Celebrating the Communion of Saints
October 27, 2008
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The newest exhibit, “Celebrating the Communion of Saints,” opens as we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints and the feast of All Souls. Although these great liturgical days have lost some of their popularity, they are nonetheless important. It is good to ponder the lives of the saints and it is good to remember our deceased family members and friends.
I am writing this after visiting with my sister this morning. Hilde runs a daycare center in a small town in Belgium. Every year she carefully decorates for Halloween. The children love the carved pumpkins, the masks, the ghosts, and the candy. Today’s children look forward to Halloween. They prepare for it and remember the costume they wore the previous year. Most of them, however, have no idea about the real meaning of Halloween, nor do they know that this celebration is essentially connected to what happens the next two days.
As I was growing up in Belgium, we did not celebrate Halloween. As a matter of fact, the custom of dressing in costumes, going around to trick-or-treat and collect candy did not exist. We had the solemnity of All Saints and the feast of All Souls. These were days with many obligations: in church, at the cemetery, and at home, but these involved neither costumes nor candy.
Early in the morning on All Saints Day, my father and I would bring beautiful floral arrangements to the tombs of deceased relatives. We stopped at each tomb, carefully placed the flowers, removed a dead leaf or two and said a silent prayer. Then it was off to the church for a solemn liturgy celebrating all the great saints in our Church’s tradition. I remember the altars dedicated to the different saints being decorated with candles and flowers. The priests brought out the entire parish collection of reliquaries with sacred remains of the saints. We were invited to venerate the relics as a part of our All Saints Day devotions. I always marveled at the great number of statues of saints and relics our local church had collected over the centuries. After we left church, we went to my grandmother’s house for dinner and a day of festive leisure. The many statues of saints that were scattered around her house had either flowers or candles by them. As kids, my siblings and I would walk around trying to recall the life story of each one of them, a game I excelled at.
The next day, All Souls, was marked by a certain sober solemnity as we remembered all those who had died. The Mass that day was celebrated without organ and the priests wore black vestments. The people, too, dressed modestly that day and we all processed to the cemetery after Mass to pray for those who went before us. The dinner that day was fine, but not nearly as festive as the day before. We were encouraged to be quiet that day; the stories around the dinner table were about the great or funny things our deceased ancestors did and we were encouraged to dedicate our daily prayers for those who had died.
Our homes are often no longer are decorated with statues of the Blessed Mother and the saints. Most churches have gotten rid of their reliquaries, which one now finds in antique shops and museums of sacred art. The custom of visiting the cemetery on All Souls day has been transferred to a secular day, Memorial Day.
Times and customs change, yet we still are a people of saints and sinners, and we still can benefit from the example and the intercession of those great examples of Christian virtue: the saints.
Thus, on the occasion of All Saints and All Souls 2008 we dedicate this exhibit to the great women and men who have gone before us and who continue to inspire us.
Blessed Saints Day! Blessed All Souls Day!
Johan van Parys serves as Artistic Director of EnVisionChurch.
1. Bronze sculpture of St. Anthony Preaching to the Fish (detail) by Lucinda Naylor, Minneapolis, MN. Photo provided by Lucinda Naylor.
2. Plaster statue of St. Anthony in Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome. Photo by Daniel Mark Miller.
3. Icon of Korsunskaya Mother of God by Debra Korluka, Stillwater, MN. Photo provided by Debra Korluka.