Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Feast Of All Saints

by Joseph Hebert

The Feast of All Saints, also known as Hallowmas and All Hallows, is celebrated by Catholics every November 1st. In most countries this is a holy day of obligation, a day when Catholics are required to participate in Mass. The tradition dates at least as far back as 609 AD, when the pope dedicated a major pagan temple in Rome to the Virgin Mary and the Christian martyrs, men and women who were killed for their Christian faith during earlier centuries, when Christianity was illegal throughout the Roman Empire. The feast was originally held in mid-May, but was moved in the 800's AD to November 1st so that the celebration would fall at the same time as autumn harvest festivals.

The theme of the saints dying and being gathered up into Heaven fit well with celebrating the crops being cut down and gathered together by farmers. Just as farmers reaped the rewards of their hard work at the harvest, so the souls of the saints reap their reward in Heaven. Autumn was also a time when ancient people living close to nature couldn't help but to think about death as the days became shorter and colder, and the trees beginning losing their leaves while summer's flowers faded.

In Mexico, November 1st is called " The Day of the Innocents", honoring children and infants who have died. This begins the "Day of the Dead" celebration, which often involves beautiful altars decorated with painted sculls, breads and pastries, pictures of dead loved ones, flowers, and holy candles. Many Catholics around the world use either this day or the next, the Feast of All Souls, to visit the graves of deceased family members. They bring flowers and candles, spending much of the day cleaning and repairing the tombs and telling stories about their dead loved ones so that they will live on in their memories and in he memories of the children. In America, this tradition still runs strong amongst the French Cajuns of southern Louisiana and the people of New Orleans.

Halloween was originally known as "All Hallows Eve", an "eve" being the evening before a holiday, a time when people began celebrating.  The term "All Hallows" refers to the holy saints in Heaven. Halloween involves dressing in costumes, lighting jack-o-lanterns, and giving special treats in a effort to either scare away or please evil spirits, whom ancient people believed roamed the earth at any major change of seasons. This harmless fun from ancient times became a part of All Hallow's Eve and continues today.

What is a saint?
In the Bible, the term "saint" means "holy ones" and refers to all people who are faithful to God. However, St. Paul also uses the term "saints" to refer to the holy ones who will accompany Christ when he returns from Heaven (1 Thessalonians 3:13). The Book of Revelation in the fifth and eighth chapters refers to the saints as the souls of the holy ones who surround God's throne and pray to him day and night.

The Catholic Church honors certain departed Christians with the title "saint" because we are confident that these individuals died in deep friendship with Christ and are now in Heaven with him. The pope has the authority to express this confidence that a deceased person is a saint. We call this "canonization". Canonization is usually the result of a long process that requires testimony of the person's holiness, an examination of his or her life and writings, and documentation of any miracles performed by God through that person either before or after death.
Saints are the role models of our faith. Their lives are examples that answer the question "what would Jesus do." We remind ourselves of their heroic examples by naming children, churches, Catholic schools, and hospitals after them.

Catholics do not worship the saints, since the first of the ten commandments forbids us from worshiping anyone other than God.  We venerate the saints, which means we honor them and express our love for them. This involves using statues, paintings, and other forms of art. This is similar to displaying photos of deceased or faraway family members in your home. We could also compare using images and statues honoring the saints to the practice of erecting statues to honor great historical figures such as war heroes and presidents. These images remind us of the saints, but are not used for magic or luck.

Catholics also pray to the saints for intercession. This means that because we are confident these holy ones are in perfect communion with Christ, we trust that they can carry our needs directly to him. Just as we ask our Christian friends on Earth to pray for us, we ask the Communion of Saints in Heaven to pray for us too. Rather that distract us from Christ, the saints seek to draw us closer to him by sharing his grace with the faithful on Earth. In the fifteenth chapter of the second book of Maccabees, a leader of God's people had a dream in which he saw the high priest Oneidas and the prophet Jeremiah in Heaven praying for god's faithful people on Earth.

Among the saints are the holy angels who remained faithful to God when Lucifer and the fallen angels rebelled and were cast out. This includes the three archangels named in the Bible- Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. The angels are pure spirits who do not have bodies and were never human. In fact, God created them long before he created humans or the universe. They have free will, individual personalities, incredible intellect and power. according to Catholic writers such as Dionysus the Areopagite, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, the angels exist in nine choirs, or ranks. The book of Revelation describes them as joining the saints in singing praises to God at his throne. The angels are God's messengers, servants, and warriors. The play a major role in protecting and guiding God's people in both the Old and the New Testament.

The Virgin Mary is the greatest of the saints, as we see when the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation depicts her as queen of both Heaven and Earth. In Luke's gospel, she is inspired by the Holy Spirit to say that all generations shall call her blessed. Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born before him, and we believe that the apostles and the martyrs are also amongst the greatest of the saints. In Christian art, saints are often shown with halos, circles of light around their heads or their whole bodies. This represents the light of Christ- his goodness and wisdom- shining forth from that saint.

What is a relic? 
A relic is an item or a part of the body from a saint. We do not worship these items or consider them to be magical. Yet we believe that because the Holy Spirit moved through a saint in a special way, God's grace still remains active in the objects or the body parts of the deceased saint. Because saints were natural people who lived their lives in union with the supernatural world, their bodies and all that they touched also came into contact with the supernatural. This tradition dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, including relics of St. Paul (see Acts chapter 19) and those of St. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John. Many Catholic churches and monasteries throughout the world display relics of the saints. Many people insist that God has worked miracles through these relics, especially the relics of martyrs who laid down their lives for Christ in imitation of Christ.

What is incorruptibility?

The most important type of relic is the incorrupt body of a saint. Incorruptibility means that because a saint lived so closely to God and was so uniquely special to Him, God has protected the saint's body from decay. This is a sign to us that the saint was truly holy and worthy of our imitation. This also strengthens our Christian belief that all the faithful will experience bodily resurrection from death when Christ returns to our world. Around the world, Catholics can visit the publically displayed bodies of several incorrupt saints.

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