Ordinary of the Mass “I saw a
great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and
peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb….”
Ordinary of the Mass
“I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb….”
In the very early days of the Church—the days of severe persecution—many Christians adopted the practice of visiting he Christian prisoners in jail. They might bring them food or other material comforts, but they also came to ask the favor of their prayers. Just about every one taken prisoner was soon to die the death of the martyrs, so it was predictable that those visited in jail were soon to be among the saints in heaven, and powerful intercessors with God. Even those visiting the prisoners placed themselves in serious danger—one never knew when the guard would not accept a bribe.
So in the very early Church, most of the saints that were venerated were the martyrs. The Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Apostle would have been among the few exceptions. Even today, they are the only non-martyrs among the saints in the Canon of the Mass. Only after a few centuries passed did the Church begin to recognize holy people who died natural deaths as saints—those who spent their life in prayer and the works of religion.
At first the veneration of saints was a local matter. Sometimes it was simply obvious that someone died such a holy death that they just had to be in heaven. Usually an investigation was conducted by the local bishop, who would approve or disapprove. Around 800 AD or so, local bishops began to involve the Pope in their deliberations, and in 1170 Pope Alexander III decreed that future canonizations would be reserved to the Holy See. Urban VIII (1623–1644) authored the elaborate and painstaking procedure employed by the Church to make sure that those canonized were holy people, orthodox in their beliefs, and responsible for a number of miracles. Most of these requirements were scrapped by the late Pope John Paul II.
The idea of celebrating a feast in honor of all the saints goes back to Pope Boniface IV. In 610 AD he ordered that the relics of martyrs be gathered from the Roman catacombs, and he re-dedicated the pagan Pantheon as a Catholic Church, under the title of “Mary and the Martyrs.” Pope Gregory IV (827-844) and Emperor Louis the Pious proclaimed November 1 to be All Saints day throughout the Holy Roman Empire—and throughout the Catholic Church.
We are not sure whether or not the Apostles Creed was actually composed by the twelve Apostles, but we know that it is of very early origin—it is certainly old enough to have been composed by people who personally knew the Apostles. And one of the things professed in it is belief in the “Communion of Saints.” What that means is that all Christian men and women, both the living and the dead, form a sort of union of prayer for one another.
All graces, of course, come from God. Jesus Christ is our sole priest and mediator with the Father. But that doesn’t keep us from praying to the saints in heaven—the members of the Church Triumphant—asking them to unite their prayers with ours, for the things that are necessary for our temporal and eternal wellbeing. Most of the prayers in the Mass are directed to God the Father or to God the Son, and many of them ask God to take the merits of our fellow saints into consideration when granting us our needs. We pray, especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for we know that her divine Son will refuse her nothing.
Of course we also have an obligation to the others in this Communion of Saints. When we pray, we should be praying not just for ourselves, but for the temporal and spiritual wellbeing of our fellow members of the Church Militant (the Church here on earth). In addition to our friends and family we should pray for the members of our parish and for the entirety of the Catholic Church; for all priests, bishops, religious, and particularly for the Pope in Rome. We live in crazy times, and all of these people need our prayers for divine guidance. Our nation and all the nations of the world, likewise, need our prayers. Universal peace, health, and prosperity ought to be high on our prayer list.
We also have an obligation to pray for the Souls in Purgatory, the Church Suffering. Certainly for our parents, grandparents, relatives and friends, but also for our parishioners and for our neighbors. It is a marvelous custom to pray for the most abandoned souls in Purgatory—those who because of time, or because of apathy, have no one to pray for them. The souls in purgatory are, infallibly, saints who will one day be with God in heaven—they need our prayers, for which they will be eternally grateful.
I’ve adopted a custom, which I will share with you. I make it a practice each day after Mass to recite the prayer known as the Memorare. “Remember O most compassionate Virgin Mary that never was it known….” I simply ask her to do whatever she thinks best for me and for the parish. You will remember that she got our Lord to work His first miracle, without being asked by the bridal couple who had run out of wine. Mary watches over us and knows our needs better than we do.
In any event, pray! Pray for the living and the dead. And pray that all of us will be included among that “great multitude which no man could number … standing before the throne in sight of the Lamb….”