For All The Saints
I did not plan on taking such a long sabbatical from writing, but “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Our summer became unexpectedly busy for our family. Ever since my brother’s ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) diagnosis I mentioned at the end of May, we have turned a little inward with my family so we can support my brother and his family any way we can.
This year I’m a full-time catechist with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) at my younger son’s Catholic Montessori school. Adjusting to the new rhythms of family life has taken more time than I had hoped, but we seem to be settling into a our new patterns. I would say finding the balance is still a work in progress, but I am really enjoying the journey. We have forty-eight children (ages 6-12) in the Elementary class, and I work in the Elementary Atrium. Each child has an atrium morning, and free to return to the atrium in the afternoon when it is open.
Although we have changed our educational surroundings, life in the Domestic Church following the rhythms of the Liturgical Year still continues in our home and is being lived on a larger scale in our atrium.
Over the years I have learned to recognize certain patterns in our family or education in living the Liturgical Year at home. That brings me to the saints. It is around this time of year, the end of September through November, that the awareness of saints takes on a special intensity.
Saints in the Church
The general term “saint” does not just include canonized saints of the Catholic Church. At first in the early church, this was the term used by the New Testament writers for all Christians through the gift of Baptism and living the Faith, but soon it became a term to distinguish those whose life stood out for eminent holiness, especially martyrs. The Church uses the term “Communion of Saints” to include all souls in heaven, those in Purgatory and all of the pilgrim faithful on earth.
But the term “saints” in the strict sense are those whom the Church honors by canonization. This is an official Church process that recognizes the sanctity of the person. The person is now in heaven and public cult or invocation is allowed.
Why the Cult of the Saints?
We are all called to holiness. Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium detailed this “universal call to holiness.” The Church doesn’t just exhort us to holiness and leave us to work alone. She provides helps along the way, and one help is providing the example of the saints. The Church has canonized saints to elevate their lives as heroic and to present a message in every age for all people. These are the witnesses of the Gospel, those that share our humanity and were transformed into the image of Christ.
We are presented a long line of men and women who cooperated with Christ’s grace to triumph over their human frailty and sin to reach sanctity. These saints arise from every age, showing that the Holy Spirit has always been working in human lives and leading them to God. The Church provides us these examples of saints as “fitting examples for our imitation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 111).
Not only are the saints for our imitation, but they are also reminders of our heavenly destiny. The saints reveal a little of the promised glory that is to come for those who walk in the path of Christ.
Finally, saints are not just plaster images, but our brothers and sisters in Christ. They love us and want to help us, thereby interceding to God on our behalf.
Saints in the Liturgical Year
The Liturgical Year or Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church is Christ living in His Church with the Paschal Mystery (Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension) as the heart and kernel of the Liturgical Year.
The events of the Liturgical Year are different than observing memorials, or remembering past events. The Liturgical Year “is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is rather Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 65). This is the Temporal Cycle or Cycle of Time of the Liturgical Calendar.
The martyrs and saints are included in the annual liturgical calendar in the Sanctoral Cycle, but they do not take center stage; they play the role of a supportive cast.
The minds of the faithful should be directed primarily toward the feasts of the Lord whereby the mysteries of salvation are celebrated throughout the year. For this reason, the Proper of the Time shall be given due preference over the feasts of the saints so that the entire cycle of the mysteries of salvation may be suitably recalled (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 108).
It was in Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II that the Church decided to revise the Liturgical Calendar once again (there have many revisions) to make sure the focal point of the unfolding of the year are the mysteries of Christ. The saints should not take precedence over these feasts; many saints’ days were moved to local calendars. The universal calendar, also known as the General Roman Calendar, tries to include saints that have universal appeal.
It has been estimated that there are more than 10,000 canonized or recognized saints in the Catholic Church. As there are only 365 days in the calendar year and the Temporal Cycle takes precedence, not all these saints can be honored and celebrated. The General Roman Calendar has about 200 saints honored throughout the Liturgical Year, with 20 more on the US National Calendar. These saints’ days are not all the same priority. Some can be a feast, others Memorial, and the majority are Optional Memorials, which means just that the priest has the option to celebrate that saint for Mass or praying the Divine Office. If a saint’s feast falls on a Sunday, the celebration of the Saint is “bumped” or omitted to allow the Sunday or Liturgical season to take precedence. See Universal Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar for more information.
Saints in the Home
The saints are our brothers and sisters in Christ; we are all connected through the Mystical Body or the Communion of Saints, so it makes sense to try and know our family more intimately. But the Church doesn’t expect us to know and individually honor 10,000 saints in a year. We aren’t even expected to know and honor all 220 saints in a whole year.
