5 Steps from All Souls’ to All Saints’

November seems like the perfect place for All Souls’ Day. Although a time a harvest, it is also a time of dwindling life and light, a time that signifies the approach of death. Coming immediately after All Saints’ Day, when the Church Militant venerates the Church Triumphant and those in glory pray for us, All Souls’ Day has us attend to the remaining part of the Mystical Body.

The placement of All Souls’ Day right after All Saints’ Day also makes sense from a historical perspective. According to Dom Gregory Dix, our liturgical veneration of the saints is ultimately rooted in an early belief in purgatory. He traces the history this way:

  1. The earliest Christians believed that the deceased faced the possibility of purgative fires. So when a Christian died, it was customary to offer prayers for that person on the anniversary of his or her death.
  2. When a Christian was martyred, the community felt strange about praying for his soul, because it was confident the deceased had bypassed purgatory entirely. On the other hand, it was customary to do something on the anniversary of a Christian’s death. So instead of praying for the martyr’s soul, they would offer prayers in celebration of what the martyr had done. (This is captured in the Martyrdom of Polycarp.)
  3. In a kind of Christianized civic spirit, Christian communities celebrated their local martyrs in a regular cycle.
  4. In the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem began celebrating all the great biblical saints, because for someone living in Jerusalem all the biblical saints were local.
  5. When the many pilgrims to Jerusalem brought this practice back to their various homes, suddenly a lot of communities were celebrating saints that were not local to them. Thus was born the universal calendar of saints.

So in a kind of order of discovery, All Souls’ Day is prior to All Saints’ Day: we discovered Masses in honor of the triumphant by realizing we weren’t comfortable counting them as suffering. But in another order, All Saints’ Day is first: we look to the goal first and then pray that our suffering brothers and sisters will reach it; all of us who can pray, which includes us on earth and our forerunners in heaven, first unite together and then, together, pray for the suffering deceased.

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Saints of the Bible: A Complete List of Their Feasts in the Old and New Calendars

Before the amazing 4th century, Christians were parochial and even patriotic in their veneration of saints. Rome celebrated the martyrs who had died at Rome, Constantinople celebrated the martyrs who had died at Constantinople, Antioch celebrated the martyrs who had died at Antioch, and so on. It never occurred to the folks in Rome to celebrate the saints of Antioch, or vice versa: celebrating a saint involved walking out to see his tomb. But in the 4th century a unique group of saints broke this pattern and set us on the path to the celebration of all saints. Who were they?

Abraham IconThe saints of the Bible.

The saints of the Bible were familiar names throughout the Church. Texts like Hebrews 11 and Sirach 44-50, read everywhere, held up the great men and women of Salvation History as examples to follow and heroes to venerate. For the church in Jerusalem, however, the saints of Scripture were also the local martyrs: just as Rome had a list of days for celebrating the martyrs of Rome, Jerusalem had a cycle of liturgical commemorations of the biblical saints. When 4th-century pilgrims brought Jerusalem’s liturgies back to their home dioceses, they brought with them the practice of liturgically commemorating the biblical saints—and implicitly, they created the practice of commemorating saints that were not local. Unwittingly, they had planted the seed of the universal sanctoral cycle. Continue reading “Saints of the Bible: A Complete List of Their Feasts in the Old and New Calendars”

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Official Mixed Drink of the Feast of St. Luke

Luke Drink

Mix one for the man.

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The Painted World

Today, my freshmen and I will discuss the end of the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses ascends the mountain to look out over the Promised Land–and die.  That scene moves me mysteriously.

At one point, in a particular situation, I wrote a story based on that scene.  It is a strange story, a difficult story, and I am not even sure it is a good story, but every time I go back to it I am moved again and I can’t quite bring myself to chuck it.  With some trepidation, I now post it where anyone can see what flights of fancy erupt where a man with too little learning to match his love seizes access to a keyboard.

The Painted World

Thomae Aquinatis Super I Tim., cap. 6 l. 3: Res ergo, quae sunt actus quidam, sed non purus, lucentia sunt, sed non lux. Sed divina essentia, quae est actus purus, est ipsa lux.

