Over the next few months the Prairie Messenger will occasonally feature writing from past contributors and editors. The following editorial by Andrew Britz, OSB, is titled “All Saints,” and was originally published in the Nov. 1, 2000, issue of the PM. It is also included in his book Rule of Faith: as we worship, so we believe, so we live.
The liturgy during November has a flavour all its own. The Gospel narratives used at the Sunday eucharist are predominantly eschatological; they draw our attention to the end-time.
But to set the stage for our understanding and appreciation of the role these Gospels are to play in our lives, the church opens the month with the great celebration of All Saints.
It’s important to note that the church does not give us stories of the “end of the world” to frighten us, nor even primarily to give us that sobering wisdom which enables us to see our lives in a broader perspective.
Rather, the church is out to strengthen us, to encourage us by revealing the eternal dimension of the lives we are already celebrating in Jesus Christ.
The Feast of All Saints sets the tone for all the liturgies until we begin a new season with Advent. In the All Saints liturgy we hear that 144,000 were sealed with the mark of the Lamb, a number symbolizing the utterly overwhelming character of God’s grace (12 times 12 times 1,000 is as superlative as the Hebrew can express it!). And we learn that, in addition to this nigh-on infinite number, people are streaming into the kingdom from every nation, race, tribe and language in numbers impossible to count or grasp.
We are called to visualize ourselves as part of a mighty throng dazzled before the very throne of God. It is in seeing ourselves as part of the communion of saints that we come to experience the resurrection of Christ as the story of our lives.
For too long in the church’s canonization process, “ordinary” lay people, almost by definition, have been excluded. The official canon of saints is not in any way representative of the Christian community.
Pope Saint John Paul II in his years on the Chair of Peter proclaimed more “blesseds” and new saints than all those beatified and canonized by his 262 predecessors combined.
But he repeatedly asked the Vatican congregation responsible for canonizations to suggest lay people who were not martyrs, especially lay people who throughout their lives lived the sacrament, the mystery, of marriage.
As important as that is, it is critical to realize that this is not the crucial issue. Much more important is the calling of each and every Christian to create their own canon of saints.
In the old Roman Canon, which was the only eucharistic prayer in the Latin Rite for more than a millennium, the priest was always told to pause so that worshippers could remember their own saints, both living and dead, in the canon.
Through constant repetition — almost by osmosis — we learn in our very bones that, whether we live or whether we die, we continue to be part of the one celebration of the Lord’s passover from death to life.
Eucharistic Prayer II is clearest in viewing our union with all the saints as the climax of the liturgy: “May we praise you in union with them, and give you glory through your Son, Jesus Christ.”
To state the obvious: It is difficult for us to believe that our “wretched bodies” are indeed icons of the Lord’s resurrection. Our own personal prayer, imperfect though it be, helps us to remember that God is working mightily in our lives. And the prayers of many friends — we know not how — strengthen us so that we might dare to see ourselves as God sees us.
In the liturgy we are encouraged not so much to pray for our departed brothers and sisters as to see them around God’s throne as our special intercessors.
So as we, Sunday after Sunday, remember our special saints celebrating with us the one mass of the kingdom, we come to realize that whether we live or whether we die, we continue to be that communion of saints called to stand in awe in God’s presence, flabbergasted at the sheer gift of God’s grace.
In this context, no story of “the end of the world” can be frightening. As we come to see our wretched bodies as anything but wretched, as we come to experience them as part of the eternal worship of God, we will begin to view the whole world in a new light.
We come to realize that the lordship of Christ over all creation is certainly not to destroy it nor even to control it, but to bring it to that glory God had in mind when Adam and Eve were placed in paradise.
It is fitting that this liturgical period ends with the Feast of Christ the King. What a strange king he is. On only two occasions in the Gospels is Jesus honoured as king: when he is powerless in the manger and when he stands condemned before Pontius Pilate.
His is not a kingdom of power; he rules with what we experience as powerlessness. Remembering this should help us realize that the apocalyptic images of the Gospels are surely not meant to reverse everything Jesus stood for when he walked among us challenging us to find the kingdom in our midst.
Most of us are not ready to find our meaning in grandiose stories of cosmic proportions. But in the stories of Sts. Anthony and Jude, of Sts. Elizabeth and Hildegarde, of Grandma and Uncle Bill, of our spouse and close friend — in these stories we are called upon to find our place in the communion of saints and so come to believe in that most human of stories: that the Son of God, in the very likeness of our sinful flesh, did not let our sin limit our lives, but rather on the cross reigned as king, thereby including all of us in his gracious reign of unity and peace.
Britz was editor of the Prairie Messenger from 1983 - 2004.