By Xandria Eykel
“¡Viva Cristo Rey!”
The Church will soon leave the long season of growth marked by Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. Being that the Church patterns her life to that of Jesus Christ, it ends the liturgical year with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King.
About six weeks remain in the calendar year. For most, that fact can be overwhelming, even daunting. While the impending end of the year hastens the pace and burdens many with undue stress, nature beckons us to a slower pace, grounding us to be contemplative. Nature teaches us to retreat. The physical realities echo that message as the sun sets earlier and the days grow shorter. The Church, too, leads the faithful to contemplate the shortness of our time on earth, urging the Church Militant to set our sights beyond what our eyes can see, “for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) The Church orients the faithful to the spiritual reality of eternity.
November in the liturgical calendar is a time of deep contemplation. It is similar to the fallen leaves that cover the soil, decomposing and breaking down over the winter, setting aside time to ponder death, and our own death, providing much-needed nutrients that are slowly released over time, giving growth to faith, hope, and charity. As the faithful ready themselves to celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the Church guides us to focus on our eternal home, joining Heaven and earth as one body, one family under the Kingship of Jesus.
All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1st.
The Church celebrates all the saints in Heaven who have been recognized by the Church as saints and also those who have not yet been canonized.
This faithful body is the Church Triumphant because they have “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). This day is one of the six Holy Days of Obligation in the United States Catholic Church, whereby the faithful are obliged to participate in the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. The Church vestments are white, symbolizing joy and purity resulting from faith. Families gather at Mass to hear God’s words. The scripture readings reveal to us the heart of the Father and His deep desire to welcome His children into His Kingdom.
Every year, the readings are from the Book of Revelation (Chapter 7), The Book of Psalms (Chapter 24), the first letter of John (Chapter 3), and the Gospel according to Matthew (Chapter 5). In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), Jesus explicitly tells the faithful how we will enter His Kingdom; the Church gives us examples of those who lived the Beatitudes throughout human history and are celebrated on the Feast of All Saints Days.
Families with younger children often celebrate All Saints Day the day prior (Hallow’s Eve, October 31st) by dressing up as their favorite saints, going through their neighborhoods with their friends, and collecting treats, which usually makes for interesting conversations with many people. Fun family traditions include featuring donuts for treats to emphasize the “holi-ness” of the saints. Most families will celebrate by adorning their homes with pictures of their favorite saints and learning together about the lives of many saints throughout history during mealtime. Sharing notable quotes of the saints and “fun facts” are common practices in the homes of the faithful. It is an enriching time for families to reflect on virtues and practice them throughout their daily lives. Both young and old learn how saints struggled through trials and temptations but remained steadfast, and when they firmly stood the test received the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
The Church Triumphant are powerful intercessors for the Church Militant, the faithful body here on earth, still struggling with sin and temptation; they are therefore engaged in warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Our relationship with the saints in Heaven is a testimony to our belief in the power of the resurrection and the powerlessness of death.
Their work for the kingdom did not stop at death. It also supports our belief that the Church is one Body of Jesus Christ.
Fittingly, the celebration of All Saints is followed by the Feast of All Souls on November 2nd. All Souls Day is a day of prayer and remembrance for all who have died in God’s grace (meaning all souls who died in a right relationship with God and are on their way to Heaven). Although the Church in the United States does not oblige the faithful to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, many families traditionally participate in a Requiem Mass because of the sanctifying grace dispensed through the sacraments for their loved ones awaiting entry into Heaven.
The local churches honor the Church Suffering, those souls who are being purified before entering the All-Holy Presence of God, praying for them by name throughout the month of November. Some local churches might also include photos of the faithful departed in a place of honor with lighted candles. In the domestic Church, the family traditionally displays photos of their loved ones and dedicates their daily prayers, sacrifices, and almsgiving throughout the month to help hasten the necessary purification and preparation process for their loved ones. Another family tradition that transcends the physical world is visiting the cemeteries of loved ones. Some ethnic cultures have a stronger affinity to this tradition, where families spend significant time decorating their loved ones’ grave sites with flowers and lanterns and praying for them during their visit. The Church encourages the faithful to pray and make sacrifices for the atonement of the Church’s Suffering, similar to the Jewish belief that the deceased benefit from temple sacrifice made on their behalf (2 Maccabees 12:42–46).
All Souls Day commemorates the longing for a deeper bond, for the ultimate union with God at the head of the family in Heaven with all His saints and angels.
The Church, in her wisdom, gives the faithful this contemplative time within the liturgical calendar to focus on this spiritual reality – the afterlife. Pondering death, our own death, and readying ourselves for eternity can be sobering. However, the faithful are to remain hopeful, awake, and vigilant, knowing that “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54) through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. The Body of Christ is fully alive with the saints in Heaven interceding for us, while we, in turn, fervently intercede for all souls undergoing the purification necessary to be in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16).
This loving exchange between Heaven and earth ascends to the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King. The last Sunday before Advent marks the last week of the liturgical year. This year it is celebrated on November 20th. The celebration of Jesus Christ the King is a bold proclamation of the faithful ones’ citizenship. The Church encourages the faithful to live out their faith, both privately and in public. The celebration of Jesus Christ the King reminds the world that Jesus is not only the King of this world, reigning over the nations but also the eternal King, glorified by the Heavenly saints and angels. They will one day return to judge all of mankind.
All Church celebrations are centered on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which the faithful gather to hear the Word and participate in the Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) meal. Local churches celebrate this day with a solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament after Mass, followed by the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for a set time where the faithful and the public are invited to sit and adore Jesus at Church. The procession reminds the faithful of their spiritual journey toward eternal life with God. Families with younger children have a tradition of processing through their home carrying a crucifix, similar to the celebration of Corpus Christi. Some families celebrate Jesus Christ the King with a delightful king-themed meal (stuffed lamb crown roast or rib roast, crown cake, etc.), which is limited only by one’s imagination, time, and energy.
The liturgical calendar puts the Universal Church on the same page so that the faithful can celebrate and worship God in unison as one Body of Jesus Christ. It also unites Heaven (our eternal home) with earth (our pilgrimage journey). As we celebrate a feast day here on earth, the faithful are assured that the angels and saints in Heaven are doing the same in tandem with us, but in a far more excellent way. “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”