The coming week is a big one for Catholics.
Sunday is All
Hallows Eve (Halloween), which is the eve of All Saints Day, November 1.
The next day is All Souls Day. You can visit our All Hallows Eve and All Saints features for
more on this.
Id like to focus this column on the question from our headline: Did the
saints fall from favor after Vatican II? Most Catholics would agree,
I think, that at least in some sectors of the Church devotion to the saints
fell in popularity in the years following Vatican II (1962-1965).
At the same time, I donít think its fair to conclude
that the Second Vatican Council encouraged the faithful to abandon the popular
practice of prayer and devotion to the saints. It was more a matter of getting
our priorities straight. The Council was reminding us, for example, that the
central focus of the Churchs prayer life and worship is the Eucharist. The
Eucharist is not just one of several equal activities or devotions in the Church.
It is the very source and summit of our Christian life.
Some churches built after the Council went to great lengths
to arrange that everything should focus on the altar where the eucharistic celebration
takes place. In some churches, statues of the saints were removed, or at least their
number was greatly reduced. Vatican II gave no orders to remove images of the
saints. In its Constitution on the Liturgy (#125), however, it gave this
instruction: The practice of placing sacred images in churches for people
to venerate is to be maintained. Nevertheless they should be restricted in
number and their relative positions should reflect right order, lest they cause
confusion among the Christian people, or foster devotion of doubtful orthodoxy.
There was no direct intention or policy on the part of the Church
to lead people away from prayer or devotion to the saints. In trying to place a healthy
emphasis on the centrality of Jesus and good liturgy, however, some of the Councils instructions
may have led indirectly to some lessening of attention paid to the saints, including
even Mary, at least in some regions and cultural settings.
Council documents clearly encourage the faithful to look with
admiration upon Mary and the saints, to imitate them in our journey to God and to seek
their intercession. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (#50), the Pope and
the bishops tell us: When we look upon the lives of those women and men who have faithfully
followed Christ we are inspired anew to seek the city which is to come, while at the same
time we are taught about the safest path by which
we will be able to arrive at perfect
union with Christ, which is holiness.
It is most fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and
coheirs of Jesus Christ who are also our sisters and brothers and outstanding benefactors,
and that we give due thanks for them, humbly invoking them, and having recourse to their
prayers, their aid and help in obtaining from God through his Son, Jesus Christ,
benefits we need.
From these and other teachings, it is clear that Vatican II has not for
a moment abandoned the Churchs belief in the communion of saints, whose
importance we profess in the Apostles Creed. Part of that communion, of course,
is comprised of the holy men and women who have gone before us and now share in life of the risen Christ.
At St. Anthony Messenger Pressthe home of St. Anthony Messenger magazine,
this e-newsletter and many other publicationswe see unmistakable evidence of the ongoing
popularity of the saints of the Church. We know from the response of our readers and buyers,
as well as from our Web-site visitors, that books and articles and online features about the
saints have high appeal for Christians today.
Yes, we know that Jesus Christtogether with God the Father and God the
Holy Spiritmust be the center of our focus and longing and spirituality. Yes, we know that
Jesus is both human and divine, and that because of his humanity we can relate to him in a very special
wayand we do. But we also need other flesh-and-blood human companions (who, like us, are not endowed
with a divine nature) to show us how to imitate and embrace Christ and his kind of holiness and union with
God. I think its this need that helps explain the popularity of saints during all ages of the Churchs
history. We need human models, alive in the Spirit, who embody in their lives the one perfect model,
Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).
And what about the practice of praying to the saints or asking their intercession for
our personal or communal needs? Is it okay to pray for healing for ourselves or others,
or to seek solutions through them for our problems or for those of our families and so forth? Well, I
believe it was clear in the Vatican II document quoted above that we are encouraged to call upon the
saints and ask their aid in interceding before God for the things we need.
I once interviewed an outstanding Episcopalian artist for an article
I was preparing for St. Anthony Messenger magazine. This Dallas-based painter and
sculptor has gained national notice and success in creating artworks of well-known Christian
saints, a number of which were commissioned by Roman Catholic parishes or dioceses. Knowing
that some outside the Roman Catholic community question the practice among Catholics of
praying to the saints, I asked him if he personally believed in praying to the saints. Without
blinking an eye, he replied: We often ask our friends who are still alive on this
earth to pray for us. Why shouldnt we ask our good brothers and sisters who have died
and are in the presence of God to pray for us? I was greatly encouraged by the
words and outlook of this devout Christian artist.
As we celebrate the feast of All Saints, may we find increased
hope in the friendship and loving support we share with the vast community of
saints who have lived and struggled before us. At this moment when the world desperately
needs peace, we ask the great multitude of saints to intercede with us before our loving
God for this great gift, which the world by itself cannot achieve.
With Gods decisive help through the intercession of the saints, may our
world be set free from war, violence and terrorism. May the God of peace
enlighten those of us preparing to vote that we may choose the best possible
leaders to find the way out of this nightmare of bloodshed and hate as well
as other forms of insensitivity toward human life. And, with Gods help, may
we all work together to bring about a more peaceful and loving world. Amen.
All Hallows Eve
All Saints and All Souls
respond to Friar Jims What Are the Seven Sacraments?
Dear Friar Jim: I was intrigued by you saying that in the sacraments, we meet Jesus. It makes them much more personal than seeing them as simply an external religious ritual. Frank
Dear Frank: To realize that Jesus not only gave the sacraments but actually gave himself with each sacrament (especially in the Eucharist) reminds us that everything about our faith is based on relationship with God. In the case of the sacraments its with Jesus himself. The rituals are visible signs that we see with our bodily eyes. What Jesus actually does in the sacraments is what we see with the eyes of faith. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: I read in your newsletter in your description of the sacraments that
reconciliation, anointing of the sick and marriage can all be
repeated. Please clarify to me: the Catholic Church does not support
re-marriage in all cases, unless the marriage has been annulled and/or
the spouse is widowed. Is this correct? It seems confusing to say
that the sacrament of marriage can be repeated, when I was under the
impression that this was not encouraged.
Dear Edwina: Sorry for the confusion. I meant of course that to repeat marriage, the
person MUST be free to marry either because of the death of the spouse or by
reason of an annulment of the first marriage. When this is true, the Church
surely supports those who wish to remarry. Friar Jim
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