Skip to comments.All Saints, All Souls and the Four Last Things
Posted on 11/03/2005 8:50:50 AM PST by A.A. Cunningham
All Saints, All Souls and the Four Last Things
An autumn reflection as Church year draws to a close
Each name and date on a cemetery headstone tells the story of a persons life some sadly brief, others full of years. When we walk in a cemetery, were reminded of the importance of life and the significance of death.
The seasons every year are a reflection of a greater reality. Most of us love autumn, but as the leaves fall from trees and the days grow shorter and colder, our spirit subtly changes. Autumn reminds us that life comes to an end.
The Church often speaks of the Four Last Things; death, judgment, hell and heaven. She has a good reason for doing so. We all will very soon encounter the Four Last Things, up close and personal. Theyre very real, and they matter eternally.
When the young man asked Jesus, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? he was reminding us that each human soul has something to be saved for ... and something to be saved from. We are made for joy. We are made for heaven. But we have alternatives. The November feasts of All Saints and All Souls draw our attention to the reality of the end of our lives. One day, we will die, and the people we love most in this world will die.
If we are aware that life as we know it is temporary and transitional, it changes the way we live. We begin to understand that relationships are more important than things. We become aware that love of God and neighbor should drive our lives, rather than possessions and self-centeredness.
In the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that our salvation isnt assured, nor is it easy. We will be judged on whether we loved God with all of our strength, and if we loved our neighbor as ourselves.
Knowing this should motivate us to evaluate our lives. God takes our lives and our actions very seriously. Do our lives reflect an understanding of this simple truth?
The examination of conscience has been a Christian practice throughout the centuries. At the end of the day, before going to bed every night, we should examine our conscience to see what we have done, or left undone, to please or displease God and to serve or not serve our brothers and sisters.
Praying for the dead has been a Catholic tradition from the earliest days of the Church. At every Mass, we pray for the dead. We should also pray for our beloved dead in our personal devotions. When we die, we hope the family and friends we leave behind will pray for us with great intensity so we might be worthy of the purifying love of God.
Death will always be a sobering prospect for human beings to face, but we Christians do it with confidence, knowing that there is new life beyond death. Our faith in Christ Jesus and his resurrection makes it possible for us to face this reality. We know we are going to die, but we also see death as the beginning of new life.
By the death and resurrection of Christ, the gates of heaven have been opened to us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the following words to describe the glory of heaven:
This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Fathers house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him (No. 1027).
Those are great words to ponder as we draw to the close of the Church year and look forward with hope to Advent.
God calls each one of us to be a saint.
November 1, 2006
Feast of All Saints
The earliest certain observance of a feast in honor 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 honored 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 honor 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.
"The glorious company of the apostles praise Thee.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise Thee.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise Thee.
All Thy saints and elect with one voice do acknowledge Thee,
O Blessed Trinity, one God!"
-- Feast of All Saints (November 1), Antiphon at Lauds. from the Te Deum
Origin of All Saint's Day as a feast of the ChurchWhat makes this feast so important that the Church celebrates both the night before All Saints and the day after it?
The Church has always honored those early witnesses to the Christian faith who have died in the Lord. (The Greek word for "witness" is martyr.) During the first three hundred years Christians were serverly persecuted, often suffering torture and bloody death -- because they were faithful . They refused to deny Christ, even when this denial might have saved their own lives, or the lives of their children and families.
The early history of the Church is filled with stories of the heroic faith of these of witnesses to Christ's truth. The stories of these saints -- these baptized Christians of all ages and all states in life, whose fidelity and courage led to their sanctity or holiness -- have provided models for every other Christian throughout history.
Many of those especially holy people whose names and stories were known, the Church later canonized (that is, the Church formally recognized that the life of that person was without any doubt holy, or sanctified -- a "saint" who is an example for us.) The Church's calendar contains many saint's days, which Catholics observe at Mass -- some with special festivities.
But there were thousands and thousands of early Christian martyrs, the majority of whose names are known only to God -- and throughout the history of the Church there have been countless others who really are saints, who are with God in heaven, even if their names are not on the list of canonized saints.
In order to honor the memory -- and our own debt -- to these unnamed saints, and to recall their example, the Church dedicated a special feast day -- a sort of "memorial day" -- so that all living Christians would celebrate at a special Mass the lives and witness of those "who have died and gone before us into the presence of the Lord".
This feast that we know as All Saint's Day originated as a feast of All Martyrs, sometime in the 4th century. At first it was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It came to be observed on May 13 when Pope St. Boniface IV (608-615) restored and rebuilt for use as a Christian church an ancient Roman temple which pagan Rome had dedicated to "all gods", the Pantheon. The pope re-buried the bones of many martyrs there, and dedicated this Church to the Mother of God and all the Holy Martyrs on May 13, 610.
About a hundred years later, Pope Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a new chapel in the basilica of St. Peter to all saints (not just to the martyrs) on November 1, and he fixed the anniversary of this dedication as the date of the feast.
A century after that, Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration of All Saints to November 1 for the entire Church.
The vigil of this important feast, All Saint's Eve, Hallowe'en, was apparently observed as early as the feast itself.
Ever since then -- for more than a millennium -- the entire Church has celebrated the feast of All Saints on November 1st, and, of course, Hallowe'en on October 31.
It is a principal feast of the Catholic Church. It is a holy day of obligation, which means that all Catholics are to attend Mass on that day.
Prayers, Scripture Readings for All SaintsCollect
[That the prayers of all the saints will bring us forgiveness for our sins]
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,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[We rejoice and keep festival in honor of all the saints]
God our Father, source of all holiness,
the work of Your hands is manifest in Your saints, the beauty of
Your truth is reflected in their faith.
May we who aspire to have part in their joy
be filled with the spirit that blessed their lives,
so that having shared their faith on earth
may we also know their peace in your kingdom.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
First Reading: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
I, John, saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads." And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen."
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every one who thus hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
All Saints is a Holy Day of Obligation. The principal activity for every Catholic family today is to go to Mass -- together, if possible. (Note Liturgical Calendar)Other family activities: