The first and second of this month we celebrate All Saints
Day and All Souls Day.
The origin of the
festival of All Saints began with a desire to celebrate the countless martyrs
of the early church. The practice of
honoring the martyrs started in multiple places, all during the fourth
century. It was celebrated on many
different dates until on May 13, 609, Pope Boniface IV, consecrated the Pantheon
in Rome as a Christian Church in honor of the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III built a Chapel in St. Peter’s in honor
of all the Saints, not just the martyrs, and by the middle of the eighth century , November 1 became the universal date. The festival was so important that the Church
gave the celebration its own special vigil and by the 15 century,
gave All Saints an eight-day celebration (an octave). Time moves on however, and we lose touch with an event’s
meaning. All Saints being no
exception. In the reform of the Church
calendar in 1955, the Vigil and the Octave were dropped.
Celebrating the Saints is fun, and in many Catholic schools
children will dress as saints as part of the procession at Mass. This year we
might look past the fun. This year we might want the reality of modern day
martyrdom sink in. We should let All
Saints be a challenge. Some have a
choice: convert or die, and they choose death.
We often cannot muster up enough seriousness about our faith to get to
Church on Sunday, let alone a Holy Day.
Last year on All Souls Day, I wore black vestments. The parishioners were startled, some were
angry. Although we’ve gotten used to
white vestments at funerals, we still use purple and black. If we study the
history of the celebration many were surprised that black vestments were
changed to purple. The colors speak
reality and when it comes to death one of the realities is mourning, thus the
All Souls Day calls us to pray for those we love, and this
calls to us to ponder purgatory, a church doctrine that many do not understand.
Purgatory reminds us that we are responsible for our sins, for our” thoughts,
words and deeds”. In an age of avoiding accountability we are reminded that
with God we do not escape accountability.
But, while we can’t escape accountability, purgatory also reminds us we
are not left without God’s love and mercy and His desire that we should one day
live with Him in the Kingdom.
Sin cannot enter into
heaven. Sin cannot exist in
heaven. Despite our goodness, we cannot claim that we are sinless. If we think of purgatory in terms of a verb,
that is “to purge” purgatory is an action of God purging us of our sinfulness.
Jesus won salvation for us, but to be saved does not excuse us from our
God’s love is promised by Christ, we humble ourselves and
ask for God’s love and mercy. On this
date we rejoice that
we can help our loved ones by asking Christ to raise our
loved ones into
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