"I have stressed the centrality of stories to the process of making saints. I have done so because we human beings are essentially story telling animals. We understand ourselves, if at all, as characters in a story, and it is through stories that we come to understand others, including saints. ... The early Christians recognized saints only insofar as they could be perceived as living out the story of Jesus all over again." Kenneth L. Woodward [Newsweek religion editor], Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't and Why.
"No theological treatise is any kind of substitute for the sight of a life well lived." Chittister, The Liturgical Year, p 193.
What do we mean when we pray "I believe in ... the communion of saints"?
What role do the saints play in your prayer? Do you have devotion to any particular saint? Who? Why? In what does your devotion consist?
How do you feel your devotion to the saints compares with the devotion of Catholics in general? Do you think the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council have influenced Catholics' devotions to the saints? Do you think that older Catholics have more devotion to the saints than younger Catholics?
What have you been taught about the theology of devotion to the saints? How would you evaluate Catholics' devotion to the saints in an ecumenical perspective.
What is the principal theological question that should be addressed in this chapter of the study? What is the principal liturgical question that should be addressed? What is the difference between praying to the saints and praying to God? What is the difference between latria and dulia?
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For a biography of the saint celebrated today in the Roman Calendar, click the icon at the right.
Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars. The Liturgy Documentary Series Number 6. Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, USCC, 1984. USCC publication number 928. $6.95 paper.
Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Lectionary for Mass. The Liturgy Documentary Series Number 1. Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1982. USCC publication number 839. $6.95 paper. Number 41, pp. 89-93.
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #104, 111.
Code of Canon Law. Book IV, Part III, Title II: Sacred Times. Canons 1251-1253. CLSA Commentary, pp 853-855.
Martimort, A. G. (Editor). The Liturgy and Time, Volume IV of The Church at Prayer. New Edition. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 108-129.
Adam, Adolf. "The Saints' Feasts in the Liturgical Year," Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. Trans. Matthew J. O'Connell. NY: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1979, 199-271.
Nocent, Adrian. The Liturgical Year. Volume 3: The Easter Season. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1977. 98-145.
Parsch, Pius. The Church's Year of Grace. Vol. 2. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1953. 332-338.
Johnson, L. "Saints, Memorials of." in New Catholic Encyclopedia 17.
Kelly, G.B. "Communion of Saints." in New Catholic Encyclopedia 17.On the Net:
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1. The Communion of Saints The Articles 946 to 969 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "The Communion of Saints" are perhaps the least quoted and perhaps even the least believed articles of the entire Catechism. For example:
"Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others. . . . We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head. . . . Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments. As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund." (CCC #947)
A good percentage of the Catholics I have meet during the past 70+ years consider Catholicism a very "individual/private" religion: My grace is my grace, my merit is my merit. I get to heaven because of my good works. Your sin is your sin. To think that we are all on one team and my grace belongs to everybody is foreign to many Catholics' thinking. Perhaps this is why the liturgy is so difficult for many. Liturgy is a communal-personal activity. Sacraments are always to be celebrated in community. The era of 50 priests (or bishops) celebrating Mass simultaneously but privately at 50 individual altars has past. Sacraments [including confession/Reconciliation] are communal celebrations. "The riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments."
2. Holiness is possible in every age and in every place Jounel told us in class that one of the major criteria for deciding which saints to include in the General Roman Calendar was to select saints from every historical period and from every geographical area. This was done to show that that sanctity is possible in every time and place. (A chronological and geographical list of the saints in the Calendar is given in "Commentary II and III" of the official text.)
3. The verb "to pray" Look "under your iceberg" and see if you find an essential difference in the meaning of the verb "to pray" when used in regard to "praying to God" and "praying to a saint." (Some people do not see the difference.) Scholastic theology differentiated between "latria" (honor given only to God) and "dulia" (honor given to the saints).
4. "Essential Catholicism" Many of you taking this course are involved in the catechetical dimension of the RCIA. And as you (no doubt) have a limited amount of time during which to catechize, you continually make decisions as to what materials to include and which things must be left out. In this context, give thought to the importance and centrality of devotion to the saints and Mary. How much "devotion to the saints" is "essential" to being a Roman Catholic?
5. Liturgical Spirituality The liturgical year (since 1969) has presented us with a program for spirituality. Before the current Roman Calendar the year was primarily "devotional." For example, May was the month for devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and June was the month for devotion to the Sacred Heart. March was Saint Joseph's month, and October was the month of the Holy Rosary. Friday was the day for the Way of the Cross. It mattered little whether May or June was in Lent or in Easter Time. At the majority of Masses during the week, the priest selected the text for the "Daily Mass for the Dead" because most of the Mass stipends were for the deceased and also this text was much shorter than any other. (Both the Epistle and Gospel consisted of only one verse of the bible!)
6. Statues and Devotion to the Saints Why do "older" Catholic churches have more statues than "newer" Catholic churches? Is this merely a question of style, decoration, or taste? Consider the following remark by Thornton Wilder.
