I've just been to All Saints' Day Vigil Mass. All Saints is one of my favourite solemnities (just as Halloween has always been one of my favourite holidays), and since I attended the Vigil on Halloween night a few years ago (after watching two horror movies in a row) I've felt that it's best experienced at that Vigil Mass, as evening draws in. Unfortunately, the priest who celebrated it tonight, though a good priest in many ways, shows almost no sense of awe and reverence towards the liturgy (he usually leaves the altar at the sign of peace, and he frequently interpolates his own words, invariably banal, to the missal). So he managed to drain much of the majesty out of the sacrament, but he couldn't hurt that wonderful reading, from the Book of Revelation:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no
one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing
before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes
and were holding palm branches in their hands.
I remember, when I was a kid, first reading the chorus of the hymn (and football chant) 'When the Saints Go Marching In', and being extraordinarily moved and excited:
When the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in
How I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.
I liked the sense of the cavalry arriving, the military atmosphere. I liked the idea of such supreme fellowship between people who had lived in such different times and places. I like the idea of the tide turning definitively, after centuries of going in the other direction.
The saints are such a wonderful gift. Once, in a Facebook post, I compared them to Christmas tree lights, with Christ as the plug. Above all, the saints prove that sanctity is possible, and comes in almost infinite varieties.
The words of G.K. Chesterton, as put into the mouth of a character from his mediocre novel The Ball and The Cross, are impossible to gainsay:
The Church is the only thing on earth that can perpetuate a type of
virtue and make it something more than a fashion. The thing is so plain
and historical that I hardly think you will ever deny it. You cannot
deny that it is perfectly possible that tomorrow morning, in Ireland or
in Italy, there might appear a man not only as good but good in exactly
the same way as St. Francis of Assisi. Very well, now take the other
types of human virtue; many of them splendid. The English gentleman of
Elizabeth was chivalrous and idealistic. But can you stand still here in
this meadow and be an English gentleman of Elizabeth? The austere
republican of the eighteenth century, with his stern patriotism and his
simple life, was a fine fellow. But have you ever seen him? Have you
ever seen an austere republican? Only a hundred years have passed and
that volcano of revolutionary truth and valour is as cold as the
mountains of the moon. And so it is and so it will be with the ethics
which are buzzing down Fleet Street at this instant as I speak. What
phrase would inspire the London clerk or workman just now? Perhaps that
he is a son of the British Empire on which the sun never sets; perhaps
that he is a prop of his Trades Union, or a class-conscious proletarian
something or other; perhaps merely that he is a gentleman when he
obviously is not. Those names and notions are all honourable; but how
long will they last? Empires break; industrial conditions change; the
suburbs will not last for ever. What will remain? I will tell you. The
Catholic Saint will remain,
This All Saints' Day homily by the wonderful Bishop Robert Barron (who has been compared to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, but who I would actually rate higher as a preacher) are also well worth listening to.
One of the things I like about the cult of the saints is that, as with so much in Catholicism, it leaves room for personality and individual sensibility. The gate may be narrow, but there still seems to be a million different ways of passing through it. There is such a galaxy of saints to choose from, that everybody can find a gallery of saints that is particularly their own.
And here are some of mine (I include those on the road to sainthood, as well as declared saints):
On this All Saint's Day, I pray first of all to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the greatest of all the saints, and the dearest love of so many saints. Blessed Mother, kindle in me an ever-deeper love of you, which is an ever-deeper love of your Son!
Next, I pray to St. Secundinus or Sechnall, from whom my name is derived. I know so little about you, namesake, but I know that you were one of the first missionaries in Ireland. I pray, through you, for the grace to join in the New Evangelisation of our beloved country.
I pray to the great St. Patrick, that I be given the same simple zeal for the Gospel that you show in your Confession, the short spiritual autobiography I have taken to reading every St. Patrick's Day. I pray to him, too, to watch over the soul of Ruadhan Pádraig, my child whose birthday would most probably have been St. Patrick's Day.
I pray to St. Finbarr, my confirmation saint, to draw me ever close to the life of the Church.
I pray to the Little Flower, whose intercession granted me the most important prayer of my life. I pray to her again, to unleash the sacramental graces that ensued from that prayer. I pray to her to intercede in every way for my beloved wife, who has a special devotion to her, and to whom her intercession led me.
I pray to St. Athanasius of Alexandria, to give me courage in the defence and proclamation of God's gospel.
I pray to St. Pope Pius X for the same.
I pray to Saint Gemma Galgani to give me an ever-deepening sense of 'Eucharistic amazement'-- a department in which I am horribly inadequate right now. I make the same prayer to Nellie Organ, the little Irish girl who showed such a devotion to the Blessed Eucharist that, too young to make her First Communion, she would beg those who had received 'Holy God' to kiss her (and who could even tell when someone had not received Communion).
I pray to St. Bernadette Soubirous for humility and fixity of purpose.
I pray to St. Maximillian Kolbe for the grace to translate my good intentions into effective action, and for some semblance of his divine restlessness. I pray to St. Josemaria Escriva for the same. I pray to the Servant of God, Frank Duff (founder of the Legion of Mary) for the same-- and also to the Venerable Edel Quinn, the great Legion of Mary missionary.
I pray to the Venerable Matt Talbot, the former hopeless alcoholic and great Irish mystic and ascetic, to help me conquer my own addictions-- my addictions to various sins and vices.
I pray to G.K. Chesterton, for the graces of wonder, humility and courtliness-- and I pray that he is soon beatified and canonized.
I pray to St. Pappin, patron saint of Ballymun-- the suburb where I grew up, and where I have spent the great majority of my life-- to intercede for all its inhabitants, and especially to revive its old shopping centre, where only a handful of shops remain and which faces closure. I pray to him, too, to draw more Ballymunners back to church attendance.
I pray to John Paul the Great, to fill me with evangelistic zeal and to help me lead those I love (and, indeed, anybody else) towards the joy of the Gospel. I pray to him, too, to watch over the soul of my dear child Sadbh Treasa, whose birthday would most likely have been on his feast day, October 22nd.
I pray to Saint Edmund Campion for the reconversion of England, the country whose culture I have always loved so much.
I pray to Saint Robert Southwell, Jesuit martyr and writer of the beautiful poem 'The Burning Babe', to lead poets and artists towards a timeless beauty that reflects the eternal beauty and harmony of God.
I pray to Saint John Henry Newman to watch over all the students and staff of University College Dublin, the university he (indirectly) founded, and especially to guard religious and intellectual freedom there.
Oh God, forgive me if in these prayers I have misunderstood or poorly expressed the role of saints in interceding for us. If I have done so, please let all I have said be understood in a way more compatible with orthodoxy.
Oh Holy Spirit, send us more saints, and more vocations to the priesthood and religious life! Let every one of us fulfil our vocations as servants of God!
Oh sacred heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in you!