Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints, 2009

Today is the Feast of All Saints in the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of commemorating them one by one, today we think of all the saints in the aggregate. Somewhere, I think in my Catholic childhood, I received the idea that this feast was also about those not in the calendar, all the household saints, our ancestors whose lives were lived privately. I remember as the Litany of the Saints was chanted adding silently, "All ye holy Grandmothers and Grandfathers, Great-Aunts and Great-Uncles and ancestors in any way." Now I think of my parents, too, for they have gone on. In fact, we have been without them for too long.

Tomorrow, on All Souls, I will pray for their souls. I think this is called hedging my bets, something that Catholic tradition makes room for in other ways too.

Today, with the sun shining in and the bread baked, the smell of patchouli mixed with cloves and rosemary filling the air and reminding me of incense, I prefer to think of them as saints.

My parents taught me my prayers when I was so young that I don't remember a time that I did not know them. I do remember my Mama lifting me up so that I could dip my fingers in the holy water font as we entered the church to "make a visit". This also always included lighting a candle--real flames and real matches, no electric or battery operated votive lights then. The church was always dark and mysterious and had that smell of left over incense and candles burning--the potpourri I have been working with today is very evocative of that.

Most of the saints made it to heaven by simply doing that daily work of keeping themselves alive for as long as they could. Without all the medical and media rigmarole that we possess some of them had good enough genes--and luck--to make it into their 90's. Other dropped where they stood doing the housework on a Monday after attending Mass on Sunday, a massive stroke or an embolism or something else that they may not have recognized taking them instantly out of the mundane and into the sacred. (I think of heaven as the sacred and afterlife as the culmination of this one.)

The ancestors that I have traced did not, for the most part, die in hospitals, but at home. There were some exceptions. My father remembered that he was four years old when he was taken to the hospital and watched his maternal grandfather being wheeled down the hall on a gurney. He never came back. (Later, my family history research yielded up this man's death certificate and the information that he had died of stomach cancer.) His youngest daughter, my father's aunt told s the story of how her father led the family to church every Saturday afternoon for confession. They where Irish. One Saturday, instead of going to the Irish church they detoured to the German one. There they were told to go to their own church. Which they did. I am sure this same man led this same procession on Sunday to Mass.

They all "kept the Faith". Confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday, fish on Friday. Rosaries at wake services, Gregorian Chant, the Dies Irae, and all the other lovely music of the annual cycle. And when there lives were completed they were laid to rest with the Requiem Mass.

I remember them with joy and thanksgiving, grateful for their lives on this earth and all that they passed on to me, my cultural heritage as well as my DNA. I am grateful for them, every single one and hope that they are all rejoicing in heaven. Today I rejoice in the beauty of the sunshine streaming in my window on this glorious Sunday.

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