On the evening of November 6,1989, I watched production of Our Town on WNIN Public Television. Following the performance, the PBS host interviewed Thornton Wilder, the author of the play who had also directed its staging on PBS. The interviewer asked: " Mr. Wilder, with your reputation as a playwright and artist you have access to unlimited funds; why is it that you employed such a minimal stage setting?" Mr. Wilder replied , "When the eye sees too much, the ear doesn't really listen."
Think of the implications of this statement for our liturgical celebrations. "When the eye sees too much, the ear doesn't really listen." Three (of the many) important guiding principles for the reform of the liturgy enunciated by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy concern the participation of the Faithful (e.g. Article 21), the essential role of Sacred Scripture (e.g. Article 24), and the use of the vernacular to facilitate the understanding of Scripture and the participation of faithful (e.g. Article 63).
21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. ... In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.
24. Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.
63. Because of the use of the mother tongue in the administration of the sacraments and sacramentals can often be of considerable help to the people, this use is to be extended according to the following norms: a) The vernacular language may be used in administering the sacraments and sacramentals, according to the norm of Art. 36.
Note how these three principles changed radically the use of our ears and eyes at the liturgy. Hearing the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed in our own language calls for an "active participation of the ear" that was not necessary in the Pre-Vatican II liturgy. The Pre-Vatican II liturgy did not keep the ear very busy; for many, the Georgian chant, the Latin prayers, etc were "background sounds" which created a sense of mystery for our devotional prayers.
The stained glass windows were often referred to in the middle ages as the "bible of the poor" because the poor people who could not afford to learn Latin, like the noble class and the clergy did not "hear" the bible stories read in church but rather saw them in the stain glass windows. The eye was kept busy with sainted glass, statue weary, painting and decoration, vestments and pageantry.
When the laity became literate, and moveable type made hand missiles affordable, some people could follow the Mass in the vernacular translation; however, as the bible readings were for the most part the same every day, the faithful generally turned to devotional prayer during the Eucharist. When I was a child, the parish frequently said the rosary out loud together during the Mass. In those days when the official text of the liturgy was not being heard by the "ear", "eye" was kept busy with statues and visual decorations (windows, paintings, frescos, etc).
Sanctity is basically being absorbed into the Godhead, which is the destiny of every created thing. I have come to believe that the key issue lies in the unconscious. Some people envision the "spiritual world" as transcendent and exceptional. For some it is immanent and ordinary. The first want saints to be "exceptional" and look for God in the spectacular and the miraculous. The second group look for God in the ordinary events of daily life.
The church teaches that the communion of saints is three-fold in nature: the church triumphant, the church militant, and the church suffering. Students in a former incarnation of this course said that they find the division to be five fold. In addition to the three mentioned in the Catechism, they have also experienced "the church arrogant" and "the church bizarre!"
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103. In celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honors the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love. She is inseparably linked with her son's saving work. In her the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be.
104. The Church has also included in the annual cycle memorial days of the martyrs and other saints. Raised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God and already in possession of eternal salvation, they sing God's perfect praise in heaven and pray for us. By celebrating their anniversaries the Church proclaims achievement of the paschal mystery in the saints who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God's favors.
105. Finally, in the various seasons of the year and in keeping with her traditional discipline, the Church completes the formation of the faithful by means of pious practices for soul and body, by instruction, prayer, and works of penance and mercy.
111. The saints have been traditionally honored in the Church, and their authentic relics and images held in veneration. For the feasts of the saints proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in his servants and offer to the faithful fitting examples for their imitation.
Lest the feasts of the saints should take precedence over the feasts which commemorate the very mysteries of salvation, many of them should be left to be celebrated by a particular Church, or nation, or family of religious. Only those should be extended to the universal Church which commemorate saints who are truly of universal importance. [The "new" liturgical principle of "subsidiarity."]
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49. [...] All those who belong to Christ, possessing his Spirit, come together into the one Church and are joined together in Christ (see Eph 4:16). The union between those who are still pilgrims and their brothers and sisters who have died in the peace of Christ is therefore not broken, but rather strengthened by a communion in spiritual blessings; this has always been the faith of the Church. Because those in heaven are more closely united with Christ, they ground the whole Church more firmly in holiness, lend nobility to the worship the Church offers to God here on earth, and in many ways contribute to its up building (see 1 Cor 12:12-27). See the synthetic exposition of this teaching of St. Paul in Pius XII, Encyl. Mystici Corporis: AAS 35 (1943) 200 and passim. For after they have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord (see 2 Cor 5:8), through him and with him and in him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us. See, e.g., Augustine, Enarrat in Ps. 85, 24: PL 37, 1099. Jerome, Liber contra Vigilantium 6: PL 23, 344. Thomas Aquinas, In 4m Sent., d.45, q.3, a.2. Bonaventure, In 4m Sent., d.45, a.3, q.2, etc. They show forth the merits they have won on earth the one Mediator between God and us (see 1 Tm 2:5) by serving God in all things and filling up in their flesh those things that are lacking of the sufferings of Christ for his Body which is the Church (see Col 1:24). See Pius XII, loc. cit.: 245. Thus their familial concern brings us great aid in our weakness.
