The Saints and popular devotions

"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord (holy and true) dost thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" And white robes were given to every one of them one; and it was said to them, that they should rest for a little time, till their fellow servants, and their brethren, who are to be slain, even as they, should be filled up."

THE BOOK OF APOCALYPSE, 6: 9-11

This is a rather important aspect of the Catholic observance and must be put in the context of Eucharistic communion. If the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist unites Christians together within their local communities as well as all Christians within the bounds of the universal Church on earth, it also unites them beyond the constraints of time to Catholic Christians of other generations both past and future. Therefore, in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord, we are in communion with the holy Apostles at Pentecost, with the churches of medieval Europe, with the great mission churches of the early modern period and with the holy men and women of the last two centuries of turmoil. This is what we mean when we profess a communion of Saints in the ancient Creeds of the Christian Faith.

Amidst this vast crowd of Christians stand eminent men and women of a distinctively holy life, whom the Church authority has declared to be Saints in heaven and whom the Church authority deems worthy of great honour and exemplary for the Christian life. Through the Blessed Sacrament, we are united to them, too, but they have the particular beatitude of being united finally to our Lord and God, a state all of us aspire to but few acquire. Being thus close to almighty God, the Saints are powerful advocates on our part before the Just Judge, and important friends to have on our pilgrim journeys towards eternity and God. Our life down below is surrounded with snares and temptations and subtle attempts to drag us away from the straight and narrow path (Gospel of Matthew, 7: 13-15), but these are snares and temptations that the Saints were able to conquer through the grace of Christ.

Chief among the Saints of God is, of course, his holy Mother. Mary, Queen of the Saints, is held in the highest of honour, because of her singular part in the history of salvation (Gospel of Luke, 1: 46-55). Mary and most other Saints have a wide variety of popular devotions attached to them by Catholics in various places, especially when they have been declared to be patrons of particular communities, institutions and places. Thus we have such universal devotions as the holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, which is a pilgrimage through the chief events of the life of Christ in the company of Mary his Mother, and the brown scapular devotions, which accompany one of the Blessed Virgin's many appearances to the Saints on earth. But there are also more particular devotions to various Saints, such as novenas, which are nine-day prayers that precede a particular anniversary celebration, and litanies, which honour Saints according to particular attributes they possessed in their lives on earth and ask for their prayers, and processions, which are ceremonial acts of honour and devotion. Other popular devotions are attached to the person of the Lord himself, such as the devotions to the Blessed Sacrament, which is duly honoured as the Real Presence of Christ on earth, and the Stations of the Cross, which is a walk through the principal events during the march of Christ from his place of condemnation to the mount of his Crucifixion.

The aim of all of this is, of course, to achieve union with God in Christ. However, this is achieved progressively and often in a thoroughly human fashion, through the honour given to and the imitation of those who managed in their own time to faithfully achieve that union and the eternal beatitude that every Christian aspires to.