Many countries are lavish in their remembrance of their saints’ days, with the whole village enjoying a day of festivity and reverence to a particular saint. The people of Malta take the celebration of the feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck, very seriously. Preparation is year long for this annual feast to their patron saint. It falls on the nearest Sunday to February 10th and there is much anxiety about the weather, for the 17th century wooden statue cannot be carried outside in high winds or heavy rain. I took this photo after the men had spent a couple of hours transferring the statue to its portable beams, had proudly begun the procession, only to be driven back into the safety of the church when the rain fell. It wasn’t only the bearers that shed tears, but many in the crowd acted as if they had suffered a great loss.
This year All Saints Day will be celebrated next Sunday November 2nd (England & Wales only) and I would like to explore how this provides a catechetical opportunity for RCIA catechists and the community.
Saints are so much a part of our life. We read about them, we pray to them in Mass and in a time of need; we feel supported by them and are secure in knowing they are a communion of saints. Our churches are dedicated to them, but so are street names, pubs and businesses. Statues are part of our architectural heritage Even non-christians have heard of St Christopher, and when on holiday how can you ignore the patron saint hanging above the visor of the bus driver in Malta, Crete, Cyprus etc.
From time to time, saints have featured with great predominance in my faith journey. Although, not always obvious at the time, on looking back I have been able to chart a sideways and upwards step, leading me to new exploration and depths as I try to fathom what exactly God has planned for me. While I find it a little puzzling why All Souls is not being commemorated on the 2nd November, I relish the opportunity that this change to the liturgical year offers to RCIA catechists.
- Those involved with the period of inquiry have the chance to share in hearing the richness of saints’ stories when members of the parish participate in group sessions. What an easy way to introduce a relationship with saints when exchanging stories of how St Christopher was invoked on a hazardous journey, or how prayers to St Jude or St Rita helped turn a hopeless situation into a triumph. As for the lost things that St Anthony is asked to find…
- For both inquirers and catechumens, there is the opportunity for exploration and discussion over birth names and what saints they identify with. This may involve hearing about holy people from other cultures, and learning about new saints.
- Hands on experience is possible by bringing statues, icons or pictures to the group. Many art books or museum catalogues will show how saints have been depicted through the ages.
- Use this time of the liturgical year to think ahead to the Easter Vigil to bring alive those named in the Litany of Saints, so that our candidates will be able to sing out ‘pray for us’ with some familiarity of the saints named.
In our parish, everyone has been invited to bring to Sunday Mass a picture or statue, or icon of their favourite saint. I am hoping that those who have adopted England as their second country will bring statues of the saints they have grown up with, and catechumens and all, will see the variety of holy people that have inspired those in our community. It is a time for the neophytes and those who were confirmed to remember their confirmation saint, and together with the parish young confirmed earlier in the year, they could place their saints in a special location in the church.
- For those experiencing mystagogy, here is a chance to explore holiness. Look at popular prayers, or the saints named in the Eucharistic prayers. What is amazing about saints, is that they come from such a diversity of backgrounds and cultures. Anne Gordon in A Book of Saints – True stories of how they touch our lives, offers instances where people today have been influenced by their relationship with a particular saint.
The glory of saints is, that they have lived, and coped with temptation, doubt and what seemed insurmountable obstacles; they have planned their path of faith only to find its progress thwarted, until eventually they have realised God is leading them along another path. But perhaps the most apt is St Martin of Tours, the pagan soldier who tore his cloak in half to give to a freezing beggar, and then in a vision Christ called him to stop being a catechumen, and to be baptised.