51. This Council accepts with great devotion the revered faith of our ancestors regarding this vital communion with our own who are in heavenly glory or who after death are still being purified and it reaffirms the decrees of the Council of Nicea II, of Florence, and of Trent. At the same time, in conformity with our own pastoral interests, we urge all concerned, if any abuses, excesses, or shortcomings have crept in here or there, to do what is in their power to remove or correct them and to reform all things for a fuller praise of Christ and of God. Let them therefore teach the faithful that the authentic veneration of the saints consists not so much in the multiplying of external acts as in the greater intensity of our love, whereby, for our own greater good and that of the whole Church, we seek from the saints "example in their way of life, company in their communion, and aid in their intercession." (SC art 8) On the other hand, let them teach the faithful that our communion with those in heaven, provided it be understood in the full light of faith, in no way weakens but instead more thoroughly enriches the worship of adoration we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the spirit. (22 Vat Sc art 8)
[This work is concerned with ordering and ranking in importance the liturgical celebration of feasts during the year. Saints may be commemorated in either feasts or solemnities, depending on what the saint is a patron of. Number 11, p. 56 seeks to control when liturgical celebrations are held for saints and for what reason. In the old calendar, the number of saint's days was getting too numerous and the effect on the schedule of daily prayer (Office, Mass, etc.) for the universal Church was getting to be confusing. Many feasts whose pertinence was limited to only a particular region or time were suppressed for the whole church. However, the local bishop is competent to decide if a particular feast will be celebrated within his diocese. Those which are retained in the new calendar are preserved in as much as they first point to Christ and his salvific action and as they pertain to the universal Church.]
The Lectionary gives the structure to all the directives from the Code and the Norms. "The Lectionary for the Celebrations of the Saints" describes the texts used for feasts and solemnities.
83. When they exist, proper readings are given for celebrations of the saints, that is, biblical about the saint or the event in the saint's life that the Mass is celebrating. Even in the case of a memorial these readings must take the place of the weekday readings for the same day. This Order of Readings makes explicit note of every case of proper readings on a memorial.
In some cases there are accommodated readings, those, namely, that bring out some particular aspect of a saint's spiritual life or apostolate. Use of such readings does not seem binding, except for compelling pastoral reasons. For the most part references are given to readings in the Commons in order to facilitate choice. But these are merely suggestions: in place of an accommodated reading or the particular reading proposed from a Common, any other reading from the Commons referred to may be selected.
The first concern of a priest celebrating with a congregation is the spiritual benefit of the faithful and he will be careful not to impose his personal preferences on them. Above all he will make sure not to omit to impose too often or needlessly the readings assigned for each day in the weekday Lectionary: the Church's desire to provide the faithful with a richer share at the table of God's word. (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no 316c. Vatican Council II, Constitutions on the Liturgy, no. 51.)
There also general readings, that is, those placed in the Commons either for some determined class of saints (martyrs, virgins, pastors, etc.) or for the saints in general. Because in these cases several texts are listed for the same readings, it will be up to the priest to choose the one best suited to the congregation.
In all celebrations of saints the readings may be taken not only from the Commons to which the references are given in each case, but also from the Common of Holy Men and Women, whenever there is a special reason for doing so.
Article 84 for the Celebration of the Saints
a. On solemnities and feasts the readings must be those that are given in the Proper or Commons. For solemnities and feasts of the General Roman Calendar proper readings are always assigned.
b. On solemnities belonging to particular calendars, three readings are to be assigned, unless the conference of bishops has decreed that there are to be only two readings. (See The Roman Ritual as revised by decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and published by authority of Pope Paul VI, Rite of Penance (1974 Eng. tr. 1974), Introduction, no. 13.)
c. On feasts and memorials, which have only two readings, the first can be chosen from either the Old Testament or from an apostle; the second is from the gospels. Following the Church's traditional practice, however, the first reading during the Easter season is to be taken from an apostle, the second, as far as possible, from the Gospel of John.
The code (canon 1186) is primarily concerned that the veneration of the saints centers on the saints' example of having lived a Christian life [part of the "Truth in Advertising" principle]. Furthermore, while it encourages the practice of displaying statuary and ichnography, it states that it should be done moderately and in a "suitable number" so that they do not "bewilder the Christian people and give opportunity for questionable devotion" (canon 1188).
1172. "In celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honors the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love. She is inseparably linked with the saving work of her Son. In her the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be." (SC 103).
1173. When the church keeps the memorials of martyrs and other saints during the annual cycle, she proclaims the Paschal mystery in those "who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God's favors." (SC 104; cf. 108, 111)
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1. Apostolic [0-399]
Martyrs - lists of Saints - calendars - "pray to" rather than "pray for."
2. Patristic [400-799]
Non-martyrs. Almanac of 354. Necomedia of 363. objects of veneration.
5th century: lives of saints added to 2nd Nocturn.
. Early Medieval [800-1199]
Relics under the altar.
Age of patrons and relics and miracles.
11th century All Souls Day.
1170 St. Becket.
4. Medieval [1200-1299]
Demands for information about saints: Acts of Martyrs. Martyrologies.
Pope reserves right to canonize saints.
