All Saints Day
Taken From THE LITURGICAL YEAR, Dom Guéranger OSB, Book XV
VIEW THE BUTLER ILLUMINATION OF SAINTS
VIEW THE CORONATION BY RAPHAEL FROM THE ASSUMPTION GALLERY
VIEW THE CORONATION BY BOTTICELLI FROM THE ASSUMPTION GALLERY
FEAST OF ALL SAINTS
I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands: and they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God! [Apoc. vii. 9, 10]
TIME is no more; it is the human race eternally saved that is thus presented in vision to the prophet of Patmos. Our life of struggle and suffering on earth is, then, to have an end. Our long-lost race is to fill up the angelic ranks thinned by Satan's revolt; and, uniting in the gratitude of the redeemed of the Lamb, the faithful spirits will sing with us:
'Thanksgiving, honour, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever!' [Ibid. 12]
And this shall be the end, as the Apostle says; [1 Cor. xv. 24] the end of death and suffering; the end of history and of its revolutions, which will then be explained. The old enemy, hurled down with his followers into the abyss, will live on only to witness his own eternal defeat. The Son of Man, the Saviour of the world, will have delivered the kingdom to God His Father; and God, the last end of creation and of redemption, will be all in all. [1 Cor. xv. 24-28]
Long before the seer of the Apocalypse, Isaias sang: 'I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated, and His train filled the temple. And the Seraphim cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory.' [Is. vi. 1-3] The train and fringes of God's vesture are the elect, who are the adornment of the Word, the splendour of the Father. For, since the Word has espoused our human nature, that nature is His glory, as He is the glory of God. The bride herself is clothed with the justifications of the Saints; and when this glittering robe is perfected, the signal will be given for the end of time. This feast announces the ever-growing nearness of the eternal nuptials; for on it we annually celebrate the progress of the bride's preparation.
Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb! [Apoc. xix. 9] Blessed are we all, who have received in Baptism the nuptial robe of holy charity, which entitles us to a seat at the heavenly banquet! Let us prepare ourselves for the unspeakable destiny reserved for us by love. To this end are directed all the labours of this life: toils, struggles, sufferings for God's sake, all adorn with priceless jewels the garment of grace, the clothing of the elect. Blessed are they that mourn! [St. Matt. v. 5]
They that have gone before us wept as they turned the furrows and cast in the seed; but now their triumphant joy overflows upon us as an anticipated glory in this valley of tears. Without waiting for the dawn of eternity, the present solemnity gives us to enter by hope into the land of light, whither our fathers have followed Jesus, the Divine forerunner. Do not the thorns of suffering lose their sharpness at the sight of the eternal joys into which they are to blossom? Does not the happiness of the dear departed cause a heavenly sweetness to mingle with our sorrow? Let us hearken to the chants of deliverance sung by those for whom we weep; 'little and great,' this is the Feast of them all, as it will one day be ours. At this season, when cold and darkness prevail, nature herself, stripping off her last adornments, seems to be preparing the world for the passage of the human race into the heavenly country. Let us, then, sing with the psalmist: 'I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord. Our feet as yet stand only in thy outer courts; but we see thy building ever going on, O Jerusalem, city of peace, compacted together in concord and love. To thee do the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, praising the name of the Lord; thy vacant seats are being filled up. May all good things be for them that love thee, O Jerusalem; may peace be in thy strength, and abundance in thy towers. For the sake of my brethren and of my neighbours, who are already thy inhabitants, I take pleasure in thee; because of the Lord our God, Whose dwelling thou art, I have placed in thee all my desire.' [Ps. cxxi]
. . . when Rome had completed the conquest of the world, she dedicated to all the gods, in token of her gratitude, the Pantheon, the most durable monument of her power. But when she herself had been conquered by Christ, and invested by Him with the empire over souls, she withdrew her homage from vain idols and offered it to the Martyrs; for they, praying for her as she slew them, had rendered her truly eternal. To the Martyrs, then, and to Mary their Queen, she consecrated for ever, on the morrow of her merciful chastisement, the now purified Pantheon.
