Opening the Word: Marked for holiness

Most Catholics are understandably confused or puzzled when hearing a passage from the Book of Revelation. It is unfortunate, however, that many end up dismissing what they’ve heard. In so doing, they miss out on some of the most joyful passages of sacred Scripture.

Today’s first reading is a perfect example. It is read on the Solemnity of All Saints because it describes the reason we were created. Using a multitude of references to the Old Testament, John the Revelator shows what it means to be a saint, a “holy one.” I want to highlight three of the characteristics shared by all saints revealed in the seventh chapter of The Apocalypse.

The first characteristic of all the saints is that they are sealed by God. Prior to judgment being sent from the throne room of heaven upon the wickedness of man, the servants of God are to be sealed, or marked, and thus set apart as holy. This imagery is drawn from the ninth chapter of Ezekiel, which describes the Lord commanding a mysterious “man clothed in linen” to go through Jerusalem and “put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (Ez 9:3-4). Those who loved God and who hated sin were saved; all others perished. The mark would protect the righteous Israelites from four rapidly approaching judgments, to be carried out by Babylon.

Jesus was set apart by the Father with a seal (Jn 6:27). Those who are baptized into Christ are also marked, with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Those marked by God belong to him; they are now of his household — the Church — and are under his authority and protection from eternal damnation (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1295-1296).

The second characteristic of saints, which builds on the first, is that they are servants and sons of God. Logic tells us it is only proper for man be a servant to his Maker. God’s love, however, reveals and imparts an astounding truth: Man is called to be a son of God by grace because of the sacrificial death of the Lamb. As sons, the saints are joined in the communion of the Church, the divine house of God (1 Tm 3:15; Heb 3:5-6). An essential part of the service rendered by the saints is prayer, worship and praise. “We know that God does not listen to sinners,” Jesus told his disciples, “but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him” (Jn 9:31).

The saints on earth and in heaven worship and praise God because of the third characteristic: They are saved from sin and death. Baptized into Christ, they rise with him to eternal life. This can be seen in the description of the Church triumphant, which is a great multitude of “every nation, race, people and tongue,” wearing white robes and carrying palm branches.

“By robes he suggests baptism,” wrote Bishop Primasius (c. 560), “and by the palms, the triumph of the cross. Since they have conquered the world in Christ, it may be that the robes signify the love which is given through the Holy Spirit.”

Having survived “the time of great distress,” saints enter into eternal joy. The final chapter of the Bible describes that joy. “Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rv 22:3-4). That is what it means to be a saint; that is the reason we were created.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of