5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]
6. Reformation [1500-1699]
7. After Trent [1700-1899]
8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]
9. Vatican II [1960-1975]
10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]
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The following is a lecture given by Père Jounel (in French) at the biannual meeting of the Societas Liturgica in Paris, August 1981. [Msgr. Jounel was one of the principal authors of the current Roman Calendar.]
The Nature of the Veneration of Saints
I have been asked to present in synthesis the veneration of saints in the Catholic Church, its nature and its manifestations. In this communication, I will try to keep myself to what is essential. In order to describe the veneration of saints in the Catholic Church, it will not be useless to respond to two questions: What is a saint? What does the word "veneration" mean?
By singing in each Eucharist "Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of hosts" we proclaim that God alone is pure, God alone is lucid simplicity (Transparent), God alone is love, God alone is holy, God Father, Son and Spirit. Thus too can we say to Christ: "You alone are holy, You alone are Lord" as the apostle Peter recommends to us (1 Peter 3:15). Human persons are holy only insofar as God has made them his consecrated ones: "Be holy because I am holy, I the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:2). In the Bible the people of Israel is called a holy people because it is the people of God, the priestly and royal people (Ex. 19:5f). The Church of Christ is holy as the new people of God (1 Peter 2:9). The Church is holy and immaculate (Eph. 5:27), because Christ washed her in his blood. From that moment the holiness of the body of Christ could be communicated to those who would become his members through baptism. That is why Paul calls "saints" all Christians, both those from Rome (Romans 1:7) and those from Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25)
Little by little, however, from the time when the veneration of the martyrs began, the title of saint became reserved more and more exclusively to the faithful of Christ in whom the image of their Lord shone more fully. A saint, therefore, is a Christian who has lived more intensively, his eyes fixed on Christ to follow him more closely; thus lived Stephen in his death -- or better, he is a baptized Christian who let himself be seized by Christ so that he could say with Paul: "If I live, it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)
This identification of the saint to Christ, especially to Christ on the cross, deeply affected the first Christian generations. The letter of the faithful of Vienne and of Lyon to the brethren of Asia gives witness: Christ suffered as the Holy one... The body of Pothinus departed because of old age, but he kept his soul within himself, so that through it Christ might triumph. As for Blondine: little, weak, misunderstood, she had put on Christ. With her help, her companions saw Him who was crucified for them with their body's eyes. (EusPbe de Cesarée, Histore ecclésiastique V, I, 23-26; édit. G. Bardy, Sources chrPtiennes 41, Paris, 1955, pp 12-17.)
It is because of having made the same discovery in the martyrdom of their bishop 20 years earlier that the Christians of Smyrna wanted to be near his tomb to venerate his remains; they wanted to "celebrate in joy and gladness the anniversary of his birth to God." (Martyr de Polycarpe, dans A. Hamman, La geste du sang, Paris, 1953.)
The letter to the Christians of Smyrna, the oldest witness to the celebration of the anniversary of martyrs (about 155), already specifies clearly the nature of this veneration, for it adds: "We adore Christ because he is the Son of God; as for the martyrs, we love them as disciples and as imitators of the Lord." Two centuries later, Augustine will specify further: "If we honor the martyrs, we do not raise an altar to any of them." But one must read the passage in which the Catholic Church recognizes the exact formulation of her doctrine on the veneration of saints.
"No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, 'Peter, we make this offering to you,' or 'Paul, to you,' or 'Cyprian, to you,' No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so."
"So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men and women of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor's crown and live in heaven."
"But the veneration strictly called "worship," or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshipers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If any among us falls into this error, they are corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend their ways or else be shunned. ..."
"Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them. Augustin, Contra Faustum 20, 21; CSEL 25, 562-563. Traduction Liturgie des Heures, 11 décembre.
The last phrase of Augustine already points towards some possible distortions in the veneration of saints; but his statement does say clearly that the idea of veneration is not attributed to God in the same way that it is to the saints. In Christian and in classical Latin, "venerationus" takes on a whole range of meanings: from the venerationivation of the fields to the action of honoring one's parents, one's country or the gods, according to the kind of life. In French the usage of "veneration" is not prior to the end of the 16th century; in the 17th century it is looked upon as a rare word. That is why it will be necessary to analyze the forms that the veneration of saints takes on in order to specify the meaning. For between liturgical and popular veneration, the connotations will not always be the same. The meaning of veneration is also clarified by referring to its origins and to the way it developed.
Everyone knows that the martyrs were the first to become the object of veneration of the local church. "Our lords the martyrs, the victors" always held first place in the memory of the faithful. For martyrdom is the highest expression of faith and the most intimate communion in the paschal mystery of Christ. But, if the anniversary of the birth of the martyr into heaven gathers the community of brethren around the tomb, the forms which popular veneration takes on are identical with those forms surrounding the memory of other deceased. Christians come together for the meal of remembrance - the refrigerium - and often the Eucharist is celebrated, as witnessed in the 3rd century by the Didascalia of the Apostles. The Eucharist joyfully celebrates the triumph of Christ in one of the members of his body.
