Et istorum, et omnium sanctorum

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are "watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

New Catholic parents used to consult a little booklet, often supplied by the parish, entitled, Is it a Saint's Name? The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies, especially to little girls. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today's parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints' names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint's name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the "smoke of Satan" that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is crucial that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Saints in the Ordinary of the Mass

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum has generated some very helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession. I am thinking specifically of the Confiteor, the prayer while kissing the relics in the altar, the Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas at the end of the Offertory rite, and the Libera nos after the Our Father. In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieves and alienates the venerable Orthodox Churches, who interpret it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.

Orthodox and Protestants

Already under the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, and now under Pope Benedict XVI, it is clear the ecumenical efforts and loving attention of the Church of Rome are turned Eastward, toward those true Churches having Apostolic Succession with whom the Church of Rome shares the Most Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments. Protestant communities, while having some elements of the true Church and certain means of salvation derived from her, are objectively defective. Catholics gain nothing, and lose much, by seeking to resemble them, especially by minimizing the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints. This does not mean that the Church of Rome abandons the Protestant communities. On the contrary, she seeks to dialogue with them -- as would a loving mother with an alienated child -- correcting them when necessary, and waiting for them to return to the fullness of the faith held in her heart.

Under the Protection of the Saints

The feast of Saints Joachim and Anna invites us to consider all these things. Joachim and Anna arrived in North America with the first colonizers from France and Spain, those who named every new place for the saints of Christ. By this, they made it clear that the Kingdom of Heaven was also expanding and that all places and peoples were invited to live in communion with the saints, and under their protection.

Grandparents of the Lord

In seventeenth century France devotion to the Holy Family became a mark of the renewal that, following the Council of Trent, blew through the Church like a refreshing breeze, a mystical invasion. The Holy Family was understood, at that time, to refer to the entire extended family of Jesus, including his grandparents, Joachim and Anne.

National Shrine of Saint Anne in Ireland

The Normans brought devotion to Saint Anne to Ireland and established a shrine in her honour in a chapel dedicated to their sainted Bishop of Rouen, Saint Audoen, at Cornmarket in Dublin. Devotion to St. Anne on this site dates from 1169-1170. The focus of the devotion was the precious relic of a finger bone of Saint Anne brought by the Normans.

Such was the level of devotion that by 1352 the festival of Saint Anne on 26th July was declared a Holyday of Obligation and in 1431, King Henry VI granted letters patent establishing the Guild of Saint Anne - "to the praise of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in honour of Saint Anne". Six priests were necessary to tend to the needs of pilgrims from within Ireland, from Britain and from the Continent. The Church contained a chapel to Saint Mary (the Lady Chapel) and Saint Anne, with altars to Saint Catherine, Saint Nicholas, Saint Thomas and Saint. Clare. Excavations carried out in 1967 to 1972, at the thirteenth century layer, yielded a pewter pilgrim-badge and a small bronze pilgrim's flask. The Seal of the Guild can be seen today in the medieval church.

The Change in Religion

During the protestant reformation, the Norman Church was taken over and so lost to its Catholic congregation and to the Guild of Saint Anne. The Guild itself continued until the early seventeenth century, despite the dissolution of Abbeys, Priories and other religious houses. In 1912 the Irish devotion to Saint Anne was revived in the new Catholic Saint Audoen's Church. The beautiful statue of Saint Anne, there enshrined, was made by Deghini's of Fishamble Street, Dublin, and was the gift of one Mrs. Kelly in 1919.

In the New World

From France, Jesuit missionaries, Ursuline and Hospitaller nuns, and devout layfolk carried the devotion to the Holy Family to New France. A sanctuary dedicated to Saint Anne was built in 1658 between the Saint Laurence River and the Beaupré coast in Québec. Other smaller shrines to Saint Anne, in Isle La Motte, Vermont, in Sturbridge and in Fall River, Massachusetts, and in Waterbury, Connecticut, mark the "Catholic geography" of New England.

The Patronage of the Holy Family

After the French Revolution, the Church enjoyed an extraordinary burst of energy characterized by the foundations of hundreds of new religious communities of women; many of these nineteenth century foundations were dedicated to the Holy Family and, again, the grandparents of the Lord were not excluded. Some of these French communities came, in turn, to America where they taught generations of Catholics to reverence the human family of Christ and to live in communion with the saints.

The Vocation of Grandparents

Saint Anne and Saint Joachim have a special message for grandparents.
Grandmothers and grandfathers have a particular vocation in the order of grace. Grandparents are called to foster the supernatural life of their grandchildren, to pray for them, to pray with them, and to model holiness for them. Grandparents can reach places in a child's heart that no one else can reach. Grandparents can introduce their grandchildren to the joy of living with the saints.

The Things That Call to Mind the Saints

We are the spiritual descendants of the saints. We profess our faith in the communion of the saints and acknowledge their presence in our homes and in our lives. We renounce the evil ideologies of secularization that, by suppressing the things that call to mind the saints, aim at erasing the supernatural from daily life.

Eucharistic Intercession

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, heaven descends to earth and earth is assumed into heaven. Around the altar there is infinitely more than what meets the eye. Saints Joachim and Anne are present to us; their most holy Daughter, the Virgin Mary, is present to us. We ask them to join their intercession to ours, imploring peace for the whole world, and blessings upon our families. This too is the communion of the saints: the Holy Sacrifice offered here can bring peace and blessings to thousands of hearts and places. Live, then, as if you were seeing the invisible! There is nothing more real than that.

Prayer to Saint Anne

O glorious Saint Anne,
filled with compassion for those who invoke thee,
and with love for those who suffer,
heavily laden with the weight of my troubles,
I cast myself at thy feet and humbly beg thee
to take the present affair, which I recommend, under thy special protection.
Here mention request.
Vouchsafe to recommend it, to thy daughter the Blessed Virgin Mary
and lay it before the throne of Jesus,
so that He may bring it to a happy issue.
Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted.
Above all, obtain for me the grace
of one day beholding my God, face to face
and with you and Mary Most Holy and all of the Saints,
praising Him for all eternity. Amen.


Speaking of grandparents, I can say with much certainty that it was my maternal grandmother who taught me to pray. I recall that when I was 2 (I have a good memory, so I'm not embelishing here!) and I would stay at her house, while my mother went off to work, that there was a certain hour of the afternoon when she'd call me to come to the kitchen, where she had an image of the Blessed Mother and we would pray. I do not recall exactly what it was, but I think it must have been the Hail Mary.

What I find interesting looking back now is that even though she had a poor understanding of the christian faith (for example, she thought the Mass was important, but priests were superfluous), she never sought to alter the prayers she prayed. I recall my mother teaching me an altered version of the Our Father (" we try to forgive those who trespass against us..."), yet that never sat well with me, even when I had estranged myself from the Church.

Just some loose memories...

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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