Tag Archives: All Saints

Forgiven by the grace of Christ, a homily for All Saints & All Souls in light of indulgences and the Reformation

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The following homily was delivered yesterday for the 31st Sunday Through the Year at the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Louis by a dear friend, R. Dom Ambrose Bennett, STL. Dom Ambrose (on the right in the photo) is a priest, monk and teacher at the Abbey.
Besides taking his turn in celebrating Mass for the Abbey, he also celebrates the Mass of Blessed John XXIII at the Oratory of Ss Gregory and Augustine.
At this time of year, as we approach the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, and when the Church calls upon us to meditate upon the Communion of Saints and prayer for the faithful departed, it is fitting that we should consider a much-neglected point of Catholic doctrine and practice: that is, indulgences. First, what is an indulgence?
First, let me say what indulgences are not: they are not permissions to commit sins or anything of that sort. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” (CCC 1471). Surely everyone is aware that being forgiven of sin does not make all the effects of past sin simply disappear: we can still have bad habits, damaged relationships, diminished love of God as a result of those sins. In other words, there are temporal effects of sin, even after absolution. Indulgences are still eminently helpful in impressing upon us two inseparable truths: that we are saved by grace and that in the process of penance and renewal, we are not alone but are assisted on the way of conversion by the entire Communion of Saints who have gone before us. In other words, we do not gain indulgences to be forgiven for our sins: we gain them because we have already been forgiven by the grace of Christ. Indulgences help us to bring forth the fruits of true repentance and to heal the after-effects of sin.
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To gain an indulgence, one must do three things: go to confession, do the particular penance or prayer or spiritual exercise to which the indulgence is promised, and also pray for the Pope’s intentions. An indulgence is called partial if it heals some of the after-effects of forgiven sin; an indulgence is called plenary if there is no real attachment to sin and a full conversion toward God. As important as the external practice of penance is, the Catechism itself teaches that indulgences are only means to an end: that is, metanoia or conversion of heart (CCC 1430). So there is nothing mechanical or legalistic about Catholic teaching or practice in granting indulgences for prayer, penance, and works of charity.
At this time of the year in particular, the Church calls upon us to be mindful of the holy souls in purgatory. To help us do this, there are special indulgences for the faithful departed during the next week.
On All Souls’ Day, which is on Nov. 2. On All Souls, we are encouraged to gain a plenary indulgence for the holy souls in purgatory. To do this, on All Souls’ Day, simply visit a church or public oratory and recite the Our Father and the Creed for the holy souls plus any prayer you wish for the Pope’s intentions. Then be sure to go to confession and to receive Holy Communion within a week. You may also gain a plenary indulgence from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8 if you visit a cemetery and pray for the holy souls in purgatory.
Why is this important? Aren’t the deceased who have died in the love of God in God’s hands? What more remains to be done? Well, the need for purgatory is based on the same truth as indulgences: there are lingering imperfections in us even when we are essentially right with God. The holy souls who have departed this life are justified by the Precious Blood of Jesus and therefore assured of salvation; and yet, they have lingering imperfections. The purifying pains they feel are not those of a torture chamber but of being delayed in their union with God whom they love above all things. In this life, we can do penance and almsgiving after we repent; the holy souls are no longer in a position to do those active works of penance. So the theologians have coined the term satispassion for their experience in purgatory: that is, the souls in purgatory experience a passive purification in the encounter with God’s perfect holiness.
Because the holy souls are no longer able to make new choices or do active penances, they have great need of our prayers and penances and Masses, offered on their behalf. These assist the souls in their final transformation that will make them fit to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God himself. These sanctified souls will in turn remember us and intercede for us before God when they have entered into heaven. Indulgences gained and offered on behalf of the faithful departed are simply an especially effective form of prayer for the dead; there is nothing “automatic” about indulgences for the faithful departed. Even though the Church’s power of the keys does not extend to those who have died, yet the bond of charity and mutual intercession endures even beyond death.

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Now on this very date, the 31st of October 1517, four hundred and ninety-three years ago, a German monk started a theological earthquake about indulgences that shattered the unity of Western Christendom. That monk’s name was Father Martin Luther. He suffered from terrible scruples, and especially from a paralyzing fear whenever he considered God’s justice and infinite holiness. In the depth of this spiritual crisis, Father Martin Luther came to the realization that our justification–that is, being put in a right relation with God–is a pure gift of grace that comes by self-surrendering faith in the Cross of Christ.
How tragic that Luther’s personal realization of a central Christian truth led to that destructive revolution known as the Protestant Reformation! After all, countless saints have come to the same realization, and led them to build up the Body of Christ with their holiness. St. Thérèse of Lisieux expressed that very truth so beautifully when she wrote:
After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.
In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!
However, Martin Luther’s was the sort of man who can see one Christian truth clearly and other truths not at all. Soon he began to make the heretical claim that indulgences and belief in purgatory amounted to a denial of the grace of Christ, and finally incurred excommunication for his stubborn errors. Before he reached that point of no return, however, Luther wrote these touching words in a letter to Pope Leo X:

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I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity…. That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St. Peter and St. Paul, forty-six Popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome Hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman Church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things, and nothing is difficult to those who are united (Martin Luther to Pope Leo X, January 6, 1519).

Truer words were never spoken! How unspeakably sad that Luther finally decided not to send this letter to the Pope. How differently things might have turned out if Luther had sent it, and if the German princes had not gotten involved!

