Nov 2, 2015

Solemnity of All Saints, 2015

We celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints today. It is reminder that the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is composed not just of the members of the Church here on earth, but also of those who have entered the eternal joys of heaven. There are also those souls who have died and are being purified, who although destined for heaven have not yet entered in, whose feast the Church celebrates tomorrow. The Saints in heaven are so many proofs of the generosity and love of God. Through his grace he has sanctified men and women in every age and united them with himself forever. The vision John has is of a great multitude. They have received the rewards that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel: they reign in the Kingdom, they have taken possession of their inheritance, they are comforted, satisfied, filled with the mercy of God, they are his children forever and they see him face to face. They are blessed and they surely rejoice and are glad for their reward is great.

If our vision of heaven is informed by cartoons, we will have a rather unbiblical idea of eternal rest. I don’t know about you, but a halo, a cloud and a harp seem rather boring to me, and at any rate hardly justify the title of a great reward. John’s vision is something quite different and yet so very similar to our own experiences. Now some of you will be perhaps justly disappointed to learn that heaven is eternal liturgy, that is, what John sees the saints doing is precisely what we are doing right now. “They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” “They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshipped God, and exclaimed: ‘Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’”

John has his vision in the Book of Revelations on the Lord’s Day, that is, Sunday. In his vision there is an altar. There are candles and priests dressed in robes. The angels and saints cry out: “Holy, Holy, Holy!” They make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. There are readings from Scripture and it all culminates in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. “Blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the Lamb!” Sound familiar? For those of you disappointed to learn that heaven is a Mass that never ends, you will probably be even less enthusiastic to learn that there is also incense and lots and lots of singing. The good news, though, is that everyone in heaven is perfected in love. The singing is glorious, the rituals are sumptuous, the preaching angelic, and every imperfection of the participants is excluded, not only in the carrying out of the ritual worship but in their attention, devotion and worthiness. This at last is that for which we were made: to be loved and to love with all our heart, mind, soul and body. For this is what true worship is: pure love.

Which leads me to a practical concern that I have. Usually at Holy Mass, there is a specified intention for which the sacrifice is offered. It is the obligation of the celebrating priest to make the application of the fruits of the sacrifice for this specified intention, whenever there exists one. This intention is made for the living or for the dead. That is, it is made for persons not already enjoying the perfect and endless celestial worship. It is what we mean when we say that a Mass is being said for someone. It is not possible to apply the fruits of the Holy Sacrifice to those persons who are already perfect in charity and grace. It is impossible to add to their blessedness or their merits and for this reason they are in no need whatsoever of our prayers.

Yet, sometimes a person wishes to have an intention specified as “In thanksgiving to this or that Saint.” However, a priest cannot properly speaking offer the Holy Mass “In thanksgiving to St. X or Y.” For the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God and to Him alone for four ends: in adoration, confessing His supreme dominion over all things; in thanksgiving for the countless benefits we receive from Him, in supplication for the graces necessary for our salvation and for our other needs; and, finally, as a propitiation for our sins, that is, in atonement or satisfaction for our sins. This last end of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that of propitiation, is the end which is applied through the intention. It is possible, I suppose, to understand this intention as one of offering the Holy Mass in thanksgiving to God for the benefits received through the intercession of St. X or Y, but in this case the application of the special fruit of the Holy Mass is left unspecified as to whom it should be applied. There is another fruit of the Holy Mass which is the petition for some favor to be granted. And in this sense we can ask that God grant the favor we desire through the intercession of one of the Saints. But, we do not offer the Holy Mass to Saints or for Saints, on the contrary, we join them, albeit here and now with stammering and imperfection, in their solemn, joyful and perfect worship before the throne and before the Lamb. Therefore, we should avoid every ambiguity in our manner of speaking and in our practices which may confuse the object of our worship or the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power and might be to our God forever and ever.

No comments: