All Souls’ Day – November 2, 2008 – Blessed Sacrament
With these two holy days–All Saints Day and All Souls Day–we expand the horizon of our Christian vision, or, perhaps better, we give the attention to the full scope of the Christian vision that we may often fail to give. Two subjects suggest themselves for reflection.
First, with these two days we are made more keenly aware of the scope of the communion we share as Christians. In the Apostles’ Creed we confess our belief in “the communion of saints”. The Latin for that is communio sanctorum, and it has often been pointed out that in Latin the phrase can mean either “the communion, that is, the common share, in holy things” or “the communion of holy men and women.” We don’t have to choose between the two meanings. When we say in our Sunday creed that we believe in the holy Church, the men and women who constitute the Church are holy because they have received the holy things of God, his Word and his grace. This is the first meaning of holiness as applied to the Church, that is, to us: that the holy God has adopted us to share in his own holy life. Ethical meanings of holiness follow from that: we are to live holy lives because we have been made holy in Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
This is the communion that is celebrated and realized when we gather on Sundays for the eucharist. We are not (or are not supposed to be) just a group of people who happen to find themselves in the same space at the same time. A common purpose gathers us together. It is not nationalistic: you don’t have to be an American citizen to take part; it is not political–thank God!–we’re not asked our party-affiliation at the door; it is not ethnic: dozens of different ethnic backgrounds are represented among us; it is not economic: wealthy and poor, and all those in between, are welcome here; it is not related to age: the very old and the very young, and everybody in between, make us up. Not for these reasons do we gather, or for any other common purpose except that of giving thanks to God for his great mercy to us in Christ and by giving thanks receiving an increase of his holy gifts, so that we may enter more fully into the communion of holy things that makes us a communion of holy people.
But yesterday and today we are made more aware that this communion is not confined within this building or restricted to those who are here today. Our communion stretches all across the world and includes all those who gather elsewhere in the same faith, hope and love: these many Churches constituting one Church, these many eucharists one great act of thanksgiving. This communion extends also across time. St. Augustine put it this way: “The house of God [the Church] is all believers, not only those who now exist, but also those who were before us and have fallen asleep, and also those who will be after us, those who have still to be born until the end of the world, innumerable believers gathered into one,… the whole number of holy believers, who are to be changed from being human beings to being equal to the angels of God, to be joined with the angels who are not wandering now but await our return from our wandering. All of us together make one house of God, one city” (En. in Ps. 126, 3). We recognize this at every liturgy if we pay attention to the words with which the Preface always ends, when we say we join our voices with those of angels and saints as we sing the praises of our thrice-holy God: Holy! Holy! Holy! By doing that we place ourselves with them in the heavenly liturgy–the great prayer of the Mass is introduced by the exhortation Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts! Or by doing that, do the angels and saints come down and take part in our humble liturgy here, filling out our perhaps feeble and inexpert singing with the joyful Alleluia of those who already see and enjoy what we know only by faith as we continue on our wandering way towards home.
This, then, is the second great truth that these days remind us of. That the horizon of our Christian vision, the horizon of our hope, extends beyond this life, beyond the grave, to a completion in the full expansion and ecstatic enjoyment of the life we have been given already to live in faith, hope and love. We live it in faith and not by sight, wishing one day to see what we now believe. We live it in hope, wishing one day to possess in its full reality what we now possess only in longing. Already, however, we live it in love, the only one of the three great Christian virtues that will survive when all the citizens of God’s holy City are gathered in. Love will define that City: God’s love achieving its final purpose in the love that makes that “great multitude which no man can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9), and from every age from the beginning of creation until its consummation, makes them one in the joyful possession of God, the full realization of the communion of holy things, the full, perfect communion of the saints. We should all be singing: “I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in!”