Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Saints in Heaven

On Tuesday of this week, November 1, Catholics celebrated the solemnity of All Saints, or “All Saints Day,” as it is traditionally called.  It is a “holy day of obligation,” which means that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on that day and refrain from unnecessary servile work, if possible, just as on a Sunday.  What is the big deal about this special day?  It is a day set aside to commemorate and honor all the saints, both known and unknown.  November 1 was the day Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to “all the saints” back in the eighth century.

What do I mean, both known and unknown?  Saints are human beings who have died and gone to heaven.  It is that simple.  It is known that some human beings from our past are in heaven because it is known publicly that they have lived a virtuous life and died in the state of grace because miracles are known to have occurred as a result of their intercession.  Such holy persons have been declared to be saints by the Catholic Church through a process known as canonization.  There are numerous such persons who have been so recognized in recent years, including Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Mother Teresa, and Saint Father Junipero Serra, not to mention thousands of others through the years since the dawn of the Catholic Church back in the time of Christ.  Presumably there are scores of others who have passed from this life and entered heaven who are not publicly known.  We often hear the phrase “My mother was a saint.” and it is possible that indeed she is!  It is just that it is not publicly known and she has not been formally canonized.  In any case, All Saints Day is that special day that honors all of them.

I recently googled the question “When was St. Paul canonized?” and learned that the process of canonization began in the Church in the year 993 and so he has never been formally canonized.  This also means that possibly hundreds of other saints, such as all the apostles, St. Augustine, etc., were never formally canonized.  Rather, they were declared saints by “popular acclaim” and not by canonization.  It is interesting to note that church structures are named after saints, both those who are saints by popular acclaim and those who are formally canonized, and both Catholic churches and Protestant churches.  This indicates that sainthood is not just a Catholic thing.

The Catholic Church honors saints in another way, and that is by venerating their relics.  I refer you to the following Web site for an explanation of this practice:  Relics come in three different classes, first-class, second-class, and third-class.   Besides items associated with the life of Christ (manger, cross, etc.) first-class relics are the physical remains of a saint’s body.  I am fortunate to have a first-class relic of St. Mother Teresa in my home – a strand of her hair (see accompanying photo under the words "your love").  I know it is authentic because it was given to me by a friend who knew some sisters from her community.  The question of authenticity is important, of course, and this is discussed in the above Web site.   Second-class relics are items that a saint owned or used.  Third-class relics are items that were touched to a first- or second-class relic.  I am fortunate to have a third-class relic of St. Maria Goretti in my home.  It is a crucifix that was touched to the reliquary containing her body when it toured the United States recently.

I pray today to all the saints mentioned in the post, Sts. Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Fr. Junipero Serra, Paul, all the apostles, Augustine, and Maria Goretti that they might pray to God for us as we navigate through our life on Earth, and especially for their intercession next Tuesday as we vote for our elected officials.  And I pray to your mother (if deceased) and mine for the same.  Amen.

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