As you undoubtedly know, November 1st is the Feast of All Saints. I kept the day with the Offices from The Anglican Breviary. The Anglican Breviary, by the way, is a veritable goldmine of devotional material locked away in byzantine labyrinth of rubrical complexities all rendered in Elizabethan English. Although it is very intimidating, once you learn its ways, it is actually quite rewarding to pray it (even though, I’m still not quite sure if I’ve ever prayed the Office of Prime correctly).
The AB does not treat the Feast like how many of us keep it today. For many of us, All Saints is just calling to mind those who did cool stuff for Jesus and being inspired by their example. Lambasting this approach exemplified by the Collects in Holy Women, Holy Men (the Episcopal Church’s proposed book of Saint’s days), Derek Olson over at Haligweorc wrote:
O God, we thank you for A. and B. who were great Xs. Help us to be great Xs too. Thanks.
This is exactly how many of us treat the Saints: they’re like the hall of fame that exists outside of every high school gymnasium in America. So, we walk around, looking at their faded pictures and trophies in wonderment of all that they did and sacrificed to be State Champions in 1923. And we hope that maybe this year, we’ll make the winning shot at the last second that takes our team into Regionals. We call the Saints to mind, we remember their stories and we’re inspired by them. “Wow, what a great cloud of witnesses” we say, patting ourselves on the back. Then, we head to lunch with a new firmness in our faith.
Compare this approach with three verses of the Hymn at Matins (Christe, Redemptor omnium conserva) in The Anglican Breviary:
O Christ, Redeemer of us all,
Protect thy servants when they call,
And hear with reconciling care
The Blessed Virgin’s holy prayer.
Ye Prophets of the Judge adored
Ye twelve Apostles of the Lord,
For us your ceaseless prayer outpour,
Salvation for our souls implore.
Martyrs of God, renowned for aye,
Confessors ranged in bright array,
Let all your orisons unite
To bear us to the realms of light.
Notice the difference? Here, the Saints are not simply recalled to mind, but are active participants in our lives through their prayers to God. It is their prayers that we covet, not only their inspirational remembrance. The Saints, according to this hymn (and continuing the metaphor) are not on the bleachers nor do they rest content to have their picture in the hallway — no, they’re playing ball with us, through their prayers! For example, the fact that you made that three-pointer is because your team set you up to make the shot (defenders blocking and you were passed the ball). In much the same way, we receive blessings upon blessings upon blessings from God, not because of our work, but because the Saints have set us up to receive them, through their prayers.
With a Solemn High Eucharist and with the Litany of the Saints, we kept the following Sunday (“within the octave”). I had the privilege to act both as Subdeacon at the Mass and Cantor for the Litany. While I stood in the Ambo, intoning the names over the congregational singing of, “Saints in Glory, pray with us”, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Saints heaved a sigh of relief and said to one another, “Finally! They’re asking for our help!” And, we did ask that they who are both named and unnamed would join us in our prayers to God on behalf of the Church, the world, our families, our friends, and those who wish us harm. I really felt like they were there praying with us and we were aware of their presence because we asked them to be there. Of course, this could always be a fit of sentimental medievalism (to which I am prone). But, I have no reason to believe that they were not.
What if the Saints are less like sports figures and more like Taxi Drivers that hang outside of airports?
Stick with me, here.
It is quite true, I could walk home from the Airport. It would take me about five hours, but, yes, I could do it under my own power. I could also bike home, but it would still take a good amount of time, effort and energy. Or, I could just go to one of the Taxi Drivers that hangs outside the entrance and say, “Hey! Could you give me a lift to my house?” They’d be happy to, of course. In fact, they’d be happy because they’ve been waiting all day to take someone home. They’ve been sitting in their cabs listening to the radio, reading the paper, smoking a cigarette, just waiting to take someone home.
Maybe the Saints are like this. They’re just hanging out, waiting for us to ask them to pray with us. Granted, you could go through your life rather successfully without asking their prayers and you could bike (so to speak) all the way to the great judgement seat of Christ on your own power. But imagine the amount of time, effort and energy that would take. Or, we can just go up to one of the Saints and say, “Hey! Could you pray for me? Can you go with me to God?” And they, of course, are overjoyed to do just that. So, you link arms with them and go before God, asking for God’s mercy and favor towards you. They take us to God, just like how the hymn says, “Let all your orisons unite / to bear us to the realms of light.”
Maybe they’ll be overjoyed because they have arms to help us “lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely”. Maybe they’ll be overjoyed because they, too, look only to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of the faith. Maybe they’ll be overjoyed because they surround the throne of God and wish that all would join them there, being at one with Creator of the heavens and earth, for they do make quite the loud ruckus in heaven when even one sinner repents. Maybe they’ll be overjoyed for we quit treating them like an inspirational, yet impotent photograph and we started praying like we actually believe in the resurrection of the dead.
“Wow! What a great cloud of witnesses”, indeed.