Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints, the day we remember our brothers and sisters, known and unknown, who have run the race to the finish and now enjoy the vision of God in Heaven. We do so because we believe that these saints are in solidarity with us. There is a union of Christians, living and deceased which the Creed calls the ‘communion of saints’. In essence, this is just another way of thinking and speaking about the Church. The communion of saints is the Church: it is all those, living and dead, that are united in Christ. When we speak about the communion of saints, then, we are speaking about all those that participate or share in Christ’s holiness.
This union in the holiness of Christ is of enormous benefit to those of us still making our pilgrimage back to God on earth. I want to focus on two reasons why: First of all the great saints offer us a commentary on the Gospels by the way they live. We see in the lives of the saints a translation of what the Gospel means, an embodiment of what a Gospel centred life looks like. If we are puzzled by today’s Gospel, the Beatitudes, for example, a good way of coming to understand what it means to be poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart and so on is to reflect upon the lives of the saints. The lives of the saints offer us an interpretation of the Gospel, and a model to imitate.
Secondly, the saints assist us through their prayer. As St. Dominic lay dying he assured his brethren: ‘I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life’. St. Therese of Lisieux makes a similar claim: ‘I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth’. It can be difficult in contemporary culture to retain a sense of the power and importance of prayer as a means of doing good in the world. Yet it remains true that the God who creates and sustains all things and orders them in his Providence has taught us to pray for what we need: our prayer is a way of bringing good about in the world, and the prayer of the saints is particularly potent given their intimacy with God.
We commemorate the saints, then, both as a model which we might imitate on our journey to God in Christ and also to ask for their prayers to strengthen and support us on that journey. In this way we build up our communion with those that went before us, and in so doing we come closer to the one upon whom the whole communion is founded: Christ our head.