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In a sense, all of that is water under the bridge. To pass judgment over the rights and wrongs of that period is not a pressing issue at this time. However, many Catholics are under the impression that the Second Vatican Council did away with indulgences and purgatory and that Luther was right to reject them. This is a great and destructive error: what was true and holy before the Second Vatican Council remains true and holy now. Still in our time, one who gains an indulgence for himself or for the holy souls hears our Savior’s words spoken to the penitent Zachaeus, who did penance when he was already forgiven: “Today salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19.10).
On All Souls Day priests have the privilege of celebrating the Mass three times according to Pope Benedict XV’s 1915 apostolic constitution, Incruentum altaris (or in Italian if you prefer). A note: it is a rare occurrence during the liturgical year when the priest celebrates three Masses on a given day without permission from his Ordinary or pastoral necessity. Here the Pope decrees that a priest may offer one Mass with a particular intention which carries with it the gift of a stipend and the remaining two Masses the intention would be for all the faithful departed and then for the Holy Father; no stipend is received for these two Masses.

All Saints

Today is the day since the time of Pope Gregory III that the Church has observed a day for all the saints ever recognized officially, and for those who are in the process of becoming listed saints in the martyrology, and certainly all those holy men and women who ever lived. Looking at the Roman Martyrology, the book that contains all the saints of the Church, but it doesn’t list the all the Baptized. Hence, our feast day. There is a great dynamic of love that we observe today, but it should be a dynamic that we live every day of our lives. How many people, holy men and women have we known who touched out lives in great and small ways. I think of the various priests, and laity who promised to pray for me.

During his September visit to England, Pope Benedict boldly asked the young (indeed, all of us) to consider becoming saints and not to settle for something less than what we are made for. The value here, if you want to speak in this way, is that holiness is not for plastic people, people who have no sense of relationships, no concept of community, no understanding of the value of good friends. Holiness means taking ourselves seriously as loved people and worthy of friendship with the Lord and with another person; holiness is means setting aside distractions, sinful tendencies and the lack of attentiveness of God and what Jesus did for us. That is, Jesus’ death and resurrection for love of us personally. It’s taken me a long time to understand this point, and what the Pope has invited to, but there is solid, reliable truth in that God alone satisfies me. Which means, other things and mediocre relationships do not. Here is a portion of his homily:

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What God wants
most of all
for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you
much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for
you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness.

Perhaps some of
you have never thought about this before. Perhaps some of you think being a
saint is not for you. Let me explain what I mean. When we are young, we can
usually think of people that we look up to, people we admire, people we want to
be like. It could be someone we meet in our daily lives that we hold in great
esteem. Or it could be someone famous. We live in a celebrity culture, and
young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world
of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities
you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of
person would you really like to be?

When I invite you to become saints, I am
asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue
one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to
be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to
make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but
it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make
us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want,
but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find
it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple
true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place
our deepest hopes in God alone
, not in money, in a career, in worldly success,
or in our relationships with others
, but in God. Only he can satisfy the
deepest needs of our hearts
.

Pope Benedict XVI

Greeting to Catholic Pupils of
the United Kingdom

St Mary’s College, Twickenham

17 September 2010

All Saints of the Benedictine Order

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Blessed shall you be when men hate you, and when they shut you out, and reproach you, and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and exult, for behold your reward is great in heaven.

We beseech Thee, O Lord, grant that the example of the holy Monks [and nuns] may stir us to a better life, so that we may imitate the actions of those whose solemnity we celebrate.

No such thing as a dead saint

The expression “a living saint” can be misleading. Certainly, we have encountered people in our own lives who fit that description, as best as we can judge. The Holy Church makes the final decision about saints. We celebrate them especially on All Saints’ Day, and on All Souls’ Day, we pray for our loved ones who are drawing more closely into the aura of holiness. The saints on the calendar are only the tip of the iceberg, and most of the saints who have ever existed are known to God alone. Perhaps churches should have a shrine to “The Unknown Saint” quite as we have a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All Saints’ Day is rather like that.

 

St. Simon Stylites.jpgMy point, though, is that there is no such thing as a dead saint.There are saints alive now, and there are saints who have physically died, but all are alive in Christ and they are “busy” in heaven, to use a temporal metaphor. Some saints capture the popular imagination more in one generation than in another. For instance, St. Simon Stylites was admired in Syria in the fifth century for spending most of his life seated on top of a pillar. That is not a useful model for our day, although some may still remember Flagpole Kelly, and not long ago thousands of New Yorkers went to watch a man spend a week on top of a column up the street in Bryant Park.

 

Millions are drawn to Padre Pio, and some are compelled by an unmeasured fascination with his miraculous spiritual gifts, which were blessings indeed, rather than emulating his heroic humility and discipline. There remains an astonishing cult of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She was almost the reverse of St. Pio: totally St Therese of the Child Jesus.jpgunknown in her earthly lifetime, and accomplishing nothing conspicuous to her contemporaries. She would have remained such had not her spiritual writings been discovered and published. Perhaps she fascinates precisely because in just barely 24 years on earth, she did the most ordinary things with most extraordinary joy. Whenever her relics are taken on pilgrimage to foreign lands (not to mention the one that was taken on a space shuttle), hundreds of thousands pour out to pray by them. This happened most recently in England, where the media were confounded by the huge crowds.

 

Concurrent with that phenomenon, there were astonishing developments in long-moribund Christian life there, not least of which was the announcement of the first papal state visit to Britain and the expected beatification of John Henry Newman, who predicted a “Second Spring” of Faith in England. Then came news of an Apostolic Constitution, which will provide a unique canonical structure to welcome those desiring union with the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI, who well deserves the title “The Pope of Unity,” has shown the power of the intercessions of the saints.

 

Rev’d Fr. George Rutler

Church of Our Saviour, NYC

November 1, 2009

All Saints, solemnity

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I saw a great multitude which no man could number, out all nations, standing before the throne.

Almighty and everlasting God, Who has given us in one feast to venerate the merits of all Thy Saints, we beseech Thee through the multitude of intercessors, to grant us the desired abundance of Thy mercy.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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