The Feast of All Saints
The Catholic Church, which, every day in the year, places some Saints before our eyes to honor and imitate, represents them all to us today; hence today’s festival is called: The Feast of All Saints. The origin of it was as follows : There was, at Rome, a magnificent temple, which had been built before Christ, by Marcus Agrippa, and was called the Pantheon or Temple of all the gods, because they were all worshiped therein. This idolatrous temple had not been torn down like many others, but Pope Boniface IV. consecrated it according to Catholic usage, to the Virgin Mother and all the Saints. To the greater edification of the people, he had many relics of holy Martyrs placed in it with due magnificence, whence this Church received the name of the Church of the holy Martyrs.
In after years, it was ordered by Pope Gregory IV. that, not only the festival of the holy Martyrs, but also that of all other Saints, should be celebrated in the above mentioned Church and in all Christendom. The reasons for instituting this festival were the following: First, it cannot be doubted that the number of Saints who reign with Christ in heaven is very large. “I saw so large a number,” says St. John, ” that nobody could count them.” To speak only of those who became martyrs for Christ’s sake, they, according to authentic historians, already in the first centuries of the Church, numbered 17 millions. Who can count the other Saints, as well of the Clergy as the laity, who served God faithfully and died in His grace? The number of the Saints is very great, but most of them are unknown to us. We know the names of the holy Apostles, of many apostolic men, many founders of religious orders, many popes, bishops, religious, hermits, virgins, widows, married people, nobles, princes, kings and emperors; but there is a number far exceeding these, whose very names are unknown to us. And as it is but just that we, who are yet in the Church Militant and are united by the bond of charity with the Saints, should honor them duly, as they are honored as true servants and friends by the Almighty Himself, the holy Church has appointed this day for honoring them all together, as it is not possible to consecrate a separate day to each of them.
The second reason is contained in the prayer which the Church on this day recites in Holy Mass: “That on account of the great number of our intercessors, God may bestow on us, more abundantly, the desired gifts of His liberality.” No Catholic doubts that the Saints in heaven, because they enjoy the favor of the Almighty, can obtain for us by their intercession many graces, of which we are not worthy, on account of our sins. For, it is known that, while they were still living on earth, they not only averted much evil from mankind by their intercession, but also drew down many benefits upon them. That we may therefore obtain more surely all that we need or that is useful for our salvation, the holy Church has ordered that we shall today call upon all the Saints as our intercessors, trusting implicitly that the Most High will not disregard the entreaties of so many of His friends.
The third reason is as follows: The Church according to St. Bernard, represents to us so many Saints, in every station in life, to encourage us so that we may not only venerate them, but also imitate their virtues; and that as we call them blessed, so we too should strive after that salvation which they have already attained. Hence, also, the Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is read today; as in it the road is pointed out and explained, by which the Saints have reached heaven; a road which we too must walk, if we wish to join them in heaven. We will now explain, in few words, three other points, namely; what we ought especially to meditate upon, to learn and to do, on this day. In regard to the first of these points, we ought to meditate on the happiness of the Saints in heaven, and on the way they walked, or the means they employed to attain their blessedness. This blessedness, to say much in few words, is so great, that it can neither be described nor comprehended. “We can obtain it,” says St. Augustine, “but cannot esteem it too highly. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and it has not entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those that love Him,” that is, for the Saints in heaven.
The happiness of the least Saint in heaven is inexpressibly greater than the most perfect happiness on earth. We esteem those on earth happy, who are not persecuted, nor poor, nor sick, nor despised; but who are distinguished by their high rank, and are honored by all; who enjoy health, and possess a superfluity of riches and pleasures. And yet, how few ever attain such temporal happiness, and when they have attained it, how uncertain they are in its possession! But the happiness of the Saints is true, real happiness; for, nothing is wanted to make it most perfect. They are free from everything that could in the least sadden them; they possess all that can make them glad, all that they can desire, nay, much more than they can desire. They are surrounded by joys, they swim in happiness. Therefore it is written: ” Enter into the joys of the Lord!” The happiness of the Saints is a secure happiness; for they have nothing to fear. No one can disturb their joy; no one can lessen it; no one can take it away from them. But what increases the bliss of the Saints most is the thought that it shall last eternally.
