Feasts & Seasons

All Saints & All Souls: Celebrating the Communion of Saints (Part 3)

October 24, 2008

This is Part 3 of a 3-part article.  Read Part 1 and Part 2.


Ritual and Environment Suggestions

Fra AngelicoApostles’ Creed:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

The Apostles’ Creed – Recite it on these feasts. This creed is far less well known than the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed recited at Mass, and often only recited in its question-and-answer form at Baptisms. It is worth doing it often to commit to memory our belief in the communion of saints.

The Litany of the Saints – Sing/pray it lavishly, call out the names of our holy ones in our history. Imagine how effective it would be as the gathering call to worship, or as the litany at communion, in which people can participate even as they are walking or chewing! It is the most ancient of the Church’s litanies, mentioned by St. Basil in the 4th century, and prescribed by Gregory the Great in 590 for a public procession of thanksgiving after a plague that ravaged Rome. The early custom of directly calling upon the martyred for prayers is evidenced by graffiti scratched on the walls of catacombs: “Vincent, you are in Christ, pray for Phoebe”. The roll call of saints falls between invocations to Christ the Mediator. Hopefully, it is sung in all the great liturgies: Baptisms, the Easter Vigil, ordinations, religious professions, and rites of dedication, and most appropriately at funerals.

Icons - Display artistic images of saints, especially icons, in the worship spaces. Catechize adults and invite children to look at colors, clothing, objects, décor. Ask why each saint is represented with such symbols.

Altar of Remembrance - Set up an altar of remembrance and invite parishioners to bring photos and mementos of loved ones. Add votive candles and flowers at different heights, and place the Book of the Dead close to the altar, where the names of the deceased may be inscribed.

Cemetery Liturgy - Celebrate Eucharist, Midday Prayer, or other prayer services at the cemetery, then share a potluck meal with all who have come. It is a wonderful occasion for story-telling and one of the oldest traditions of our Church.

Roll Call - During the Prayer of the Faithful, call out the names of all who have died that year, inviting family members to bring a candle and light it from the paschal candle.


How do we as Catholics of the 21st century retrieve a sense of connection with the countless men and women who have been on the pilgrimage before us? It is the work of each community to find the dynamic symbols for the communion of saints that arise out of its own identity. What are the stories told by the elders, the devotions cherished by the various ethnic groups, the icons and images of saints present there, the spiritual and concrete experiences of social justice, outreach and compassion to the poor, the twinning relationships, for example? Attention to these questions shapes what Robert Bellah, in Habits of the Heart, calls “the communities of memory”. Such communities embrace the diverse traditions of past and present, and of parishioners or other communities that might enrich their understanding of what it truly means to be linked across time and place.

All Saints: Preface
“Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them.”

The feasts of All Saints & All Souls are both retrospective and eschatological. They are a look back at those who have gone before, as well as a commitment to what we must become: a holy people united together by a common life in God. It is hope of our future glory in the new and eternal Jerusalem that we celebrate. At Baptism, the Saints welcome us into our new life in Christ. At death, they welcome us into paradise, and we come full circle.

Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In

We are trav’ling in the footsteps
Of those who’ve gone before,
And we’ll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,

Oh, when the saints go marching in,
Oh, when the saints go marching in,
Lord, how I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching in.

American Folk Song

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this 3-part article.

Catherine Combier-Donovan is the Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Richmond in Virginia, USA.


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