“I saw a great multitude which no man could number,
of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues.”
In the very early days of the
Church, the only saints that were venerated were the martyrs—those
who had given their lives because of their Faith. There was no
procedure for canonization as we know it today—there was no need for
canonization because the early Christians actually saw their saints
die for Jesus Christ—the martyrs were quite clearly in heaven with
And the practice of praying to the saints developed
rather spontaneously. The saints had died in God's grace; had died
because of their belief in Him; had died for His greater glory.
They were men and women just as we are, but clearly they were also
God's friends. They were eminently placed to take the prayers of
men and place them before God. The living called upon their saints
to expedite their prayers, just as they would call upon a friend for
help who happened to have the “right connections” in business, or
government, or social situations.
Over the years, the Church recognized that there were
other people in heaven with God, even though they had not suffered
death for the Faith. Certainly among the saints was the Blessed
Virgin. And there were others who lived notably holy lives: Saint
John the Apostle for example, who did not die the martyr's death,
but who had persevered in great holiness throughout his life. So
along with the martyrs, the Church began to recognize the sanctity
of other holy people—priests and laymen, virgins and holy
women—people who had done great things to spread the Faith and
people who had devoted themselves to the quiet life of prayer and
fasting. Such holy people were recognized as saints either because
they had performed miracles in their life time, or were able to work
them after their death. Even today, we recognize that miracles do
happen, and often they are the result of prayer to those who are
close to God. The traditional Catholic Church investigates such
things quite carefully, and makes great deliberation before
pronouncing the miracles genuine, and declaring that another saint
is in heaven.
While only God is deserving of worship, it is quite
fitting that we honor those who found a place in His heavenly
court. So the idea of honoring the saints for their achievements
arose over the years—today, on almost any day of the week, Holy Mass
is offered in honor of one or another of the saints.
But, of course, there are only 365 days in a year, so
there is no way that we can remember all of the saints with their
own feast day. And even if we could, it should be obvious that
there are many more saints in heaven than just those who have been
specifically singled out by the Church because of their holy lives
or great miracles. In addition to the confessors and the bishops
and the virgins and the martyrs, heaven is peopled with housewives
and “butchers and bakers and candle stick makers.” The vast
majority of the saints are known only to God Himself, and their
names are not written down in the martyrologies and missals of the
Church on earth.
Yet, this Church on earth—what we call the “Church
Militant”—feels a duty to honor the entirety of the “Church
Triumphant”—and it sees a very great benefit in placing our prayers
and earthly concerns before all of God's friends in heaven. To that
end we have this feast of All Saints—so that no one of God's holy
people in heaven is left without the praise of His people on earth.
Now, we should recognize that the saints do something
else for use, beside carrying our prayers to the throne of God.
They are a source of great moral strength for the people on earth by
virtue of their good example. There are no stories of fiction that
are more thrilling and more heroic and more beautiful than the lives
of the Saints. They provide role models for people in every walk of
life: the active and the contemplative, for religious and for
laypeople, for scholars and for laborers, for men and women and
children old and young.
The saints are not just the people of the Bible or
the martyrs who shed their blood; they don't all work miracles or
glide across the floor levitating a few inches above the ground.
Perhaps the most important thing that this feast does every year is
to remind us that it should be our goal in life to be saints
ourselves. That's why God created us, you know: “to show forth His
goodness in this world, and to share everlasting happiness with Him
in the next.”
It is the normal and natural design of God for each and every one
of us—not just for an exclusive few. The alternative, which is
damnation, was intended for the angels who rejected God
and fell from grace. There is no middle ground!
So today, we honor all the saints, and we turn our
thoughts to their good examples, so that some day we may join them
in the company of God and His angels. “a great multitude which no
man can number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and