Saint of the Day – All Saints
The feast of All Saints was originally celebrated as the feast of All Martyrs on May 13, beginning around 610, when it was established by Pope Boniface IV. The date coincided with an ancient three day Roman festival, Lemures, which ended on May 13. Lemures was a time when Romans attempted to appease the dead. The date was also celebrated as the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome to St. Mary and All the Martyrs. A feast commemorating All Martyrs was held as early as 270, but there is no record of the actual date. There is evidence that All Martyrs was observed in Antioch on the first Sunday after Pentecost in the 300’s. This tradition still continues in the Orthodox and Eastern Churches as All Saints Sunday. The feast of All Saints was proclaimed on November 1 when Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated a chapel within St. Peter’s for the relics of the apostles and all saints. The Irish church celebrated All Saints on April 20 throughout the early Middle Ages.
Devotion to the saints became a highly contentious issue during the Reformation. Reformers alleged – with some very good evidence – that the saints were being worshiped, as opposed to being venerated. The general criticism was that attention was not being focused primarily on Christ. The focus on relics, indulgences, and special novenas appeared to make these exemplars of the faith into demigods.
500 years later, and 40 years after the Second Vatican Council, our approach to the saints is more communal. The Mystical Body of Christ, as emphasized by Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ -1943), led to a broader understanding of the holiness and vocation we all share in the Communion of Saints. In keeping with the renewed emphasis on St. Paul’s vision of the church as the Mystical Body, the contemporary church has renewed the ancient Pauline tradition of referring to all Christians as “the saints” or those made holy in Christ. Some sermons today even extend the feast day greetings to everyone in the congregation.
Experiencing the Communion of Saints as more than an intellectual concept is difficult. Something of the reality can be experienced in the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The largest church in the United States, Our Lady of the Angels has an enormous openness and can be somewhat overwhelming, until you start to walk down the aisle. The walls are covered with huge tapestries designed by John Nava and manufactured in Belgium. All of a sudden you are part of large community of saints who really look like people. The faces are not stylized in the traditional poses of rapture. The faces are all the more startling because in many cases they are the actual likeness of the saint. Paintings of the 136 saints and blesseds were first made from photographs. The paintings were then graphed and digitized and sent by e-mail to the looms for weaving. Nava’s art is described as neo-classical post-modernist, indicating a vision of the post-modern world returning to classical forms in a completely original way. This style might be a very apt inspiration for all of us post-modern saints.