And so we continue our journey through the Mass, looking at it as a pattern of Christian discipleship. Today we come to the communicantes, the part of the Eucharistic prayer that goes thus:
In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, (James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian) and all your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)
In other words, the saints. At the liturgy we are not only in the presence of God, not only all together with the others at that particular Mass, not only united in prayer and worship with all of the Church throughout the world. We are also united with the Church in heaven, with the saints gathered around the throne of God. Our communion with God in Jesus Christ, our communion with one another in (we hope and pray) the bond of charity, is also a communion with this great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and dwell in glory and light.
The devotion to the saints is one of the great riches of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. It is an aspect of the faith that can be a bit bewildering to a new convert—that besides the Lord Jesus there is this endless company of men and women who Catholics all seem to know about and whose variety of call and individual personalities is head spinning in its diversity.
We have innocent virgin martyrs like today’s saint Agnes. We have grizzled old monks and scholars like irascible Jerome. We have great sinners who became great saints, like Augustine. We have people’s whose personalities are so attractive and warm we cannot help liking them, like Teresa of Avila. We have people who may not be quite so easy to love, who had quite a few rough edges along with the holiness (see above, Jerome).
Saints for everyone, and saints who are on the roll but largely forgotten in their particulars. That’s OK, too—they live in the presence of God, so they probably don’t care too much if we’re paying them any attention.
The whole lot of them enrich our faith life so profoundly. They are, for one thing, the most interesting people in the world—that lame Dos Equis guy can’t hold a candle to them, honestly. They don’t usually drink beer, but when they do, it’s for the glory of God, and you better bet they enjoy themselves doing so. What they did, who they were, the weird and truly awful stuff they went through, the achievements they did—all of this makes them many things, but never boring, not if you know anything about the real story of their lives.
And in that fascinating variety and wildly interesting bunch, we start to get the idea that the key to a full, rich, joyful, passionate, and even fun life is not what we think it is—money and sex and doing exactly what you want every moment of the day. All of that is a lot of nonsense, really. The key to a full and beautiful life is to plunge oneself into the heart of God like a scuba diver plumbing the depths of the ocean—to go down into those depths and never surface. To drown in the depths of God, and rise up a new creature permeated with His life giving water and Spirit and life.
So they are interesting, and they show us how to be interesting, too. And they help us—they actually are praying for us and have an active ministry in the world. There is a reason for all those holy cards and patronal saints for this, that, and just about any thing you can think of. They’re on the job, for us.
So the saints show up in the liturgy, gathering with us around the altar, and in that we are to take it that they should show up in our lives, too. They are a permanent reminder to us of the riches and wealth of God, His inexhaustible bounty and generosity, and the creativity of grace in making, at least potentially, every human being into the most interesting person in the world.