The Saints are in glory, and for evermore. They are filled with joys for evermore, for all eternity. They possess all honor and wealth, and all without end, without interruption. Oh! how great a bliss! But how have the Saints attained it? By the use of those means which God has left in His Church, by true faith; by holy baptism; by observing the Commandments, by avoiding sin, by practicing good works, by patience in crosses and sufferings. They walked in the path which Christ shows us in His holy Gospel, the path of innocence, or the path of penance. They served God faithfully and constantly while they were on earth; they earnestly worked for the salvation of their souls; they either committed no sin, or did true penance. When God sent them poverty, sickness, or other adversity, they bore it with Christian patience. In this manner, they attained to such great and eternal felicity. From all this you will doubtless be able to draw the lessons which today’s festival offers. I will here give them to you in still shorter form.
Learn, firstly, how true to His promise God is and how richly He recompenses His servants. He leaves not the least good unrewarded, and the recompense He gives is great and eternal. For short labor and suffering, He gives great and everlasting joys. Who would not willingly serve so liberal a Master? Who would not gladly labor and suffer for Him? Who, that longs so ardently for the possession of mere temporal happiness, can hesitate to aim, with all the powers of his mind, at the eternal bliss prepared for the servants of the Most High? Should not every one be animated by the thought of eternal felicity, faithfully and zealously to serve the Lord?
Learn, secondly, that we can gain Heaven in any station of life; for in any station, we can make use of those means which God has given us to work out our salvation. In Heaven there are Saints of all ranks and conditions; emperors and empresses; kings and queens; princes and princesses; nobles and plebeians; learned men and unlettered men; poor and rich; officers and soldiers; magistrates, artisans and peasants; man-servants and maid-servants; unmarried and married persons; widowers and widows; youths, maidens and children. Many Saints lived in the same station in which you live; from it, they went to heaven; and so may you. You have only to live in your station as they did and use the means for your salvation as they used them.
Learn, thirdly, that you will have only yourself to blame, if you do not go to heaven to join the Saints; for, God asks no more from you than from them, and gives you the same means for salvation that He gave to them. The Saints were like you, human beings; like you, they lived in dangers and temptations; like you, they suffered and struggled; and yet they served God and went to heaven. Are you unable to do what they did? You are certainly able, if you have but a true and earnest desire to succeed. If you have it not, the fault is entirely your own. The example of so many Saints, who lived in your station, will convict you of falsehood, if you say that your station prevents you from gaining life everlasting.
All that now remains is to consider what must be done to celebrate today’s festival worthily. A few words will teach you this. If you desire to attain the end and aim of this feast, endeavor according to the instructions of holy Church to honor the Saints of the Almighty and invoke them as powerful intercessors at His throne. They are true servants and friends of God, and they are honored by Him. Their intercession is all-powerful with the Almighty. While still on earth, they obtained for others great gifts from God; why then should they not be able to do so now that they are in heaven? To say that the Saints know nothing of us or of our prayers, is a sign of ignorance, and is against Holy Writ; for, we are assured therein that the Saints are equal to the Angels, and we can not doubt that these have knowledge of us and of our prayers. The Gospel tells us that they rejoice when a sinner does penance; and St. John says that they offer our prayers to God. Hence, call on the Saints with confidence, that, through the merits of Christ, they would obtain for you the grace to live so that you may one day join them. But above all, endeavor to imitate the virtues of the Saints, as this is the best way to honor them. Each Saint calls from Heaven to us, in the words that St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ” Be my followers,” imitate my example. This is especially the call of those Saints, who lived in your station.
If you would enjoy their society in heaven, you must live as they lived on earth. To live as those lived who are in hell, and yet to hope to go, after this life, where they are whom we venerate as Saints, is senseless. Live as the Saints lived, and you will go to heaven as they did. Walk in their footsteps. No one ever obtained life everlasting without the true faith. No one was saved by faith alone. The Saints labored and suffered for heaven. You too must labor and suffer; heaven is worth it.
