waves of invaders plundered the catacombs, Pope Boniface IV gathered up some 28 wagonloads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. The pope rededicated the shrine as a Christian church. According to Venerable Bede, the pope intended "that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honoured in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons" (On the Calculation of Time). But the rededication of the Pantheon, like the earlier commemoration of all the martyrs, occurred in May. Many Eastern Churches still honour all the saints in the spring, either during the Easter season or immediately after Pentecost. How the Western Church came to celebrate this feast in November is a puzzle to historians. The Anglo-Saxon theologian Alcuin observed the feast on November 1 in 800, as did his friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg. Rome finally adopted that date in the ninth century.

This feast first honoured martyrs. Later, when Christians were free to worship according to their conscience, the Church acknowledged other paths to sanctity. In the early centuries the only criterion was popular acclaim, even when the bishop's approval became the final step in placing a commemoration on the calendar. The first papal canonization occurred in 993; the lengthy process now required to prove extraordinary sanctity took form in the last 500 years. Today's feast honours the obscure as well as the famous — the saints each of us have known.

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.... [One of the elders] said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9,14).

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew (5.1-12a)

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven."

All the saints
(Homily by Fr. E.J.Tyler)

I remember on one occasion I was in a church with many people praying there, and a person came in also to pray. I noticed that he walked up to the front and, by-passing the Tabernacle and all else, went to the statue of a saint that was there in this church. There he prayed to that saint, and did so, I presume, with much faith. I am sure that our Lord, present in His entire humanity and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament, smiled kindly - as it were. He had been passed by as had the greatest of saints (Mary and Joseph) whose statues were also there and with considerable prominence. The saint whom the person was venerating and to whom he was praying might himself have felt a little heavenly embarrassment for being the object of religious devotion while Christ Himself was ignored. But God would have viewed kindly the limitations of the one praying, and would surely have been gracious in answering that person’s persistent prayer. The point I am making is that while the saints are the best members of Christ’s own family, they themselves point to Christ. The intent of the saint, both while here on earth and now in heaven, is to bring us to him. It is well known that numerous Protestant bodies will not allow for Saints as explained by the Catholic Church in her doctrine and prayer. For his part, while the Catholic regards the Protestant position on saints to be doctrinally mistaken, he readily allows that the Reformers of the time may have been reacting against misguided practices of poorly-instructed Catholics. Undoubtedly at the time some members of the faithful, when venerating and praying to this or that saint, in effect saw little role for Christ. This was an error and it had to be corrected. The saint is one who is fully immersed in Christ, living in union with him and in obedience to the Father, and for whom Christ is the one and only Lord of lords. Christ is the object, the heart and the soul of the whole of the Christian religion. At the same time other divinely-appointed elements of religion are present, and among those elements are the saints.

There is a profound bond existing between all members of the Church due to their common life in Christ. Due to this divine life in Christ springing from their baptism they share in the faith, in the sacraments - especially the Eucharist, in the various charisms of the Holy Spirit, and in numerous other spiritual gifts. At the root of this communion of all those who are in Christ and his Church is the life of love, love for God and love for neighbour. This bond of love deriving from union with Jesus spans both the visible and invisible world. We share our union with Christ with those with us on earth, with those in heaven, and with those being purified in Purgatory. The Church encourages us to pray to the saints our elder brothers and sisters in the Lord, and most especially to the one who transcends all others in her love for Jesus her divine Son. I am referring to Mary the mother of Christ, the sinless virgin assumed body and soul into heaven in glory. We have a profound bond with her who is our mother, and with all those in heaven. We are all members of Christ’s family. Christ said that he regarded those who hear the word of God and keep it as his brother and sister and mother. Today is the feast of all the Saints, meaning by this all those now with Christ in heaven. They have been purified - either in this life or in Purgatory - from their sins and are now in heaven face-to-face with God. They are supremely happy and not a tear can be found there. Their lot, with life’s testing now over, is one of unending bliss. They wish to aid us by their prayers to lead a holy life here on earth and so to join them in the life to come. It is a good thing to pray to those among the Saints to whom we are drawn. The Church strongly recommends it, and venerates the Saints in her liturgy throughout the year. The one among them to whom we ought pray most - as ever, after Christ himself - is Mary, the mother of our Lord who, by his gift, is our heavenly mother too. Of course, we must not obscure the face of Christ, but this is the last thing which the saints themselves would like to see happen.

It is an explicit point of the Christian Creed that there is a great communion among all those in Christ. We believe in the communion of saints. The New Testament - especially the Letters of St Paul - speaks of Christians who live their faith as being “the saints.” The word means “holy ones.” Their holiness comes from their baptism and their living in union with Jesus. While the Church has formally canonized certain men and women for their exceptionally holy lives and has laid it down that these persons are now in heaven, these are not the only ones in heaven. We may trust that heaven already abounds with souls who had been faithful to Christ during life, including many of our deceased relatives and friends. Their purification from sin is over. Let us love those who have gone before us into heaven. Let us pray to them, learn from them, and in Christ, finally join them.

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