Author: Kathy Horan
As we approach the end of the year, a challenging one at that, there is a sense of rounding out the year liturgically as well as with our everyday calendar of events.
For Catholics, our daily lives are caught up in the rhythm of journeying with and being animated by the life and mission of Jesus throughout the various celebrations of the liturgical seasons, while at the same time living in a secular world that also has its customs and traditions that cross our horizons.
At the beginning of November, we celebrate two important feast days: All Saints and All Souls. Both of these feast days relate to our belief in the ‘Communion of Saints’, which is a way of describing the whole of God’s family, living and dead.
The saints are those people of great faith down through the ages who have borne witness to Jesus and often given their lives for their faith in him. They are ordinary people who lived their lives showing extraordinary courage, generosity of mind and heart in being of service to others, caring for the poor and marginalised, advocating for those without a voice, providing food, clothing, shelter and education for those lacking resources, while allowing the Spirit of Jesus to lead them and guide them. In this lies their greatness: their unshakeable faith in the Lord and their openness to share their faith with others. In the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, we name these people as ‘those who have died in your friendship’ and who are ‘marked with the sign of faith’.
Some of these people have been canonised as saints by the Church. What this means is that their lives have been acknowledged as inspirational, holy and worthy of being role models for those of us struggling at times to make a difference in the world.
We also are part of the Communion of Saints: still on our earthly journey, we do our best to be faithful to Jesus and the gospel, secure in the knowledge of God’s love and compassion for us at all times, even when we stray or make mistakes. The saints in heaven can support us in our journey to be faithful to the Lord.
In our Christian tradition, memory, and the act of remembering, is a highly important theme. The feast of All Souls is a solemn day when we actively call to mind and remember our loved ones who have gone ahead of us. We share our memories, our sorrow at their passing but also our joy that they are with God. Our faith tells us that as members of the Communion of Saints, we will one day be united in the presence of God with these loved ones.
One of the images evoked in the observance of these two feast days is that of being welcomed into an eternal banquet, where our merciful God will welcome and delight in us. While we acknowledge the sadness and grief associated with the loss of a loved one, there is something comforting to us here on earth about calling to mind the life of the person we mourn and in doing so to acknowledge what we have seen of God in that person’s life. We are reminded throughout the month of November that ‘it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead’.
At this time of year, the secular world celebrates Halloween, which takes place on October 31, the evening before the feast of All Saints. There are many customs and traditions associated with the observance of Halloween, which began centuries ago to acknowledge the dying of a year and were accompanied by the lighting of fires to ward off ghosts and other spirits. It became customary for children to dress up in festive costumes and engage in a variety of activities which included the collection of sweet treats, a tradition that is becoming more popular in our country. Whatever we may think of Halloween customs, the word ‘halloween’ actually refers to the eve of All Saints, and this feast is an important celebration of the Communion of Saints to which we belong.