The passage from the veneration of the deceased to that of the martyrs is evident, especially in the prayer forms. The early Christian inscriptions abound with prayer-formulas for the deceased: Requiescat in pace, Vivat in Christo. But some are addressed to the deceased person: Vivas in Christo et pete pro nobis, Pete pro coniuge. Prayer addressed directly to the martyrs is more frequent than that addressed to the deceased. For it is certain that death in the case of the martyr has opened the gates of heaven right away. Inscriptions discovered in 1915 in the catacombs of St. Sebastian in Rome include numerous prayers to Peter and to Paul: Paule et Petre, petite pro Victore. These inscriptions date from the 260's.
If one prays to the martyr, even at times to other deceased Christians, never is there prayer for the martyr. He has no need of the intercession of the community; rather is intercession sought through him, for he is a power near to God. The shift from pro to per seems to be a kind of canonization in the early Church. It comes spontaneously from the awareness of the Christian people but requires the ratification of the bishop. Augustine again states clearly the distinction between the two forms of prayer:
If we remember the martyrs at the table of the Lord, it is not that we pray for them, as for the other deceased who rest in peace: rather we remember them so that they might pray for us, and so that we might follow in their footsteps. For they have attained that love of which the Lord said none is greater. They offered their brethren what they received at the table of the Lord. Augustin, Tractatus in Iannem 84, 1; CCL 36, 537-538.
The veneration of martyrs was soon extended to the veneration of other Christians whose life was suffused with the light of the Spirit. The exploits of the desert Fathers, virginity lived as a sign of the kingdom to come, exemplary fidelity by certain pastors in serving the flock of Christ, the union of theological knowledge and asceticism in the Fathers in faith, all these appeared as substitutes for martyrdom. But the honor given to these various kinds of fidelity to the Gospel never equaled in fervor the veneration of martyrs; this veneration has always remained first in the Church.
This is not the place to outline the history of the developments in the veneration of saints. If most of the Churches of the East did not find it necessary to add other names to those of the saints of the first centuries, the Byzantine Church was less rigorous. The calendar of the Church in Russia is abundantly provided with local saints; the latest, St. Seraphin of Sarov (+1833), is undoubtedly the most popular. The Roman Church, for its part, considers holiness a permanent gift of God to his people, and, with a prudence at times excessive in the preliminary investigations, she loves to propose for the veneration of the faithful those sons and daughters who most fully witnessed to the presence of Christ within.
Liturgical Veneration, Popular Devotion
The veneration of one person or of another is ordinarily born in popular piety. But in order that the title of saint be officially recognized by the Church, and that the saint be the object of liturgical worship, the intervention of authority is required. Since the 13th century the Pope has reserved the final decision to himself. This decision is communicated during a solemn liturgy: canonization. If popular piety is willingly attached to the liturgical forms of the veneration of the saints, and gives them a festive quality, often it goes beyond these forms and can become noticeably distant from them. It is fitting, therefore, to distinguish between liturgical worship and popular devotion.
The basis for the liturgy of a saint is found in the entry in the martyrology and in the calendar. As far back as the year 250, St. Cyprian made sure that the day of the death of confessors of the faith was carefully noted; thus could their memory be joined to that of the martyrs. Cyprien, Epistula 12, 2; édit. Bayard, Saint Cyprien, Correspondance, Tome ler, Paris 1925, p. 34. Cf. aussi Epist. 39, 3, ibid. p. 99. In the middle of the 4th century the first calendars and martyrologies appeared. The calendar gave the list of saints celebrated in a Church throughout the year, along with the place and the day of their celebration (Roman calendar of 354); the martyrology collects for each day the list of saints whose natale is celebrated in diverse regions (Martyrology of Nicomedia of 361). Heir of the martyrologies of the Early Middle Ages and of the Carolingian period, the official Martyrology of the Roman Church dates from 1584. Since then 300 saints or groups of saints have been entered.
The entry of a saint in the calendar or in the martyrology establishes the date of his/her feast. The feast includes the celebration of the Eucharist and of the Liturgy of the Hours in his/her honor.
It is not doubt superfluous to recall that the Eucharist is offered to God alone, and only in commemoration of the saints. This commemoration is present in the opening prayer of the assembly; it evokes the spiritual character of the saint or his/her action in the Church, and often it calls for his/her intercession. This ancient form of prayer per intercessionem sancti cannot be mentioned without recalling the words of the Second Vatican Council about the holy Mother of God: "This is so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator." (Const. Lumen gentium 62) The commemoration of the saint is also present in the liturgy of the Word. It is in fact the reading of the word of God which helps most to penetrate into the soul of the one whose feast is being celebrated. At times the saint discovered precisely in that Gospel passage the light that guided his/her life. For all the saints the Gospel traces in lively fashion the nature of their mission and the importance of the grace they received.
The Office of readings brings us in more immediate contact with the saint being commemorated. It proposes for each of them the account of their martyrdom or a contemporary witness about their life; or it may provide a page from their writings or an ancient sermon given on the day of their feast. When these documents are not available, a patristic text tries to define the forms that the action of the Spirit took in them.
