All Saints’ Day.
As a kid, it was the morning after the thrill of All Hallows Eve. A night of looting the neighborhood for candy, pennies and apples was over, the dark broken only by the flickering candlelight of carved jack-o’-lanterns. While the public school kids were going through English class, the kids of Christ the King School were at Mass, celebrating the saints.
All Saints’ Day was never peripheral to Halloween. It was part of the mystery, part of a fleeting awareness by a kid of the dark spookiness of the night of the dead giving way to the light of the living. Halloween meant that scary things existed; All Saints’ Day meant victory over those scary things. Whatever they might be.
I track the time of my life by All Saints’ Day. Those visceral thrills as a kid ringing a neighbor’s doorbell on the night before.
A dance in high school when the feast fell on a Friday, the quiet of a Mass in a college dorm with a test that afternoon.
All Saints’ Day was my first day of work, leaving behind family, my New York home, and, at long last, childhood. Then my Old Man’s funeral, and a last hour at work in Indiana 28 years to the day after that first.
It’s hard to explain sometimes to a non-Catholic how the liturgical calendar carries us through the year. Catholics tend to tie our lives to the ebb and flow of the liturgy as much — if not more — as we do to the changing seasons.
The liturgical year is that mix of the human and divine that is the mystery of the Incarnation, a faith expressed in creation like the bread and wine that are made Eucharist.
Advent comes with the cold of late November or early December, but in the anticipation of the coming of the Light: “Make ready the way of the Lord.” At Christmas, the Gloria returns to the Mass, reflecting the joy of the angels — and our own — that the Savior of the world is born.
We catch our breath, then Lent begins in ashes and prayer. The season is marked by prayer, penance and charity. Perhaps we give up what we need to give up; or do what we need to do. Lenten reflections on the past and present can make a grown man cry.
Then comes the drama of Holy Week. The last days can be bitter cold, or bright with spring promise. It all depends on where we live, the lateness of the season, or just the luck of the draw. But I never found a day of Holy Week — bitter Indiana storms or a soft East Coast sunset — that didn’t somehow capture the meaning.
Easter, the source and summit of the liturgical year: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We take 50 days to celebrate hope renewed, up to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.
Then comes the wonderfully named Ordinary Time, where the Gospels tell us of the faith lived in our daily lives. It speaks of a different kind of serenity — a quiet time in faith.
“And in this I was taught by the grace of God that I ought to keep myself steadfastly in faith, as I had understood before, and that at the same time I should stand firm and believe firmly that every kind of thing will be well,” wrote the 14th-century English mystic Julian of Norwich.
Throughout this liturgical year are the feasts, the faith celebrated in times and moments. And All Saints’ Day comes again.
The liturgical years go by, the faith lived in the ordinary and the extraordinary.
“Then,” as Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, “in his mercy may he give us safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at last.”
Have a joyous All Saints’ Day. And a good year to come.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.