The Church provides a variety of saints from every walk of life so that we find the saints that can inspire us personally. We can choose the saints that dealt with the same weaknesses as we have, saints with our same name, saints from the same heritage as us, saints that have similar vocations or interests, saints with patronages of our needs, saints with red hair, saints who were short, saints who exemplify the virtues we are trying to practice or to help instill in our children, all the saints who were princesses or queens for our daughters and knights and soldiers for our sons, etc. The list can be endless, and also ever-changing depending on personal and family dynamics.
My husband and I have introduced saints to our children, even at an early age. At first it was have our sons recognize the pattern of the year and hear the saints’ names. At bedtime prayers we would include a mini Litany of the Saints. We say the saint of the day, sometimes singing in chant, sometimes responding in Latin. When our youngest son was about 2 or 3, he loved to say “Scholastica” so “St. Scholastica” was nightly evoked in our night prayers for months.
Within our family life we tried to highlight nameday and patron saints through reading simple picture books, our conversations, and with art.
Saints in Daily Life and Education
Working in a Catholic Montessori school, I’m learning and applying more of the Montessori philosophy. One area that has really helped in relating to the children is Montessori’s recognition of the planes of childhood development. The Elementary age, ages 6-12, is the second plane of childhood. Children at this age tend toward hero-worship. They love learning about history, especially the people who made history. They look for heroes: people who were strong, virtuous, who overcame the odds. They want to know people who made a difference in history, and the saints are great examples of heroes. These are persons who had the same human struggles, but loved Jesus above all things and cooperated with grace to reach their heavenly goal. Sometimes these heroes had to do this in extreme ways, such as giving up their life for Christ as a martyr. The saints are the true heroes to imitate.
Daily contact with these saintly heroes is one of our priorities. When I homeschooled, on the mornings of the days we didn’t begin with Mass we listened to the Mass readings of the day and the Saint of the Day. Our visual reinforcement was through Rosa Giorgi’s Saints: A Year in Faith and Art. Each saint has a beautiful art rendering and a short biography. Some days we chose longer biographies to read aloud. One son never liked to color, but my younger son still loves to color with pages from Liturgical Year Coloring Book by Mary MacArthur. I would print off several months and bind them into a booklet to keep them more organized.
Our current routine is to listen to the Mass readings and the Saint of the Day on the way to school, which often leads to further discussion.
In the atrium, we also keep Rosa Giorgi’s Saints: A Year in Faith and Art on display, open to the day’s saint. We have a variety of books on the lives of the saints for further reading. Some are collected lives, and others are chapter books on the saints. They are in a wide-range of reading levels, some with more illustrations, even some comic book saint stories. These are some of our favorites:
- Sixty Saints for Girls and Sixty Saints for Boys by Joan Windham (reprinted by Angelico Press, the Boys book early next year)
- Young People’s Book of Saints by Hugh Ross Williamson (reprinted by Sophia Institute Press)
- Encounter Books by Pauline Books (both the older version and the newer series)
- Along the Paths of the Gospel by Pauline Books
- Vision Books (reprinted by Ignatius Press)
- In the Footsteps of the Saints (reprinted by Mary’s Books and TAN Books)
- Magnificat’s various saint books (carried by Ignatius Press)
One of the repeated patterns I have observed since my own childhood is the beginning of the school year through November naturally brings more focus on the saints. And I like to encourage this activity for the children who are seeking heroes.
September and October are usually the beginning months of the school year, and the General Roman Calendar is full of popular saints, such as the Archangels, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, St. Therese the Little Flower, St. Francis of Assisi, etc. We start the school year with more awareness of the feasts on the calendar because they more well-known.
Since I was very young, we had All Saints’ celebrations, and that has continued with my children. Although All Saints Day is actually the first of November, October is the month that brings more focus on saints to prepare for All Saints Day. The children are busy doing research on saints by reading, looking through images, and planning costumes.
My son’s Elementary class hosts an All Souls Living Museum presentation. Children dress up as saints or souls (historical figures) and stand as wax statues until a visitor comes in front of them, and they tell about their character. This year’s presentation will be October 31.There was quite a frenzy of activity to choose their saints or figures. The Saint Questions pictured on the left helped guide their short presentation about their saint.
The burst of energy for research helped the children familiarize themselves to the saint books available. I’m rotating different picture books and lives of the saints according to the seasons and calendar, but some stay on the shelves all year. This has spurred more interest, and we plan to have more reading aloud of saints’ lives through the month of November.
Continuing through the year, I also try to provide images of art of the saints so the children can make prayer cards with the images, especially close to the feast day. There is less intensity as before Advent, but the routines established help continue to nurture the seeking of the Saints.
Not only do the children of this age seek heroes, they are also looking to find ways to connect with all of those branches or members of the True Vine, or the Communion of Saints. They are recognizing how they are members of this bigger community and getting to know their brethren. Developing relationships with the saints continues on throughout our lives, but starting at the youngest age and really encouraging during the Elementary ages is the best way to begin and nurture those relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
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