Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic, Stone

Including Sacred Heart Church, Eccleshall
 

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The Feast of All Saints (31st Sunday), Year B

Just a thought

Today we celebrate the great Feast of All Saints. Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation in order to share with the faithful the revelation he had received concerning ‘What must happen soon’ (Rev 1:1). But far from teaching some sort of indifference toward the present in favour of some future existence, this prophetic message, on the contrary, reveals the importance and reality of the present. For it is here and now that ‘what must happen soon’ is being prepared. For this reason, it is urgent for us even now to commit ourselves to what happens today in order to be able to share in what tomorrow brings. The revelation of the full realisation of the designs of God affords us a supernatural understanding of present times, inspires us with courage and constantly revives the hope of the faithful. This page that is read on the day of the Feast of All Saints is one of the most beautiful and most comforting of the Book of Revelation. (Apocalypse).

Two successive visions revealed to John the hidden face of the earthly stage of the coming of salvation and the accomplishment in heaven of God’s plans. “Then I saw another angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were given the power to damage the land and the seas. Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we imprint the seal on the foreheads of the servants of God.” Present time is presented as a period of remission: judgement has been put off until later. But respite does not mean that God will be late in rendering justice. Those who would be tempted to think so are asked “to be patient a little longer until the number was filled of their fellow servants….” (Rev 6: 10-11)

Writing to the Christians of Ephesus, Paul says: ‘In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, which is the first instalment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory’ (Eph 1:13-14) ‘And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Eph 4:30). This way of speaking of Christian Baptism must have been common in apostolic times. What is more, the sacrament of Confirmation was first known by the name ‘Seal.’ The time we live in is therefore a time of mission of preaching the Gospel to all nations, a time of gathering together into the Church those who receive the One sent of God, and have become children of God, like those who have gone before them.

Through faith and the sacraments of faith, all belong to God and to his people. The number of those marked by the seal is incalculable: ‘One hundred and forty thousand. [twelve thousand] marked from every tribe of the Israelites.’ These are symbolic numbers that evoke both plentitude and fulfilment: no-one will be forgotten or left out of those who belong to God, the time of respite will last as long as is necessary so that all might be gathered together in the unity of his people. This gathering and this unity will not be fully realised until the end of the age, in the Jerusalem that John saw descending from heaven, to welcome into it all the children of God now dispersed. What had been a dream has become an unimaginable reality: people ‘from every nation, race, tribe and language’ are an assembly of one Spirit, despite their diversity, and without the slightest discrimination. John saw this assembly gathered together at the end of time. All ‘stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands’ This is the vision that John is contemplating. It is told to him that all those people wearing white — the liturgical colour — “Have survived the time of great distress,” and “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

From the beginning of his Gospel John has presented the coming of the Son of God made Man as the beginning of a great decisive battle between the darkness and the light, and the life and ministry of Jesus as a trial in court that culminates in the Passion. And then paradoxically, appears the victory of the Lord whose kingdom ‘is not here.’ Like him, Christians are on trial: “If the world hates you, realise that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” With Christ, they will know glory, so long as they pass through the time ‘of great distress’ without losing their faith. Some of them have shed their blood in this battle. But it is through the blood that flowed from the side of Christ, who is the Paschal Lamb, none of whose bones were broken, that all have been ‘washed’. John heard them proclaim: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”

This acclamation from those who ‘have survived the time of great distress’ joins that of the angels who ‘stood around the throne’ and singing: who prostrate themselves with their faces to the ground and ‘worshipped God’ — “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honour and glory and blessing.” The liturgy of the Church is celebrated in unison with that of Heaven; in the presence of the angels, the Virgin Mary, the apostles and the saints of all ages. In communion with them, in the hope of that day when side by side with them we will be able, ‘freed from the corruption of sin and death, to sing your glory with every creature through Christ our Lord through who you give us everything that is good.’ (Eucharistic Prayer IV)

Communion with the Virgin Mary and the Saints of heaven is an important part of our present day liturgy. As early as the fourth century, the saints were commemorated in the Eucharistic prayer. Their cult grew in all rites from the fourth to the fifth centuries on. At first, commemorations were made of the Martyrs of the local Church, then of the others who were particularly famous. After the era of persecutions, saints who were not martyr’s and ascetics were joined to the names of the martyrs. Catalogues were drawn up that were intended to be universal. Even though they included names of saints who had not been martyred, these catalogues were called ‘Martyrologies.’ A Feast of All Saints is attested in the fifth century in certain Eastern Churches — Antioch and Edessa, among others — from where it reached Rome. It was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost: but Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) transferred it to November 1st. In the year 835 a decree was promulgated and November 1st was fixed as the date for the Feast of All Saints and has been celebrated on this date ever since. From that time on, what had first been a local celebration in Rome and in a few Churches, rapidly became a common solemnity throughout the Latin Europe.

We have all known (and know) persons, who although often very humble, have given (and give) an authentic, admirable and inspiring example of sanctity to those close to them. It is right and fitting to celebrate them by associating their memory with that of the saints who figure in the various Martyrologies, as well as all the countless others that no such register could possibly contain, even if they were known. The popularity of this Feast of All Saints must certainly stem from this. This celebration also expresses the legitimate concern —recognised by the liturgy — of their faithful to obtain for themselves the intercession of all the saints leaving not a single one out: as can be seen from the opening prayer of the Mass. But this is not all. The liturgy celebrates the thrice holy God who is contemplated in the heavenly Jerusalem, surrounded by all the elect, sanctified by his grace. Each one is an individual and personal success of salvation but can only reflect a tiny part of the infinite holiness of God. Without exhausting it, they give a better image of this holiness when taken all together. The adoration of God is at the centre of the celebration of All Saints. On this festive day our earthly liturgy is more explicitly than ever an echo of the heavenly liturgy. It is a solemn act of thanksgiving to God who has made us his children, through and in his Son. At the same time, all the assembled Christians proclaim their hope: “What we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed…. but we do know, that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he really is.”

There is only one way open to all who hope to join the saintly men and women of heaven who bear witness to this future reality and that is Jesus: and the way of the ‘Beatitudes’ proclaimed by him in today’s Gospel, ‘Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength.’ We walk ahead toward that full realisation of the Paschal Mystery, so that at last ‘God may be all in all’ in the assembled Mystical Body. The brilliance of the saints is a reflection and comes from the same unique source of light that fills them all — God. Thus, the earthly Church climbs towards the heavenly Jerusalem, singing the litanies of the saints and serving daily in the tasks of God’s Kingdom. Our calling is clear in the Beatitudes: the Lord’s poor of heart, the humble, those at times grievously afflicted and who cannot be comforted, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers and those persecuted for righteousness sake. We are those who are insulted or slandered for Christ’s sake and the sake of the Gospel and who will never have earthly recognition but our names will be written in the Book of Life. The words of the Lord sing in their hearts and encourage them to persevere in the face of all the hardships of their path — “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

 

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