It is again from the liturgy that on certain days a more popular manifestation of the invocation of the saints is found, i.e. in litanies where the long procession of apostles, martyrs, bishops and virgins seems to move forward majestically, following after Mary, towards the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Next to these manifestations of the veneration of the saints, the veneration of their remains and of their images also has a liturgical character. At the Peace of the Church (313), it was important to decorate the tombs of the martyrs, and from the end of the 4th century one finds Ambrose of Milan respectfully placing their bodies under the altar: "Let the triumphant victims have a place where Christ offers himself as victim. On the altar, the one who suffered for all; and underneath, those that he redeemed by his passion." Ambroise, Epistula 22, 13; PL 16, 1022.
The solemn transfer of the saints' remains is part of the liturgy of the dedication of churches even to our own day. Equally early did Christian piety honor saints' images: paintings in the cemeteries, mosaics in the basilicas. But these representations are not originally the object of veneration; they are part of the setting of glory. It is the East which developed a theology of the icon, after having supported the legitimacy of its veneration against the iconoclastic emperors. But the East was never to pass from the flat image to the statue. This latter appears in Auvergne in the 10th century, soon to know a prodigious success with Roman sculpture and the ars francigena. The statue, while usually decorative, is sometimes even then in the West the successor of the icon, without however carrying the same spiritual density. With the veneration of the statues of saints we are at the moment of passage from liturgical veneration to popular devotion.
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Popular devotion is rooted in liturgical veneration. The liturgy does not take exception to the feast nor to private approaches to intercession. Rather does it call it forth.
Popular devotion in relation to the saints covers a wide range, since it extends from the festive celebration of the Birth of St. John the Baptist or of the patron of the place to Indian and afro-American practices in which the saints are associated with former gods.
From the East to the West, the most popular saint is Mary, the Mother of God, "Queen of all the saints." By many diverse titles, from Roman basilicas to country chapels, her image attracts pilgrims, especially on the feast days in her honor that mark out times of the year. France in the middle ages dedicated more than 30 cathedrals to her. Other than Mary, the saints that are the object of popular devotion are not ordinarily the ones whose spiritual radiance or accomplishments give them credence. Francis of Assisi is of course popular, but Anthony of Padua is more so, and Rita of Cascia greatly overshadows Theresa of Avila. The saints most often called upon are first of all those to whom legend attributes the most fabulous adventures, such as George, Christopher, Catherine or Barbara, and who, for that reason, have become the protectors of numerous occupations (corps de metiers). Other popular saints are local patrons to whom history has often added nothing beyond the name that has come down through the ages. To these must be added the patrons of many guilds, born at the end of the middle ages and still active in certain regions, regions at times quite dechristianized.
Popular devotion is expressed first of all in the more festive celebration of the liturgy of the day. For the feast of a local saint, the crowd that gathers is larger; the members of various associations wear their uniforms or bear their insignia; the chants are better prepared and the music more resonant. The religious celebration extends to the secular feast: games and dances and folk processions.
This form of devotion harmonizes spontaneously with the great natural symbols: water, fire, light. Often a fountain flows near the chapel of the saint and people come to wash, asking some favor of that saint. Fire rises from the hilltops in the night of St. John's feast. At Lourdes the candle-light procession winds as a ribbon of light in the night to the repeated chanting of the Ave.
Obviously many distortions await popular devotion. The important thing is to consider the saint not as a secondary mediator near to God, but as the dispenser of requested graces. But relics, images or statues take a disproportionate place in devotion; people come to the church to touch quickly the statue of St. Anthony before going to work -- without pausing to pray at the cross of the Lord nor before the Blessed Sacrament. In Latin America or in the West Indies, the saint's image tends to become a living thing, from which comes an energy capable of acting on people and of changing the course of events. Bishops and priests, assisted by wise lay people often try to purify such practices, but without lasting success. As St. Augustine already said: "the truths we teach are one thing; quite another are those that we must of necessity put up with."
In this way is the veneration of saints introduced, both in the Catholic Church and in the Orthodox churches. For us the saints are models, intercessors, brothers and sisters, as the preface for the feast of All Saints proclaims:
"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. You are glorified in your saints, for their glory is the crowning of your gifts. In their lives on earth you give us an example. In our communion with them, you give us their friendship. In their prayer for the Church you give us strength and protection. This great company of witnesses spurs us on to victory, to share their prize of everlasting glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
If the life of human beings is the glory of God, no life gives greater glory to the Lord than that of the saints. For holiness is not a conquest but a gift of God. The saints in their weakness rely constantly on the grace of Christ. They are opposite of heroes. That is why the saints are close to us.
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[Reprinted from: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Saints for Every Season," St. Anthony Messenger, 103:5 (October, 1995) p 56.]
