Today is All Saints’ Day, a day which honours all the saints—known and unknown—of the universal church. I thought this would be a good time to dust off my Catechism and explore what exactly a saint is.
Who is a Saint?
A saint is simply “a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord” (Catechism). In canonizing saints, the Church is “solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace.”
One thing that strikes me as I listen to saint stories is the fact that they were ordinary people who struggled with many of the same things I do, yet in the little things in their lives, they found a way to serve God and model His love to others.
These men and women are “models and intercessors” for us in our journey to holiness. They can inspire us to live holier lives and to look to God in our problems just as they did. They are also the “source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments of the Church’s history.” Yes, there have been dark moments in the Church; yet in those moments, God has raised up holy men and women to help lead the Church back to Himself.
Before the tenth century, saints were chosen by public acclaim. The first were martyrs or people who were otherwise regarded as holy by those around them. However, sometimes their stories were distorted into legends, so the Vatican took over the process of proclaiming who is a saint. Today, there are three steps to sainthood: veneration, beautification, and canonization. Leila from Little Catholic Bubble has a great explanation of these steps (yes, go read it; I’ll wait).
What is the role of the saints?
The Catechism tells us that the saints’ “intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” Just as we are called to pray for ourselves and the world while we are here on earth, so that job will continue when we get to heaven. But there, we’ll be closer to God and be able to see his plan more fully, and thus know better what to ask for in our prayers. Miracles are considered proof that these great men and women are working on our behalf in heaven.
Why do we pray to the saints?
One of the biggest problems for me with joining the Catholic Church was understanding why Catholics pray to dead people in heaven. My husband explained this by saying that we don’t really pray to the saints; we simply ask them to pray for or with us. Just as I could (and often do) ask my mom or a good friend to pray for me, I can also ask the saints to pray for me.
The Catetchism says that the saints “share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today.” When I know that a particular saint has been through something like what I’m going through, then I feel I can trust them to pray for me because they understand what I’m going through. Thus, during my pregnancies, I found it comforting to ask saints like Gerard Majella for intercession.
Why All Saints’ Day?
As far back as the fourth century, we find saints writing about a common day to celebrate those martyred for their faith. November 1st was the day picked by Pope Gregory III (731-741) to honour all saints after he consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to them. A century later, Gregory IV extended this celebration to include the whole church (New Advent). Later, the celebration of Halloween emerged from All Hallow’s Eve—the day before All Saint’s Day.
Tonight, we’ll be joining some other families at our church for a potluck after Mass. The kids will be dressing up as their favourite saints (Sunshine and Lily want to be princesses again, so I’m researching royal saints for them) and have a chance to give a few clues about who they’re dressed up as. I’ve organized a few crafts for the kids from Happy Saints. I’m looking forward to having fun and learning more about some cool heroes of the faith!
Some of my favourite saints:
What do you think of the saints? Who is your favourite saint?