When I was a child, I asked (more than once) why there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no Kids’ Day. I was told (more than once) that “every day is kids’ day.” Not understanding the nature of parental love and sacrifice, I greeted this response with a dissatisfied harrumph (more than once).
I begin this reflection on the observance of All Saints Day and All Souls Day with this childhood memory to underscore that although we have these festal days set apart on 1 and 2 November each year, every day is a day of all the saints, all the souls, and all of us.
All, all, all are invited by God to find fulfillment in communion with God and one another. Eucharistic prayers give voice to the graced human longing for this communion. In the Catholic tradition, for example, Eucharistic Prayer III asks that “we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” This concerns all of *us* who have gathered.
The prayer continues:
May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect, especially with the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, her spouse, with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs (with Saint N.: the Saint of the day or Patron Saint) and with all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help.
As the US bishops pointed out in Music in Catholic Worship: “Each Christian must keep in mind that to live and worship in community often demands a personal sacrifice. Everyone must be willing to share likes and dislikes with those whose ideas and experience may be quite unlike [their] own.” (MCW 17; 1982 version). Being in community is a fundamental dimension of the “eternal offering” the assembly seeks to become. Since the love that is to characterize Christian life “impels us towards universal communion,” as Pope Francis puts it in Fratelli tutti 95, the “us” asking to become one body, one spirit in Christ” includes solidarity and communion with the saints, those whose lives have been recognized by Christians as markers and exemplars of Christian life and who already share the fullness of communion with God. These saints, of course, reach out in communion to the earthbound.
Eucharistic Prayer III is not done with the theme of communion, adding soon thereafter:
Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, the Order of Bishops, all the clergy, and the entire people you have gained for your own. Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom you have summoned before you: in your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.
Returning to earth, so to speak, the prayer seeks union between the local “us” and the universal “us” of the entire believing community. In our time of social distancing, noteworthy in particular is the petition that God gather the scattered.
The prayer then turns to the souls in heaven, those who have in general gone before “us” in faith:
To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.
To those who regularly hear and pray the anaphoras of the Christian tradition, what I am saying here is not new but the news that God desires fullness of communion with each and every person in all times and places from all cultures and races ought to strike us each day in its (fallen) earth-shattering significance.
Certainly repairing, sustaining and fostering community in the United States in a time of pandemic, searing racial questions, and electoral strife is a task each of us needs to take up each day or our claim to desire communion with all the saints and all the souls is empty rhetoric.