Today is the great Feast of All Saints, when we particularly remember each and every Saint in Heaven – known or unknown.
On this day, we honour the apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins and all the great Saints of the Church. We give thanks for our Patron Saints. And we remember those whom we have ourselves known, perhaps intimately, who quietly and diligently gave of themselves, all for the love of God.
Tradition has it that it was in fact the Irish Church, which was first to celebrate All Saints on the first of November. Then, in 835 A.D. Pope Gregory IV fixed the feast on this day, extending it to the Church Universal. Previously, it had been celebrated on various dates throughout the world.
But this began to change in 610 A.D., when the Pantheon (a great Roman temple which honoured all the pagan gods) became a great Catholic Basilica.
For in that year Pope Boniface IV translated many martyrs’ relics from the Catacombs to this temple. Thus he consecrated it to St. Mary and the Martyrs.
In time, as saints other than martyrs were formally recognised by Holy Church, this Basilica became dedicated to St. Mary and all the Saints. Henceforth celebrating the triumph of Christ and His Saints over and above the pagan gods.
And it is this Triumph, over the world, over death that we celebrate today. For as we honour all the Saints, we recognise the fruits of Holy Church – those who have been saved.
We look to those members of the Church, who followed the Lord, sacrificing themselves through prayer and good works, earning a place in the eternal Kingdom. And there they reside, adoring day and night, the One who saved them.
And for this reason, there are countless beautiful images testifying to this Heavenly Triumph, images whereby God is seated upon His glorious throne. And raised upon an altar, one may behold: the Lamb, slain for our salvation.
And before them, the four creatures -the lion, the calf, the man and the eagle – praying day and night, Holy, Holy, Holy, giving all honour and praise to the Living God. And Hosts of Angels and the Communion of Saints, palms within their hands, join in the continual prayers of Adoration.
To illustrate this glorious Triumph, Holy Church looks today to the Apocalypse of St. John, which features in the liturgy today.
For the powerful imagery of the Apocalypse exudes the triumphant wonder, awe and glory of Heaven. St. John tells us that he was taken through a portal, whereby he beheld these magnificent sights. He writes:
Behold there was a throne set in heaven, and upon the throne one sitting …. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne, a book … sealed with seven seals …
And I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing as it were slain …
And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne.
And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints:
And they sung a new canticle, saying: thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels resound about the throne, and the living creatures, and the ancients; and the number of them was thousands of thousands,
Saying with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction.
And every creature, which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them: I heard all saying: To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, and honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever.
And the four living creatures said: Amen. And the four and twenty ancients fell down on their faces, and adored him that liveth for ever and ever. (Apoc. v: 8-14.)
And as St. John acclaims, this magnificent triumph over death was only made possible, through the sacrifice of the Lamb. The Communion of Saints, many of whom shed their blood, were only able to do so because He shed His Blood for us.
Only by being washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb can we share in this Triumph.
The Communion of Saints, whom we honour today enjoy the eternal banquet because they have partaken in that eternal sacrifice. They are therefore, deemed worthy of it. They have been sorry for their sins. And through repentance and good works, have been washed clean.
We too can follow their example, along the path to holiness. But it is far from easy. Great effort and perseverance are required. We cannot be half-hearted. It takes the sincere entrusting of the heart to God, allowing Him to guide and shape our lives.
Yet, this is what the Good Lord wants for us. And why the Blood of the Lamb was shed – that we may return to Him and join in the unending hymn of praise, Holy, Holy, Holy.
So as evening draws nigh, let us acclaim with Holy Church:
Oh! How glorious is the kingdom wherein all the saints rejoice with Christ; they are clothed in white robes; they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. (Second Vespers, Magnificat Antiphon Apoc. vii. 9; xiv. 4).
Holy Apostles, pray for us.
Holy Martyrs, pray for us.
Holy Confessors, pray for us.
Holy Virgins, pray for us.
All Saints in Heaven, pray for us.
Queen of All Saints, pray for us.