What role do the saints play in our Christian spirituality? This series has focused on the spirituality of the seasons because the seasons --- Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas, Time "Throughout the Year" (Per Annum) --- celebrate those events in the life of our Lord which are the foundation of our spirituality, our life in the Spirit. The feasts of saints play a different role. "The Church has also included in the annual cycle days devoted to the memory of the martyrs and the other saints. Raised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God and already in possession of eternal salvation, they sing God's perfect praise in heaven and offer prayers for us. By celebrating their passage from earth to heaven the Church proclaims the paschal mystery achieved in the saints, who have suffered and been glorified with Christ; it proposes them to the faithful as examples drawing all to the Father through Christ and pleads through their merits for God's favors." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 104)
Several things are noteworthy in this quote. First, it is the "grace of God" which we celebrate in the memory of the saints. The focus is on what God has accomplished, not on what the saint has done. Second, we celebrate "their passage from earth to heaven." We remember saints not on their earthly birthdays, but on the day they died! We know by faith that the day of our death is our true birth, our birth to everlasting life. Third, we remember the saints because they give us examples of how to follow Christ. Fourth, we ask the saints to intercede for us.
It is the grace of God which we celebrate in the saints. Only God is holy. The holiness of God is been made visible in Christ to whom we sing, "... You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ." By baptism we become Christ's body; his holiness is communicated to us. We become saints. "Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others... We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head... Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 947)
We have become so accustomed to use the title "Saint" only for those men and women of exceptional holiness that we forget that we too are saints. Paul does not hesitate to say: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus..." (Ephesians 1:1 NRSV). "I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints." (1:15). "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God..." (2:19).
When we celebrate the memory of the saints, we do not recall the lives of persons who lived long ago and far away. When we celebrate the saints, we are celebrating our own lives. The strength which enabled them to overcome sin is our strength. Their victory is our victory.
Three of my favorite saints are celebrated during October.
October 1 is the memorial of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus. St. Theresa lived nearly her whole life hidden in the Carmelite cloister of Lisieux, France. She never did anything that the world would call exceptional or holy. The Scriptures read on her memorial are the key to understanding her spirituality. The Gospel for her memorial recounts the time when the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:1-4) The life of St. Theresa confirms what we Christians have always suspected: The way of Christ is not the way of the adult world but the way of childlike trust and confidence. The world finds it's power in physical strength and scientific knowledge. For us, Christ on the Cross, naked and powerless, is the icon of power and wisdom. "We proclaim Christ crucified ... The power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
October 1, 1995 falls on a Sunday. As Sunday is the original Christian feast, we do not celebrate the feast of St. Theresa this year. Perhaps even in this liturgical coincidence St. Theresa serves as an example. Our lives must never supersede or obscure the mystery of Christ lived in us.
On October 4 we honor the memory of St. Francis of Assisi. Born into a wealthy family in twelfth century Italy, he left the comfort of his father's house to follow Jesus as literally as he could. He walked in the way of Jesus; no home, no family, no money. He wanted to feel what Jesus felt: his love, his pain. Two years before he died he received the wounds of Christ in his body. At Mass on October 4 we read from Paul's letter to the Galatians: "But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.... From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body." (Galatians 6:14-17) But how is this a model for us? Our hands and feet are not wounded as Francis' were!
We do not imitate the saints in the details of their lives. What is important is not the details but their example of following Jesus. And there are many ways to follow Jesus. Francis found his way to God and we are to find ours. As Francis lay dying he said: "I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do." (Celano, Second Life, 214.)
Since the ninth century the Church has honored St. Luke the Evangelist on October 18. Novelists have written lengthy "biographies" of Luke and Christian piety has constructed legends and stories about him. Yet, about the actual life of St. Luke we know absolutely nothing! Scholars today find it improbable that the evangelist is "Luke the beloved physician" of Colossians 4:14. The author of the Luke-Acts remains anonymous.
We celebrate the memory of this unknown Luke by reading from the Gospel which has come to bear his name --- and what a wonderful Gospel it is! Only in Luke's Gospel do we find the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). What a pity we know nothing about the author! And yet perhaps this very anonymity makes Luke a model for us. He is remembered not for himself but for his portrait of Jesus. Much of our lives will be forgotten. But is that really important? Like Luke, we want to be remembered for the portrait of Christ our lives leave behind.
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Catholics are accustomed to think of "Saints" as extraordinary people who led exceptional lives. The question we ask here is whether this is the proper emphasis?
For example, "miracles" are required by the current (2008) canonization process. Is this the best contemporary "proof" of sanctity? Does this open the Catholic Church to critique? The May 5, 2008 issue of America published a series of articles "Five Scholars Confront the New Atheism." One of the invited authors of the series, Dr. Richard R. Gaillardetz, wrote in "Catholicism and the New Atheism" that "all forms of modern atheism are parasitic upon a particular form of theism" and as Catholics we should ask ourselves if some of our practices "however unintentionally, support such naive theism."
As one example, consider the procedures for the canonization of saints. Vatican regulations require that for the beatification one verified at miracle be attributable to the "servant of God"; for canonization two are required. In these rules, miracles are described as events attributed to the intercession of the servant of God and certified as inexplicable according to modern science. Without denying the possibility of such events, I wonder whether the emphasis on their scientifically and inexplicable character risks giving the impression that God's action in the world cannot be reconciled with a scientific account of the workings of our physical universe. Does this interventionist view of the divine action invite accusations of superstition and caricatures of divine activity by those outside the community of faith? It is vital that are religious beliefs and practices of affirm a fundamental capability between define action and scientific accounts of our world.