'Come forth from your dwellings, ye Saints of God, hasten to the place prepared for you.' [Pontificate Rom. Ant. in Eccl. Dedicatione] For three centuries the catacombs were the resting-place of our Lord's athletes, when they were borne from the arena. These valiant warriors deserved the honours of a triumph far better than did the great victors of old. In 312, however, Rome, disarmed but not yet changed in heart, was not at all disposed to applaud the men who had conquered the gods of Olympus and of the Capitol. While the Cross surmounted her ramparts, the white-robed army still lay entrenched in the subterranean crypts that surrounded the city like so many outworks. Three centuries more were granted to Rome, that she might make satisfaction to God's justice, and take full cognizance of the salvation reserved for her by His mercy. In 609 the patient work of grace was completed; the Sovereign Pontiff Boniface IV uttered the word for the sacred crypts to yield up their treasures. It was a solemn moment, a forerunner of that wherein the Angel's trumpet-call shall sound over the sepulchres of the world. [Sequence Dies irae] The successor of St. Peter, in all his apostolic majesty and surrounded by an immense crowd, presented himself at the entrance of the catacombs. He was attended by eighteen chariots magnificently adorned for the conveyance of the Martyrs. The ancient triumphal way opened before the Saints; the sons of the Quirites sang in their honour: ' You shall come with joy and proceed with gladness; for behold, the mountains and the hills exult, awaiting you with joy. Arise, ye Saints of God, come forth from your hiding-places; enter into Rome, which is now the holy city; bless the Roman people following you to the temple of the false gods, which is now dedicated as your own church, there to adore together with you the majesty of the Lord.' [Cf. Pontifical. Rom. Ant. in Eccl. Dedicat.]
Thus, after six centuries of persecution and destruction, the Martyrs had the last word; and it was a word of blessing, a signal of grace for the great city hitherto drunk with the blood of Christians. More than rehabilitated by the reception she was giving to the witnesses of Christ, she was now not merely Rome, but the new Sion, the privileged city of the Lord. She now burned before the saints the incense they had refused to offer to her idols; their blood had flowed before the very altar on which she now invited them to rest, since the usurpers had been hurled back into the abyss. It was a happy inspiration that induced her, when she dedicated to the holy Martyrs the temple built by Marcus Agrippa and restored by Severus Augustus, to leave upon its pediment the names of its original constructors and the title they had given it; for then only did the famous monument truly merit its name, when Christian Rome could apply to the new inhabitants of the Pantheon those words of the psalm: 'I have said, you are gods.' [Ps. lxxxi. 6] May 13 was the day of their triumphant installation. Every dedication on earth reminds the Church, as she herself tells us, of the assembly of the Saints, the living stones of the eternal dwelling which God is building for Himself in Heaven. [Collecta in die Dedicationis Altaris; Postcomm. Anniv. Dedic. Eccl.] It is not astonishing, then, that the dedication of Agrippa's Pantheon, under the above-mentioned circumstances, should have originated the Feast of today. [Martyrolog. ad hanc diem] Its anniversary, recalling the memory of the Martyrs collectively, satisfied the Church's desire of honouring year by year all her blessed sons who had died for the Lord; for, at an early date it became impossible to celebrate each of them on the day of his glorious death. In the age of peace there was added to the cultus of the Martyrs that of the other just, who daily sanctified themselves in all the paths of heroism opened out to Christian courage. The thought of uniting these with the former in one common solemnity, which would supply for the unavoidable omission of many of them, followed naturally upon the initiative given by Boniface IV. In 732, in the first half of that eighth century which was such a grand age for the Church, Gregory III dedicated, at St. Peter's on the Vatican, an oratory in honour 'of the Saviour, of His blessed Mother, of the holy Apostles, of all the holy Martyrs, confessors, and perfect just, who repose throughout the world.' [Lib. Pontific. in Gregorio III] A dedication under so extensive a title did not, it is true, imply the establishment of our feast of All Saints by the illustrious pontiff; yet from this period it began to be celebrated by divers churches, and that, too, on November 1, as is attested, with regard to England, by Venerable Bede's Martyrology and the pontifical of Egbert of York. It was far, however, from being universal, when in the year 835 Louis le Debonnaire, at the request of Gregory IV, and with the consent of all the bishops of his realm, made its celebration obligatory by law. This decree was welcomed by the whole Church and adopted as her own, says Ado, with reverence and love. [ADO, Martyrol.]
The councils of Spain and Gaul, as early as the sixth century, [Concil. Gerund. an. 517. can. 3; Lugdun. II. an. 567. can I] mention a custom then existing, of sanctifying the commencement of November by three days of penance and litanies, like the Rogation days which precede the Feast of our Lord's Ascension. The fast on the Vigil of All Saints is the only remaining vestige of this custom of our forefathers, who, after the institution of the Feast, advanced the triduum of penance, so as to make it a preparation for the solemnity itself. 'Let our devotion be complete,' is the recommendation of a contemporaneous author; 'let us prepare ourselves for this most holy solemnity by three days of fasting, prayer, and almsdeeds.' [Inter opera ALCUINI, Epist. xci. ad calcem.]