Painted WorldDeuteronomy 34:10, “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

Colossians 2:17, “These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”

James 1:17, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Chapter 1

Before you take up and read, look at the picture above this story. There you see me, the author of this story: my hands point to a well-watered land, dark woods and verdant pastures, and to the city on a hill overlooking all; my eyes look back to invite all those behind to enter and take this land. Look closely at my eyes: see how they plead, see how earnest and how sad they are. You behold me.

I do not say that you see me depicted, or that you see a depiction of me. I am not the man depicted in the picture above this story, who was a great man of your world; rather, I am his depiction. The drawing above this story is not a representation of me, but it is I myself: I am the drawing. You hold me in your hands.

Forever do I stretch out my hands, and never will I cease. Although my bent knees and backward glance suggest action, I never straighten my legs or turn my head. In fact, for me there is neither moment before nor moment after, and so no memory of the sort that you enjoy: I am fixed in a single moment, in a single feeling, which is yet not like your feelings colored by consciousness of yourself feeling, which depends on awareness of time passing. I am a drawing, and so there is only one moment in my world, one now. I have only a glint of the rich being of your world.

If all this is so, you may ask, who is the author of this story? Surely writing word after word implies an unfolding of thought, and a succession of action. A frozen figure cannot move from line to line and from word to word, still as he is in the immobility of one gaze and one thought.

You are right, and yet I am the author of this story. How that came to pass is my story.

Chapter 2

A moment passed, the first moment of my life. I stood in a stupor, like one who wakes from a dark and dreamless sleep to find himself standing erect under the noonday sun. Infants and children live as in a dream, but the passage from infancy to animal cunning to reason unfolds gradually, as the light before the dawn leads to sunrise; I leapt from sleep to full awakening in an instant, and the terror of that moment cannot be expressed. To the very young, a single day may seem a year, while to the very old even a year may pass as a day; entirely without age or past, I experienced that first moment as though it were eighty years.

I stood in a broad and spacious room, the walls decorated with paintings and pen drawings and pencil drawings of every manner of thing: there were landscapes of sea and sky, mountain and plain, forest and flower; fish and birds and land animals of every description peered out of the decorated frames; and portraits of famous heroes joined the rest. Here and there throughout the room moved onlookers in a variety of garb, staring first at one painting and then the next with astonishment.

A corpulent man beside me touched my arm. White and black robes flowed over his massive figure, and his eyes, dark brown, were so intense as almost to be black. His voice when he spoke was deep: “Look there.” The massiveness of his hand was absorbing, as though he were thicker and more real than everything else in the room.

Reluctantly, my eyes turned to a drawing the wall. Dimly familiar, it showed a valley, and several waters, and many trees—recognition came with a shock, doubly so because this was my first experience of recognition. “I belong there,” I stammered at last, “That is my world.” The big man waited. “But look at how flat it is!” I went on. “There are trees and rivers and buildings, but the trees only differ from the buildings by a bit of coloring! And this tree here is just like that tree there, except that it is of painted on this bit of canvas instead of that. My world is not—I am entirely unreal!” Here words failed me.

“You are right, and you are wrong,” the deep voice resounded. “In your world, a things are what they are by the arrangement of colors: a tree is a tree because its colors are arranged this way, while a river is a river because its colors are arranged that way. What it is to be a tree, in your world, is to have this arrangement of color. And you are right again: this tree is this tree because its color is on this part of the canvas, and that tree is that tree because it is on that part of the canvas. Individuals in your world are apart from other individuals by the part of canvas their color is on.”

Here his voice lowered, if that were possible, as though about to share a secret. “But you are wrong when you say that your world is entirely unreal. A painted world has a certain kind of reality, inasmuch as it can be seen by others. In fact, for a painted world, to be is to be visible.” His eyes threatened to bore through me: “I say it again: in your world, to be is to be visible.” And I saw that he was right: if there were no light in the world to brighten the painting, it would not be even a painting; but when the light fell on it, it sprang before the eye as at least a real reflection.

This comforted me momentarily, but, as my gaze turned from my painted world to my new teacher, I saw again men and women of every description staring in fascination at one painting and then another. “How real they are!” I observed, “How thick and substantial! They move about, they remember and compare.” But the scene began to look strange: “If I were real as they are, I would delight in nothing more than contemplating the real around me. Why do they look only at the paintings and never at one another?”

