Thursday, November 1, 2012

Omnes Sancti

Sancti estote, quia ego sanctus sum, Dominus Deus vester
Be ye holy, for I am holy, the Lord thy God. — Leviticus xix, 2.

How can the Lord command the seemingly impossible? How can fallen man be expected to be holy as God is holy? Yet to Moses it was said, Speak to all the group [cœtum] of the children of Israel, and say to them: Be ye holy, for I am holy, the Lord thy God.  This command of holiness is for all the people.  And the Incarnate Son, fulfilling the Old Dispensation in His New and everlasting Testament graven upon hearts by the Holy Ghost, opened His blessed mouth and said, Estote ergo vos perfecti, sicut et Pater vester cœlestis perfectus est – Therefore be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (St Matthew v, 48). The Apostle therefore fears not to command the Corinthians, not the most united nor the most likely candidates for holiness given their sins and schisms, "be ye perfect" (II Cor. xiii, 11).

But how can we, mere men, aspire to such perfection, such holiness? Behold, even the angels are not perfect in God's eyes; the Deity, meanwhile, is utterly separated from all profaneness, all corruption and shadow of change, all evil and all sin: while we, sinners that we are, are slaves to the world, the flesh, and the enticing pomps of the devil. The Church sings in the Angelic Doxology at Mass, Tu solus sanctus, Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris.  Jesus Christ is alone holy, with the Holy Ghost, in the glory of God the Father; Holy is the very proper name of the Spirit; God the Father is the Holy One of Israel: yes, Holy is the Trinity, One God in three Persons, coëqual and each holy; yet there are not three Holies, but One Holy.  If it were not for the express command of the All-Holy and Almighty and All-Merciful in both Testaments, no one would dare presume to imagine being thus perfected and holy.

However, Christian doctrine reveals that holiness is not restricted to the Godhead, for we reject Calvin's heresy of total depravity: the Church is holy, as the Creed confesses; for she is the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle; again, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, in whose essential holiness she participates. She is the Casta meretrix, the chaste harlot (as Rahab of old, who aided Joshua, the type of Christ), sinful in her members but sinless in her body, sharing in the holiness of her Head; and her members can, if they are well pruned and purged, grow up as if choice vines in the Lord's vineyard, rather than deserve to be cut away and burnt, which God avert.

How can we aspire to be holy? The Apostle declares that the Lord predestined us, chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and immaculate before him in love (Eph. i, 4); he everywhere addresses the faithful as saints, or as called to be so; and, moreover, he explains the secret of this predestination to holiness: it is that Christ hath reconciled us to God through the sacrifice of his fleshly body in death, that we might be presented holy and spotless before the Lord (cf. Col. i, 22); and this fruit of Calvary is applied to us by grace, above all in the Sacraments, so, having the hope that, being children of God, we shall be like him, we are truly given the strength to strive to sanctify ourselves, as God is holy (cf. I John iii, 2f). This is our mission in life, to work the works of Him Whose will we ought fulfil, while the day lasts, since night cometh when none can work.

Night cometh: after death cometh judgement.  We read of the heavenly Jerusalem where the souls of just men made perfect (Heb. xii, 22f) ever rejoice, as the Apocalypse reveals, celebrating a perpetual liturgy before the Almighty, Who was, is, and is to come. If at death we are in God's grace, yet not wholly perfected (for nothing unclean may enter heaven), there is a Purgatory, as Trent teaches, where the consuming fire of God's love cleanses away all spot and stain; and whether on earth while alive or there once dead, to our souls may be applied that treasury of merits of Christ, His Divine Mother and the Saints, stored up (as the Apostle teaches) by filling up whatsoever is lacking in the Sacrifice of Christ, and poured forth in grace and mercy by the Church exercising the power of the keys in imitation of Christ's bounty, that our purification from the temporal punishments due to sin may be the speedier, just as Christ in His ministers freely grants peace and pardon, delivering by priestly absolution souls groaning under the threat of eternal punishment should they, alas! fall into sin that is mortal.

On this feast of All Saints, that is, of all who are Holy, who have a real share by adoption in the sanctity of the Lord, which is His and His Father's and Their Spirit's, in the unity of the Trinity, the "universal call to holiness" (that unjustly neglected precept of the last Council) must be recognized for what it is, the upward call in Christ Jesus our Lord. He can accomplish this in us, as He accomplished in Himself the One Offering by which all are sanctified, and accomplished the perfecting by grace unto the awarding of glory in each and every one of His Saints. Yes, Mirabilis Deus in sanctis suis, God is wonderful in His Saints.

Consider a particular gift from the Church-redeemed Anglican Patrimony, worthy to be shared with the whole Church ad mentem summi pontificis, the Collect for All Saints, whether in the version found in the 2012 Ordo of the  English Ordinariate (which simply lengthens the short ending found in the 1662 BCP), or the similarly augmented but also slightly varied form in the US Book of Divine Worship (which above all adds reference to the Saints' prayers for us, while slightly updating the language):
O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [OLW] 
O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that, through their intercession, we may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlastingAmen. [BDW]
It is the Omnipotent Who has united as one the scattered children of men in His Son's Body, by the very Sacrifice of that Body, through Him, with Him, in Him; it is for Him to give to those whom He chooses to have the grace to do such things as are good and righteous – Da quod jubes, et jube quod vis, as St Augustine dared pray, "Grant what Thou dost command, and command what Thou wilt" – and thus it is that we may hope and trust to come to the unimaginable joys of heaven, where all is holy, for God shall be all in all.

The Saints, those who have already arrived and are now evermore at home and at peace, are that great cloud of witnesses still spurring us on to victory, to run the great race, to finish the course, to win the crown immarcescible; but it is God who awards the prize and enables our every striving, who is pleased to hear our prayers and those made by our intercessors on our behalf, and from the empyrean heaven stoops down to bless and save us.  The good is diffusive of itself, and the Supreme God, the Summum Bonum, above all: Divinity does not jealously hug holiness to itself, but deigns to share that supernaturalizing grace with the world, which in and of itself could never hope for holiness.  Thus we may be holy as He is holy; and the example of the Saints – the Martyrs who died in imitation of and in testimony to Jesus, the Confessors and Virgins and every class of hallowed soul who despised earthly things, loved heavenly things, and laboured in the vineyard seeking to be all things to all men, that they might save some – serves to shew that such holiness, once and for all exemplified in Christ, the Saint of Saints, is also a possibility for those believing in Him. The Lord does not command impossibilities; what to flesh and blood seems impossible is not so to God, Who hallows, sanctifies, blesses and bestows beatitude on those He draws to heaven, to be exalted and to worship in exultation evermore.

Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Dei, intercedite pro nobis.
All ye holy men and women, intercede ye for us.

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