I. Besides those points already mentioned and explained, learn what thanks you owe to the Almighty, that in His mercy He has placed you in that Church which counts so many Saints. Those who are not Catholics cannot name a single Saint who lived, died and became a Saint in their church; whilst, in our Catholic Church we have a very great number of Saints. Only in the Catholic Church can you become or be called a Saint and blessed. Being one of her children, you possess the same means which the Saints had and by which they gained their glorious title. That you live in the pale of this Church you owe to God, by whose grace you were admitted into it; and you can never be sufficiently grateful.
How many thousands are deprived of this happiness! The pious Noah was certainly favored beyond countless others, when he was admitted with all his family into the Ark, in which alone he could escape the flood. God has given you a still greater grace, by admitting you, before countless others, into His true Church, which the Holy Fathers compare to the Ark of Noah, because in it alone can we escape damnation and go to everlasting life. Hence, give humble thanks to the Almighty for this inestimable grace bestowed upon you, and beseech Him to admit into this Ark, for His greater glory, all those who are still outside its sheltering and saving bosom.
II. By the especial grace of God you are a member of that Church in which so many Saints lived; but you are not therefore blessed, or assured of your salvation. Many lived in this Church who are now in hell. If you wish to be saved in it, you must live as they did who worked out their salvation in its pale. Not one of them entered heaven except by innocence or penance. If you have preserved your innocence, thank God and guard it carefully. But if your innocence is lost, do penance. The Saints gained eternal life by avoiding sin, by practicing good works, and by patiently bearing their cross. If you wish to partake of their glory in heaven, you must follow them on earth. Avoid all sin; be diligent in doing good, and patient in bearing whatever you have to suffer. No one is now in heaven who died in mortal sin. If you desire to gain heaven, be careful that you die not in mortal sin; and to guard yourself against dying in it, take care not to become guilty of it. And if, either through malice or through weakness, you should fall into mortal sin, delay not to do penance. These few words contain all that you have to do, if you desire to save your soul in the Catholic Church as so many thousands have done before you. Follow them. ” Secure the intercession of the Saints by imitating their virtues,”says St. Leo; ” for if you join them in virtue, you will one day join them in glory.”
In conclusion, my dear Reader, remember that today’s festival is especially disliked by the non-Catholics. The principal reason, as far as we can see, is, that from their youth, they imbibe false ideas of our faith. They are told that Catholics worship the Saints as Gods; and thus rob God of the honor due to Him alone; they leave Him and turn to the dead Saints; they invoke them, and neglect Christ, the only Mediator, as if they were to be saved through the merits of the Saints. These and other similar falsehoods are instilled into them,in early youth, by their teachers and preachers, and afterwards placed before them as truth in books. All non-Catholics ought, however, to know that the above mentioned and other similar charges are unjustifiable and palpable lies.
The substance of what our faith teaches in regard to honoring the Saints I have already given elsewhere. It is briefly this: We do not worship the Saints as gods, but honor them as the friends and servants of God, who Himself honors them. We venerate them for the sake of God, and all the honor we show them is done to God. He, the Creator, is honored in His Saints; hence, we do not rob the Lord of honor due to Him. We do not forsake God, but we seek to gain admittance to Him through His Saints. Neither do we invoke dead Saints; for, the Saints live with Christ in eternal glory. We do not set aside Christ, our Mediator; for we know well that He died for us and redeemed us. We do not desire to be saved through the merits of the Saints, but through the merits of Christ, as the prayers of our Church clearly prove. We only invoke the Saints in order that they may pray for us and obtain for us, through the merits of Christ, what we ask. Our Catechism, our books and sermons give evidence that this is what the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. Woe to those who, against their knowledge and conscience, inform the credulous that this is not so! Woe also to those who, through their own fault, believe such palpable falsehoods!
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.