My guide took me by the arm as he dismissed the room with a wave. “They think that the law of your world is the law of their world: they think that, even for them, to be is to be visible to eyes.”

Chapter 3

What followed then was such as death must feel within your world. For I was rent, I was changed; I could not see as you see round you, nor could any eye as yours see me. It was as though I had awoken. No grammar captures what I knew, because there was no silence flowing on which by our speech was broken; there was not ever he-was-speaking, only he-had-spoken; no time within our repartee, but now—then now—then now—then now, like points in separate planes.

Put into words, what my companion said would be, “Look back.” My obedience was not a turning of the head but sight, a view; and I knew the room which we had left. But from outside that world and looking back, I now could see behind and in front of it, and I saw that your world is like to mine. As a man is a man in my world because of an arrangement of colors, so a man is a man in your world because of something like shape, which is yet not shape but more real than shape, although like it. And as this tree is this tree rather than that tree in my world because it is painted on this part of the canvass rather than on that part, so in your world this man is this man rather than that man because his shape is the shape of this stuff rather than of that; he is not on a canvass, but his shape—which is more real than shape—binds this together rather than binding that together.

In the same glance, I noticed that I saw all this of myself and not because my teacher explained it, because my vision was not of colors but of the very being of things. Just as the color in a painted man is lit up and so is visible, the shape and stuff of your world is “lit,” is held forth into being. My view was of the “lit” things, and just as canvass is colored and color is lit, so in your world stuff is shaped and shape is held forth.

All this and more I shared with my teacher, in the same act by which I saw it, together with my question: “They do not see this?”

“They do not.”

“What do they see?”

“Shadows and reflections, with the eyes.”

“How are they lit?”

And turning, again I died: I saw him. I saw him. I saw him.

Chapter 4

Words will not that life with form endow;
Sequential speech, all time entangled, is unfit.
There was no now, and now, and now, and now,
But my gaze, and his, to which my depths submit,
A changeless being-grasped, a steady sight.
Ev’ry nook and nature of your world is “lit”;
This “Thou” above all being is the light.
As my world’s static pose to vibrant motion stands,
So your world’s flux to stable, changeless being bright;
While motion shade of color, varied hue demands,
In him there is no darkness; shadows from him flee.
No partial shadow life his brightness understands.
Light withdrawn, all paintings, just as paintings cease to be;
Him withdrawn, your world must perish, utterly.

Chapter 5

On my descent back through your world and on to my own I will not dwell. Suffice to say that you see before you the result, this small story written in witness. One of your world would have been a more worthy messenger, it seems to me, and one from the world above worthier still, but my guide stated firmly that I was chosen precisely because my world is below yours. Perhaps my reader will understand?

For my part, I can only urge: You who have substance, look around you and see! How noble your world, how thick, how real—and yet how much more real is that which is real of itself. There is rest, there is warmth, there is light! He gave me to see what yours can be, but I shall not pass over.

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Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus

August 31

In Jerusalem, the commemoration of Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who received the body of Jesus from the cross, wrapped it in fine linen, and placed it in the tomb. Joseph, a respected member of the council, was looking for the kingdom of God; Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a prince of the Jews, came to Jesus by night to ask about his mission, and defended his cause before the priests and Pharisees who wanted to arrest Jesus.

***

May Holy Mary and all the saints intercede to the Lord for us, that we may merit to be helped and saved by him who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

V. Precious in the sight of the Lord

R. Is the death of his holy ones.

V. May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.  And may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

R. Amen

[To learn about praying this and other Martyrology entries, see this page.]

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Good Friday: History, Mystery, Practice

Who could explain the mystery of Good Friday? How many books would it take to finish explaining it? It would be impossible. But to talk about the mystery is not today’s duty: the entire goal of Good Friday is to relive the events of that day in all their concreteness. This morning, Jesus was brought to trial before Pilate, and by the afternoon we will witness his final hours on the cross.

The liturgy today has three parts: the liturgy of the word, the veneration of the cross, and Holy Communion. Each part has something unique about it to make this day different from all others. Continue reading “Good Friday: History, Mystery, Practice”

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Free for use: One spacious upper room, furnished.

