In this communion, we’re All Saints, by the merits of Christ.
Ain’t no party like a Catholic party, so they say, and on this All Saints Day the party has a guest list that dissolves the limits of time and space.
It’s our feast day, every one of us, living and dead. And though the saints in heaven – the Church Triumphant, as they’d be listed on a formal, engraved invitation – get top billing and the head table today, you and I will find our names on the list at the door.
We, the Church Militant to give us our propers, are among the unfamous and innumerable saints. Nobody will bounce us from this party. We belong here.
That’s not our doing, of course. Our invitation to the party known as the Communion of Saints was paid for in blood. We, the holy catholic Church, are less a communion of individual saints (in the holy card way we think of saints) than a community steeped in sanctity, sharing equally and utterly undeservedly in the goods of salvation won for us by Christ Jesus. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:
“Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others … We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head … Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments.” “As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund” (CCC #947).
We don’t, and can’t, make ourselves holy, make ourselves saints. We can cooperate (and the saints in heaven have cooperated) with the gift of sanctifying grace that is ours by Baptism. We can be militant (and the saints in heaven have been militant) about rejecting all that stands between us and the doing of God’s will. We can follow Jesus (and the saints in heaven have followed him) as disciples and pilgrims on this daily journey to the homeland we have been promised, the party that has no end.
There are some other guests celebrating (yes, celebrating!) with us today, although their big day comes tomorrow on All Souls Day. The Church Suffering – the souls in purgatory – are also saints. The merits of grace are not denied to them, and they burn with love and joy to jettison the traces of all that is less than loving. That’s a Catholic party, too. They, too, will sit at the head table someday.
To say we are all saints on this All Saints Day is not by any means to practice the lazy sin of presumption. It is, instead, to do something very difficult: to wait in joyful hope. To live as though we know the ending, because we do. It is not our ending we await, but the consummation of the world in the fire of Christ’s saving love.
In the meantime, what is it we do at this Catholic party? We pray and are prayed for. Prayer is the blessing cup that we pass from table to table. The saints in heaven pray for us and for the souls in purgatory. We pray for the intercession of the saints in heaven, to light our path on earth, to help one another, and to free the suffering souls in purgatory. The Church Suffering is powerless to pray – but the fire of their purifying love is fueled by our prayer, and they will not forget us.
I think, every year on this feast, of the diagram in the old Baltimore Catechism from which I learned about the Communion of Saints. There were the saints in heaven, haloed figures in a cloud raining down arrows of grace, labeled Need no help, but can help. The souls in purgatory, ringed with fire, labeled Helpless, but with a fusillade of arrows indicating prayer directed their way. And us, the Church on earth, standing atop the globe in apparent isolation, yet linked by arrows of prayer to one another and to those in heaven and in purgatory. Need help, we are labeled, and can help. What a privilege!
Triumphant – rejoicing not in their own victory, but in Christ’s. Suffering – enduring (literally, as that’s what suffering means) the last purifying preparation. And Militant – on active duty, here and now. I believe in … the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints. St. You, St. Me, Sts. All of Us, celebrating our feast day today.
Ain’t no party like a Catholic party – ‘cause a Catholic party never ends!