When extended to the entire world, the Feast became complete; it was made equal to the greatest solemnities, and widened its horizon till it reached the infinite, embracing uncreated as well as created sanctity. Its object was now, not only Mary and the Martyrs; not only all the just children of Adam; but, moreover, the nine choirs of Angels, and above all the Holy Trinity itself, God Who is all in all, the King of kings-----that is, of the Saints, the God of gods in Sion. Hear how the Church awakes her children on this day: 'Come let us adore the Lord, the King of kings, for He is the crown of all the Saints.' [Invitatory or the Feast] Such was the invitation addressed by our Lord Himself to St. Mechtilde, the chantress of Helfta, the privileged one of His Divine Heart: 'Praise Me, for that I am the crown of all the Saints.' The virgin then beheld all the beauty of the elect and their glory drawing increase from the Blood of Christ, and resplendent with the virtues practiced by Him; and, responding to our Lord's appeal, she praised with all her might the blissful and ever-adorable Trinity, for deigning to be to the Saints their diadem and their admirable dignity. [Liber Specialis Gratiae, p. i. cap. xxxi]
. . . In many churches the ancient Office of the Feast, up to the sixteenth century, had this peculiarity, that at the Nocturns the first antiphon, the first blessing, the first lesson, and the first responsory, treated of the blessed Trinity; the second of these respective pieces spoke of our Lady, the third of the Angels, the fourth of the patriarchs and prophets, the fifth of the Apostles, the sixth of the Martyrs, the seventh of the confessors, the eighth of the virgins, the ninth of all the Saints. On this account the first lesson, contrary to the custom of the rest of the year, was given to the highest dignitary of the choir, and the first responsory to the first cantors. The rest followed in order down to the children, one of whom sang the lesson of the virgins, and five others, clothed in white and holding lighted tapers in their hands in memory of the five wise virgins, sang the eighth responsory before the Lady-altar. The ninth lesson and responsory were again chanted by priests. All, or nearly all, these customs have been successively modified; but the arrangement of the responsories remains the same.
. . . Ancient documents referring to this day inform us that on the Calends of November the same eagerness was shown as at Christmas to assist at the Holy Sacrifice. [Lectiones antiquae Breviarii Romani ad hanc diem.] However general the Feast was, or rather because of its universality, was it not the special joy of every one, and the honour of Christian families? Taking a holy pride in the persons whose virtues they handed down to posterity, they considered the heavenly glory of their ancestors, who had perhaps been unknown in the world, to be a higher nobility than any earthly dignity.
Faith was lively in those days; and Christians seized the opportunity of this feast to make amends for the neglect, voluntary or involuntary, suffered during the year by the blessed inscribed on the general Calendar.
In the famous Bull Transiturus de hoc mundo, by which he established the feast of Corpus Christi, Urban IV mentions this as one of the motives that had led to the prior institution of All Saints'; [Hilltrop. Ordo Rom.] and expresses a hope that the new solemnity may in like manner compensate for the distractions and coldness of the rest of the year towards this Divine Sacrament, wherein He resides Who is the crown and glory of all Saints.
The Introit antiphon resembles that of our Lady's Assumption day. This Feast is indeed a sequel to Mary's triumph. As our Lord's Ascension called for His Mother's Assumption, both required for their completion the universal glorification of the human race which provides Heaven with its King and Queen. Joy, then, on earth, which continues thus magnificently to give its fruit! Joy among the Angels, who see their vacant thrones filled up! Joy, says the Verse, to all the blessed who are receiving the congratulations of Heaven and earth!
. . . At the time of his birth, the Man-God, through the instrumentality of Caesar Augustus, took a census of the world; it was fitting that on the eve of the Redemption the statistics of the human race should be officially registered. And now it is time to make a fresh enrollment, and to enter in the Book of Life the results of the work of Redemption.
'Wherefore this numbering of the world at the time of our Lord's birth,' says St. Gregory in one of the Christmas homilies, 'save for this manifest reason, that He was appearing in the Flesh, Who is to enregister the elect in eternity?' [Lectio vii. in Nocte Natal. Domini; ex Homil. viii. in Ev.] But, many having withdrawn themselves by their own fault from the benefit of the first enrollment, which included all men in the ranks of those to be redeemed, there was need of a second and definitive registration, which should cancel the names of the guilty. 'Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and with the just let them not be written;' [Ps. lxviii. 29] such are the words of the Psalmist, quoted by St. Gregory in the above-mentioned homily.