Yesterday was the day English tradition has called “Spy Wednesday,” because on that day Judas made a deal with the authorities to betray Jesus and began looking out for an opportunity to do so (Mark 14:10-11). Immediately after this scene, Mark tells us what happened on Thursday (14:12-16):

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

The sequence is clear: Judas the spy is on the prowl, so Jesus does not give out any information ahead of time about where the Last Supper will take place. He doesn’t even whisper to another disciple, who might be persuaded to spill the beans. Instead, he sends two disciples to follow someone they will meet randomly in the city. And the miracle is, with Jerusalem swollen to triple its normal population and Passover celebrations fighting for room literally on the rooftops, this random person leads them to a spacious room all furnished and still available!  It’s like getting Superbowl tickets the day before the game!

But my thoughts today keep going back to the owner of the room. Today, on Holy Thursday, Jesus’ ministers will say to me, “Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?” That householder was ready without warning; I have had all of Lent to prepare. I still wonder if my inner, upper room is furnished and ready for tonight.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

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Holy Thursday: History

Among the Holy Week liturgies, I have a special soft spot for the Holy Thursday evening Mass.  A tender atmosphere of love surrounds the ceremony itself, giving way to a sense of desolation when the altar is stripped at the end.  As it turns out, these two moods, tender love and brooding sorrow, match the two main streams of Holy Thursday’s history.

The first stream gives us a sense of sorrow.  Not surprisingly, it was the astonishing Cyril of Jerusalem in the 4th Century who introduced special customs for the Thursday before Easter:

  • In the morning the Jerusalem church celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Cross, something they never did any other day of the year.  It was customary for all to receive communion.
  • A second Mass was celebrated at about 4:00 in the afternoon to begin an evening of reliving what happened that night in Jerusalem long ago.
  • Afterwards, the whole congregation kept vigil at a church on the Mount of Olives, with readings on the last supper.
  • They visited Gethsemane after midnight for a reading on the agony in the garden.
  • Finally, they returned to the city in the morning for a reading of the gospel of the trial of Jesus.  When this passage was read, the pilgrim Egeria recounts, there was a loud “moaning and groaning with weeping from all the people.”

Many things have changed, but Cyril set the pattern.  To this day we have an evening Mass with a special emphasis on the mystery of the Eucharist; the faithful are not supposed to receive Communion at any other Mass that day, to emphasize their Communion together in the evening.  After the Mass, the host is carried in a special procession to a separate tabernacle, representing Jesus going out into the night with his disciples.  People stay afterwards for a period of adoration, remembering that Jesus asked his disciples to stay and keep watch with him.  The altar is stripped bare, emphasizing the sense that Jesus has left the sanctuary, has gone out into the night to meet his betrayer.

A second stream contributes to the atmosphere of tender love.  Some time after Cyril’s practices had begun to spread throughout the Christian world, the washing of feet became part of the Holy Thursday tradition.  There is no documentary evidence of this until the 7th century, but the texts from that time seem to imply a somewhat earlier origin.  Some surprising facts:

  • Until Pius XII’s reforms in 1955 it was not celebrated as part of the Mass, and in some places it is still separate from the Mass.
  • There was often a separate hall or building where it was done, and the focus of the ceremony was on an act of love, especially for the poor.  In one 11th century monastic version of the ritual, the abbot and his monks genuflected and bowed down to adore Christ in the poor men whose feet they were about to wash.
  • In the Middle Ages in many places it was customary for the king to wash the feet of poor men and then wait on them at table, although if a queen was on the throne then she would wash the feet of poor women.  Modesty forbade men from washing women’s feet, or women men’s.
  • The first word of the first antiphon sung during the foot-washing ritual was mandatum, from which we seem to get our English name for the day, “Maundy Thursday” as well as our name for the foot-washing ceremony itself, the “Mandatum”.

In the current rubrics, the entire rite is optional, celebrated “where a pastoral reason suggests it.”  The tradition that men only wash the feet of men has carried over into the rubrics, which require that the priest wash the feet of viri, of men.  Although it has become customary to wash the feet of twelve men, no particular number is mandated by tradition and the rubrics do not specify a number.

