‘Those angel-faces smile, which I have loved long since and lost awhile.’
Written in 1833 while he was still an Anglican, these words of John Henry Newman are well known and loved as part of the hymn ‘Lead, Kindly Light’. It was a hymn sung many times over the weekend of 12-13 October as Cardinal John Henry Newman was declared a saint in a wonderful and memorable celebration at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican in Rome.
From one new saint, we begin November with the Solemnity of All Saints and then recall on the 2nd, the Feast of All Souls, all of those ‘who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace’ (Eucharistic Prayer 1, the Roman Canon). Indeed in our parishes and communities the custom of the ‘pious list’ and prayer for the Holy Souls is a mark of this entire month of November which seems to chime with the theme of Remembrance, which is marked by the nation around the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Remembrance of our dead is an important part of every celebration of the Mass because we form ‘one body, one spirit in Christ’ (Eucharistic Prayer 3) – those who have been nourished by God’s Word and his Sacraments, those who have in turn nourished us by their good will, their good example and their Christian witness, deserve to be in our thoughts and prayers at all times as we celebrate God’s goodness to us.
Daily in our personal prayer and devotion, and in a particular way on the Lord’s Day, in our Sunday Mass, we give thanks for that goodness which has been shared with us in and through the lives of those dear to us, living and dead.
An important part of our Catholic devotions in this month is also to remember the souls that have no one else to remember them or to pray for them; that we are all one body, one spirit in Christ means that they too are our brothers and sisters, even though we may never have met them in life.
This sense of being truly part of a community of faith, spreading across the years and across the geographical miles, is a source of great comfort and inspiration to us. It should make us ever mindful of the fact that it is not simply about me or just my concerns but rather it is always about us and our celebration as part of something truly Catholic and universal – the pilgrim Church on earth which does indeed long to be one with those angel-faces that gaze on the glory of God in eternity.