Today, however, the Church is too full of joy to think of any but the elect; they alone take part in the glorious close of human history described in the Epistle. Indeed, they alone are reckoned before God; the reprobate are but the waste of a world where sanctity alone responds to the Creator's advances, to the ventures of His infinite love. Let our souls be supple to receive the Divine stamp, which is to render us conformable to the image of the only-begotten Son, and mark us out as God's coin. Whoever is unwilling to receive the Divine impress will inevitably be marked with the 'character of the beast'; [ Apoc. xiii. 16] and when the Angels come to make the final settlement, every coin unfit to bear the Divine stamp will fall into the furnace where the dross will burn eternally.
Let us then, as the Gradual recommends, live in fear; not that of the slave, who dreads punishment; but that filial fear, which is anxious never to displease Him from Whom are all good things, and Whose kindness deserves all our love in return. Without losing aught of their beatitude, or diminishing their love, the angelic Powers and all the Saints in Heaven prostrate with a holy trembling beneath the gaze of God's awful majesty. [Cf. Praefat. Missae]
. . . Earth is so near to Heaven today that the one thought which fills all hearts is happiness. The Friend, the Bridegroom, the Divine Brother of Adam's children, comes and sits down among them, and talks of blessedness:
'Come to Me all you that labour and suffer,' sang the Alleluia-verse, that sweet echo from our fatherland reminding us withal of our exile. And immediately in the Gospel appears the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour. Let us listen to Him, teaching us the ways of blessed hope, the holy delights which are at once an assurance and a foretaste of the perfect bliss of Heaven.
On Sinai Jehovah held the Jew at a distance, giving him precepts under pain of death. On the summit of this other mountain where the Son of God is seated how differently the Law of love is promulgated! In the New Testament, the eight beatitudes have taken the place occupied in the Old by the Decalogue graven on stone. Not that the beatitudes repeal the Commandments; but their superabundant justice goes far beyond all prescriptions. It is from His Heart that Jesus brought them forth in order to imprint them, more lastingly than on stone, in the hearts of His people. They are the portrait of the Son of Man, the summary of our Redeemer's life. Look then, and do according to the pattern that was shown thee in the mount.' [Ex. xxv. 40]
Poverty was the first mark of our God in Bethlehem; and Who ever appeared so meek as Mary's Child? Who wept for more noble causes than He in His crib, where He was already expiating our sins and appeasing His Father? They that hunger after justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers: where, save in Him, will they find the incomparable ideal, never attained yet ever imitable? And by His death He became the leader of all those who are persecuted for justice' sake. In this the highest beatitude on earth the Incarnate Word takes delight, returning upon it, detailing it, and closing with it in today's Gospel as with a song of ecstasy. The Church has never had any other ideal; she has ever walked in the footsteps of her Spouse, and her history throughout the ages has been but the prolonged echo of the Beatitudes. Let us also understand; that we may be blessed both in this world and in the next, let us follow our Lord and the Church.
. . . But as in this world every grace from Jesus comes to us through Mary, so in the next world it is through her that deliverance and all good things are obtained. The Mother of God is Queen over all whom her Son has redeemed. Thus the revelations of the Saints tell us that she is truly the Queen of Purgatory: whether she graciously sends the Angels of her guard to represent her there, or deigns herself, the beautiful dawn of eternal day, to enter its gloomy precincts, and shed upon its flames the abundant dew of morning. 'Shall the snow of Libanus fail from the rock of the field, or can the cold waters, that gush out and run down, be taken away?' [Jerem. xviii. 14] We must understand, then, why we sing the Magnificat in the Office of the Dead; it is the loyal homage to Mary of the Souls that are entering Heaven, and the sweet hope of those still detained in the region of expiation.
. . . Truly this day is grand and beautiful. Earth, midway between Heaven and Purgatory, has united them together. The wonderful mystery of the Communion of Saints is revealed in all its fullness. The immense family of the sons of God is shown to be one in love, while distinct in its three states of beatitude, trial, and purifying expiation: the trial and expiation being but temporary, the beatitude eternal. It is the fitting completion of the teaching given us through the entire year; and every day within the octave we shall see the light increase.
Meanwhile, every soul is recollected, pondering over the dearest and noblest memories. On leaving the house of God, let our thoughts linger lovingly upon those who have the best claim to them. It is the Feast of our beloved dead. Let us hear their suppliant voices in the plaintive tones that, from belfry to belfry throughout the Christian world, are ushering in this dark November night. This evening or tomorrow they will expect us to visit them at the tombs where their mortal remains rest in peace. Let us pray for them; and let us also pray to them: we need never be afraid to speak to them of the interests that were dear to them before God. For God loves them; and, as His justice keeps them in an utter inability to help themselves, He makes amends to His goodness by hearing them all the more willingly on behalf of others.
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