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Gearing up for Holy Thursday

On Holy Thursday, my family prepares for the evening Mass with a Passover reenactment and reflection.  The super-rich evening liturgy assumes the Last Supper setting at every point, but we like to underscore that fact with a little drama in the home.

LastSupperThese days a lot of people say that they do a Seder meal or that they do a “Christianized Passover” for Holy Thursday.  I’m sorry, but those are both absurd things to say.

On the one hand, the Seder is not a Passover meal, because the Passover was a sacrificial banquet, and for sacrifices you have to have the Temple.  No, the Seder is a Jewish ritual that was invented after the destruction of the Temple and after Christ had ascended and Christianity was already being preached to the world as something different from Judaism.  There is no reason a Christian would celebrate a Seder.

On the other hand, the “Christianized Passover” is the Mass.  Christ himself “Christianized” the Passover, so it’s kind of silly for Christians to pretend to do that for him.  If you want a Christianized Passover, go to the Holy Thursday evening liturgy.

What we do at home on Holy Thursday is best called a Passover re-enactment.  We try to re-enact what Jesus and his disciples would have done at dinner that night as a way to prepare our minds for what the Church offers us in her liturgy.  It’s a devotional prep for the evening.  We look forward to it every year!

Here’s how we do it.  Everyone who participates in the Passover re-enactment gets this slim handout, which explains both the actions and the foods; you can print it on one double-sided sheet.  The cook will need this food list, which has some practical notes on how to prepare things.  The leader can look at this really detailed overview of the Passover ceremony for background; at the end, I’ve tucked in a bibliography of sources I used in reconstructing the ritual.  When I lead people through the devotion for the first time, I often base my comments on this article, which I published some time ago in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Do you have any special family traditions for the Triduum?  Let me know in the combox.  I’d love new ideas for Holy Thursday and Good Friday in particular.

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The Annunciation: History, Mystery, Practice

My wife is expecting, due within a month or so. When we first discovered the pregnancy, it seemed unreal, just a little colored line on a test strip. It was easy to forget for a moment that anything had happened. But soon my wife couldn’t forget, not even for a moment, and not long after that I felt the same way. Then other people began to ask: is Jacinta expecting? By now, I can sort of play with the little person in there, squishing a little knee to provoke a reaction, and nobody asks anymore whether a baby is on the way. There’s—there’s a person inside my wife!

But it all just makes me more eager for the moment of birth. That’s when we meet our new friend. Now he—she?—is real enough, but off in his own world, not yet with us. I always think of my children’s birthdays as the days when we received them, even though in some metaphysical sense we had them for months before that. Birth is when they exist not just in themselves but in a way addressed to us.

I think of all this today as I ponder the solemnity of the Annunciation. Mary knew of Jesus, but had not met him—not yet. Then Joseph knew of him, and then Elizabeth, and through her, Zechariah. The reality of his life became more public with time. But only at his birth did his life blaze out in light to the world and become a life addressed to us. The old Christmas chant nails it:

Today Christ is born / Today the Savior has appeared

In its historical origin, Christmas was an epiphany feast, a feast of Christ’s manifestation. In the west the birth was celebrated on December 25 while in the east it was celebrated on January 6 along with other manifestations. In the fourth century, east and west traded feasts and ended up with both December 25 and January 6, and so the first became exclusively a feast of the birth and the second a feast of the other manifestations.

It did not take long for people to work backwards nine months from a December birth and discover a March conception. If Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation addressed to us, today is the feast of the Incarnation addressed to us only in the person of Mary, a quiet unknown who stands in for all mankind. If Christmas is the feast of light bursting forth on the world, today is the feast of hidden hope.

In that way, it actually fits the current season. Christmas is like Easter in being a time of hope realized and glory manifested. During Lent we enter into Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant:

He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3)

The Savior is right there, but the world sees nothing in him to notice. Hope is ready to conquer, but it has no form or beauty that would attract attention. Today’s feast is one of joy, but it highlights an aspect of the otherwise sorrowful season of Lent, the note we should feel in our hearts throughout the day: hidden hope.

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