Solemnity of All Saints

Solemnity of All Saints   

To my mind, eulogies delivered in Church often over focus on the human skills and qualities the deceased loved one possessed, rather than the virtues of their Christian calling by which they lived. Sometimes the emotions of the eulogists run so high that virtues are magnified to the level of sanctity and   I am often times tempted to look into the coffin to see if the person spoken of is really the same person that I know.

And yet there have been funeral eulogies which have deeply moved me. One such eulogy that deeply impacted my life was the funeral of the father of Fr Anil Rego, one of the priests of the Archdiocese of Bombay. The deceased gentleman’s spouse, Philomena had passed away a few months earlier and now it seemed that Leonard had died of a broken heart. The son who delivered the eulogy spoke not of his deceased father but of his parents, for he said he could not conceive even talking about his deceased father without mentioning in the same breath his mother. They were joined at the hip, not at birth, but by marriage and they lived their Christian calling as a holy family.

I left the Eucharist feeling deeply moved with the distinct feeling that I had attended the funeral of a saintly man who lived a saintly Christian life. I had never met Leonard Rego in life and yet in death he had stirred my heart to love Christ even more and I believe of all those sitting in the congregation that day. I went back to the parochial house nourished by both, the Eucharist and the example of a man who lived a saintly life.

While most saints have a particular feast day on the Catholic calendar not all of those feast days are observed. The Solemnity of ‘All saint day’ is observed to honour the many saints in heaven and those who are saints in the heart of God but never declared by the Church, perhaps people like Leonard and Philomena. It is good to keep in mind that saints canonized by the Catholic Church are not persons who were ‘made saints’  by the Pope but persons, who  by a process of discernment, were declared to be ‘holy’,  for such a reality already existed in the heart of God .

All Saints’ Day was formally started by Pope Boniface IV in reaction to successive waves of invaders in the early seventh century who plundered the catacombs. He gathered 28 wagon-loads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. He consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13 in 609 AD.

The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the pagan holiday “Feast of the Lamures,” a day which pagans used to placate the restless spirits of the dead. Perhaps this is the reason why he also established All Souls’ Day, which follows All Saints. According to Venerable Bede, the pope intended “that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honoured in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons

The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome Gregory and ordered his priests to celebrate the Feast of All Saints annually. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.

Today we gather in worship not only to honour the ‘Church triumphant ; the saints who followed the way of Christ and are now in heaven but also the many whom we knew and know on earth who live their Christian calling, this is the ‘communion of saints’ ( CCC 946-962)

Fr Warner D’souza

Historical references compiled from various sources 

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