The Readings for the Solemnity of All the Saints
Vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribubus, et populis, et linguis : stantes ante thronum, et in conspectu Agni, amicti stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum :
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Google 144,000. Go on, I’ll wait. There’s so much out there! Some folks think that God’s only going to let 144,000 folks into heaven as if there was only that much room. Others think of it as a symbolic number indicating – again – the limited access of the few saved folks. Still others, in to which camp I used to fall, think of it as an exact number of Jews who will convert just before the 2nd Coming and try to evangelize the world. Hal Lindsey had me convinced of this. Don’t get me started on all that is wrong with the idea.
Yet if these 144,000 are evangelists – or a symbol of the function of Evangelists (which I think it is) then the important part is in the next set of verses: for the Evangelists bring in a “great multitude which no one could count”. That’s not a “limited heaven”: It’s infinity – and beyond!
Today’s feast is a mark of the Unity, the Catholicity of the Church: for we, the Evangelizing servants of God on the earth are united with the great multitude which no one can number, in heaven. This happens at every Mass as we gather around the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: You might not be able to see them with your physical eyes but we are all here, together, around the Altar! When you come forward to receive the Body of Christ, angels are kneeling in awe, your patron saints, and thousands of others whom you do not know – but who know you intimately – are standing with you, praying for you and cheering you on. When the priest says, “The Body of Christ!” and places the host on your tongue, all of heaven responds with a gloriously victorious
Amen! Benedictio, et claritas, et sapientia, et gratiarum actio, honor, et virtus, et fortitudo Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum! Amen! Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
The rafters thunder! The earth quakes! A mortal receives the bread of life, the chalice of slavation, infinity on our tongue.
On All Saints Day we celebrate what we rarely acknowledge: the vast majority of the Church is invisible but we are ever one in Christ. These are our most intimate friends for while they share in the knowledge of Christ they love us, pray for us, beckon us on; sometimes I think they get behind us and push. They have been in this same world, they know what it means to be poor, to have a job, to be afraid, and to be ill. They know about raising children, about being lone, about being hungry, about being persecuted. They know what it means to be all the thing humans can be – and still, they have pushed through to God. One step at a time, this great multitude which no man can number has gained the Victory offers by the Lamb.
And they long for us to join them. In the Office of Readings for today St Bernard of Clairvaux said:
Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.
Let us not be indifferent! Let us not ignore them! Let us be thankful for their prayers, but let us emulate them as well: for they with us pray for all the souls of the departed. They, with us, pray for the Pope, the Bishops, and our clergy, the living 144,000 we have today. The saints, with us, pray for the peace of the world and the Church. And with us, they pray for the coming of the Great Day when all the Church shall finally be reunited as one in one place before the Throne.
Alla famiglia! A Blessed Feast!