It may be opportune to consider revised procedures that would focus less on the scientifically inexplicable and more on diverse testimony to the continuing influence and impact of the servant of God on those who remain on their earthly pilgrimage. Pope Benedict's recent encyclical on hope makes effective use of the lives of selected states as moving embodiments of Christian hope. I suspected that it is this evangelical witness rather than the verification of miraculous interventions that the contemporary skeptic is more likely to find compelling. (America, May 5, 2008, p 13)
Ordinary and Exceptional People We are all loved by God. We are "God's holy ones", Saints. Perhaps we should not associate the word "saint" exclusively with "exceptional" people.
One evening I was delivering a workshop on the liturgy to a parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Following my presentation I opened the floor for questions and a woman asked: "When our pastor remodeled the church, why did he take out all of the statues?" This was not the first time I have been asked this question, and as I had seen their remodeled church in which the congregation were placed closer to the altar and were seated around it on three sides, I replied: "The faces of the saints have always been an encouragement to our prayer. And now, in you lovely new church, the faces of the living saints can serve as an encouragement to your prayer." To which she asked: "Saints? What saints?" I explained that God's people are frequently referred to as "saints" in the New Testament. The Letter to the Romans is addressed "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints." (Rom 1:7 NRSV) Paul asks them to "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers NRSV Ro 12:13) And he tells them that he is going "going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints" Rom 15:25 NRSV The First Letter to the Corinthians is addressed "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (I Cor 1:2) And " Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus (Eph 1:1 NRSV). But I could tell that she wasn't buying it. And she replied, " Father, you are from out of town. I live here. I know these people, and their ain't a saint among them."
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1. Sacramentary -- The mention of the saint's name in the Opening Prayer at the Eucharist should not be the first mention of the saint in a pastoral setting.
2. Remember the General Principle: Christ over Saints
3. Lectionary: Respect the continuity of the Lectionary.
4. Lex orandi: Look to the prefaces for the saints and see what theology is presented there.
5. Symbol: Note the role of symbols in ichnography before the invention of the camera.
6. Women Saints: (Comment for a student 1995 regarding the balance of male and female saints in the current Roman Calendar) Virginity and widowhood were the two ways of life that elevated women to the "equal dignity" of the saints. Wives and mothers who remained faithful to the promises of baptism, who followed the way of Christ, who lived good, holy and exemplary lives have not often been considered by the Church for canonization as saints. Only after the death of the husband when a women goes off to found an order of "religious women," have they been deemed worthy of the title, saint. What is really happening here? The rhythms of a woman's life is controlled by her body. Hormonal changes, monthly cycles, birth, lactation, even menopause, are bodily experiences of every woman's life. It seems that to become a saint a woman "must deny herself" deny the rhythms of her own body, deny the gift of life that comes into the world through her body. But the rest of that charge of Jesus, is to "take up your cross and follow me." It has been remarked by many that a woman's body is often the cross that she must bear. "Take up your cross" -- your body -- "and follow me." This seems to be a noble call, a saintly call, for women. Jesus continues, "This is my body given for you." Who better than women to understand and follow Jesus in this way of life. Persona Christi? Yes - in the bodies of women. Thus, it seems important for the Church to recognize that it is often in the bodies of women that holiness can be found. Maybe someday the Roman Calendar will reflect this.
7. Altar Stones: Relics of the Saints and what were formerly called "altar stones" which had a few grains of the saint's dust in them: See The Rites Volume II, Page253-254 #11. "It is fitting that the tradition of the Roman liturgy should be preserved of placing relics of martyrs or other saints beneath the altar. (#See GIRM, 266) Relics intended for deposition should be of such a size that they can be recognized as parts of human bodies. Hence excessively small relics of one or more saints must not be deposited. The greatest care must be taken to determine whether relics intended for disposition are authentic. It is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful credibility placed beneath it.
8. When the Solemnity of All Saints falls on a Saturday: All Saints and All Souls have the same rank in the liturgical calendar, even though the former is a solemnity and the latter a feast. When All Saints falls on a Saturday, the liturgical celebration of it begins with First Vespers on Friday. The day of solemnity does not end until the end of Saturday (midnight of Sunday). For the pastoral benefit of the faithful (who may have already participated in a Mass of All Saints the previous evening or in the morning), the evening Mass on Saturday, November 1 may be an anticipated Mass of All Souls. However, it would be preferable in most places, pastorally, to celebrate All Saints on Saturday evening, as most of the people coming to fulfill their Sunday obligation would not have been to Mass earlier for All Saints, which is not a day of obligation when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. The celebration of the liturgy of the hours for the evening of November 1 remains that of All Saints, even if an anticipated Mass of All Souls was already celebrated. [From a private response on the liturgy network June 19, 2003, from JH reprinted without his explicit permission.]
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1. Why are saints honored in the liturgy? What is the basic difference between honoring a saint and celebrating a mystery of the Lord?
2 Explain the divisions and ranking of Christian feasts according to the current calendar and state the laws by which their precedence is determined.
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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 04/22/14 . Your comments on this site are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org