Dear friends in Christ, Holy Mother Church celebrates today, the Solemnity of All Saints. A Solemnity is the highest liturgical rank of a feast in the Church calendar; examples include: Feast days of our Lord, His Blessed Mother, Saints Peter and Paul, All Saints Day, etc. All Saints Day is a special feast day in which Catholics celebrate all the Saints, known and unknown. That is, while most saints have a particular feast day in the Catholic calendar, not all of those feast days are observed. Also, we have some saints in Heaven (our brothers and sisters who led holy lives and have departed this world) who have not been canonized by the Church, and whose sainthood is known to God alone, they have no particular feast day. For this reason, the Church in her wisdom set aside a special day on November 1 to celebrate these holy men and women, remembering the outcome of their lives and imitating their faith; just as the Letter to the Hebrews commands us to do: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7). But then, what really is a saint? Why do we venerate them, and ask for their intercession?
The word “Saint” comes from the Latin “Sanctus” and literally means “Holy.” In the New Testament, the term “Saint” is broadly used to refer to all who believe in Jesus Christ and who follow His teachings. Saint Paul often addresses his epistles to “the Saints” of a particular city (see, for instance, Ephesians 1:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:1). With time, it became clear that some Christians lived lives of extraordinary, or heroic, virtue, beyond that of the average Christian believer; these particular Christians were eminent examples of the moral virtues (or cardinal virtues), and they practiced the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and exhibited the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Consequently, the word saint, previously applied to all Christian believers, became more narrowly applied to such people, with the belief that they are being rewarded in heaven, as such they were venerated after their deaths as saints, usually by the members of their local church or the Christians in the region where they had lived, because they were familiar with their good deeds; as stated above in the letter to the Hebrews (13:7). Since the word “Saint” means “Holy”, we can also use it to refer to the angels and other holy beings in heaven, for they are holy messengers of God set to always carry out His Will; that is why we often apply the term (saint) to them – Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael etc…Hence, if we believe that the saints are in heaven, can they really hear us? Besides, some have accused Catholics of conjuring the dead, which is a false accusation. Let us consider the following:
The Critics of the Catholic Church often say that the Saints in heaven cannot even hear our prayers, making it useless to ask for their intercession. However, this is not true. The saints are not dead, they are alive. Jesus says that “God is NOT the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). The letter to the Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, in Hebrews 12:1. Witnesses have to be alive in order to testify on our behalf to the Supreme Judge. In Revelation 6:10, we learn that the saints in heaven know what is going on down here on earth. People who believe that being dead in the body is also dead in the soul are called atheists, not Christians. It would be sinful to conjure up a dead person, like Saul did with Samuel (1 Samuel 28:14), in order to gain hidden knowledge (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). But asking for intercession (1 Timothy 2:1) from holy people is very biblical, due to the power they have (James 5:16). Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 plainly state that the saints and angels present our prayers to God in the form of incense.
Saints pray alongside with us to Jesus as our intercessors. They do not stand “between” us and God. They only pray with us and for us to Jesus who is the MEDIATOR and the WAY. This can be seen, for example, in Revelation 5:8, where John depicts the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God under the form of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” But if the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then they must be aware of our prayers. They are aware of our petitions and present them to God by interceding for us.Some might argue that in this passage, the prayers being offered were not addressed to the saints in heaven, but directly to God. Yet this argument would only strengthen the fact that the angels and saints in heaven can hear our prayers; for then, the saints would be aware of our prayers even when they are not directed to them. In any case, it is clear from Revelation 5:8 that the saints in heaven do actively intercede for us. We are explicitly told by John that the incense they offer to God are the prayers of the saints. Prayers are not physical things and cannot be physically offered to God. Thus, the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God mentally. In other words, they are interceding.
Another Scriptural passage where we see the intercessory role of the saints is in Exodus 23:20-23. Here, God said: “Behold I am sending my angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him. Don’t rebel against, for he will not forgive your sins. My authority is within him”. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus saying: “See that you don’t despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven look upon the face of my heavenly Father” – Matt 18:10. The phrase “look upon the face” (apart from enjoying the beatific vision) can also be referred to an act of seeking for a favour. This is similar to the expression in Psalm 123:2 – “Just as the eyes of slaves are on their masters’ hand, or the eyes of a slave-girl on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are on the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.” Similarly, the eyes of the angels are always on the Lord God, till He shows his favour to us His Children. This is a great act of interceding to God on our behalf. Hence, in this regard, Jesus tells us indirectly of the intercessory role of angels in heaven.
Another objection from the Critics of the Catholic Church on the intercession of saints hangs on the claim that, if the saints intercede for us as we claim, it would violate the sole mediatorship of Christ, which Paul discusses: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). To this, we ask them: what is He the mediator of? In Hebrews 9:15 and Hebrews 12:24, we learn that Jesus is the mediator of THE NEW COVENANT. A covenant is a contract or agreement between two or more parties. In the biblical setting, Covenant is how God has chosen to communicate to us, to redeem us, and to guarantee us eternal life in Jesus. In this covenant, God the Father and the Son made an agreement regarding the elect. This covenant was made before the universe was created, and it consisted of the Father promising to bring to the Son all whom the Father had given Him (John 6:39; 17:9, 24). Above all, let us take a look at the very words of Jesus in the last supper: “…Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven…” (see Mark 14:22-24; Matt 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). To this effect, we come to understand better that asking the saints to Intercede for us to Jesus Christ, does not equate them to being the mediator of the New Covenant; they are 2 entirely different things. Let us consider further objections.
Another objection from the Critics of the Catholic Church is: How, then, can Mary and the saints listen to and answer thousands upon thousands of petitions made simultaneously in many different lands and in many different languages? Many of such petitions are expressed, not orally, but only mentally, silently. How can Mary and the saints, without being like God (omnipresent and omniscient) know the secrets of all hearts? Does it mean that they are also omnipresent and omniscient like God? A simple response to this is; if being in heaven were like being in the next room, then, of course, these objections would be valid. This really shows that those who make these objections possess a childish view of heaven; they have failed to understand that those in heaven are not restricted by space and time. Space and time are only qualities of this material universe. A mortal, unglorified person in the next room would indeed suffer the restrictions imposed by the way SPACE AND TIME work in our universe. However, the Saints are not in the next room, and they are not subject to the time/space limitations of this life; for time and space only makes meaning in this life and not in the life hereafter. This does NOT imply that the saints in heaven, therefore, must be omniscient, as God is; it is only by GOD’S GRACE that they can communicate with others in heaven or with us. And the argument about petitions arriving in different languages is even further off the mark. Does anyone really think that in heaven the saints are restricted to languages? After all, it is God himself who gives the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. To be in heaven is to enjoy the fullness of God’s graces and benefits. Therefore, it is by God’s grace and benefits that the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints are able to understand the numerous languages on earth and at the same time. Surely those Saints in Revelation understand the prayers they are shown to be offering to God.
Therefore, the Church in all her wisdom and guided by the Holy Spirit, set aside a day like this (1st of November) as the Solemnity of All Saints. It is a Holy Day of Obligation; hence, we are obliged to attend Mass; and unite our prayers with those of the Saints; asking God to grant us the graces of the Beatitudes, as seen in the Gospel (Mtt 5:1-12A), so that on the last day, we may be counted among the faithful in the company of the saints; just as we see in the First Reading (Rev 7:2-4, 9-14) “After this 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.” Indeed, how wonderful is God among His Saints; come let us adore Him!


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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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