Saints Without Names, Souls Without Number

There’s been a great deal of talk lately about the world population hitting 7 Billion — a fake event, in a sense, since it’s impossible to know the exact time this will happen with any precision. Some news articles have given the mistaken impression that this represents the seven billionth person ever, but in fact the number is far, far higher. Our globe has never supported this many people at one time before, but throughout all of human history there have seem something approaching a hundred billion people, stretching from the babies born today to those born to wandering bands of hunter-gatherers over a hundred thousand years ago. A lot of people have lived and died. Just as we know only the tiniest fraction of people alive today, and the true number is not practically comprehensible to the human mind, even more so the number of people who have ever lived.

This pair of feast days, All Saints Day, yesterday, and All Souls Day, today, are not a bad time to think about this from a Christian perspective. In a sense, All Saints is a feast for every soul now enjoying the Beatific Vision, but it’s always seemed to me most especially apt for celebrating all those saints who are unknown to us. There are several thousand saints officially acknowledged by the Church, but this is by no means a comprehensive account of those who are with God in heaven, any more than the people we know of by name make up the full population of the world. We as Catholics believe that those people are definitely in heaven, but we certainly think there are many, many others who are there as well, including, we hope, our loved ones who have died. While the canonized saints provide us with a pantheon of those conspicuous for their holiness, All Saints is an ideal time to recall all those people who remain unknown to us who also enjoy God’s presence. And since few of us are likely to be considered so conspicuous in our holiness as to be recognized throughout the Church, it is in particular, perhaps, the feast of “people like us” now in heaven.

Of course, the difficulty, from a Catholic point of view in saying, “This is the feast of all our loved ones who are now in heaven,” is that even if destined for heaven our loved ones may not be in heaven yet. While as the Church Militant here on earth we look up to the Church Triumphant in heaven, we need also to offer up our prayers and sufferings for the Church Suffering — those cleansing themselves of lingering imperfection and attachment to sin in Purgatory. So it’s helpful that All Souls Day, when we remember in particular all those who may be in Purgatory and in need of our prayers, is paired directly with All Saints Day.

While I find myself hesitant to presume to name people I have known as those we celebrate on All Saints Day, All Souls Day is the day on which we pray for all those we know who have died. Praying that if they do not do so already, they may soon enjoy the Beatific Vision.

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