All Souls Day immediately follows All Saints Day in the Church calendar for good reason: Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, reaffirms our ancient faith as Catholics “in the living communion which exists between us and our brothers and sisters who are in the glory of heaven or are yet being purified after their death” (LG 51).
In other words, a spiritual union exists among the faithful on earth (sometimes called the Church Militant), the souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering) and the saints in heaven (the Church Triumphant). The Apostles Creed calls this the “communion of saints.” All the faithful departed are part of the communion of saints, as are we.
Perhaps we sense this most strongly when the litany of saints is sung at the Easter Vigil, at ordinations and at infant baptisms, giving the feeling that those canonized saints are truly there among us. However, from the earliest times our houses of worship have been filled with the presence of the saints in statues, paintings and stained glass windows. These images are like the family albums of our family of faith.
The Church has canonized only a relatively small number of those who are with God. In the first reading for the Solemnity of All Saints, St. John in the Book of Revelation shares his vision of “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rev. 7:9). Some of the readings that may be chosen for All Souls Day are reassuring about the fate of those who have gone before us. In one of them Jesus says: “And this is the will of the One who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what He gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6:39-40).
We look to canonized saints and to saintly people we have known as models of how to conform ourselves to Christ, and we ask for their intercession with God as we face difficulties in life. At the same time, we also need the help of our fellow pilgrims here on earth and pray for the souls in purgatory. We are all united in the Body of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The communion of saints is the Church” (CCC 946).
God gave us the Church so that we have the assistance of other Christians to do together that which we cannot do alone – know and be transformed by Jesus Christ so we can follow Him back to union with the Father. Each of us has an important role in the communion of saints as we are all called to radiate the light of Christ to our dark world.
We all do that in different ways. Our archdiocesan prayer for vocations stresses that God created each of us for some definite purpose. We are at our happiest when we identify that purpose and fulfill it, using our unique gifts and talents as God intended.
At the same time, we are called to affirm and support the vocations of others. The millions of vocation prayers, as well as the support given to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology by the members of our local Church, have resulted in many new priests, deacons and lay pastoral ministers in recent years, for which I am very grateful. These individuals serve the faithful in their various ministries, and the faithful in turn sustain them with their encouragement and prayers.
We must never forget that we are all on a journey back to the God who created us and we need help along the way from our fellow members of the communion of saints.