We’ve just finished with All Saints’ Day, and we’re technically into All Souls’ Day. I’m not sure what comes after that, but All Snacks Day would be nice. Basically, the end of October and beginning of November marked the beginning of winter and were viewed as a time when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead was weakened. In their general tradition of adapting pagan holidays in a way that removes the pesky nature worship, the Christian Church kept the idea of honoring the dead in a different way. All Saints’ is dedicated to the saints who don’t already have their own feast days, and All Souls’ is about praying for the souls of other faithful Christians. So how does someone get to be a saint? Well, the word can be used pretty generally. It essentially means an exceptionally holy person, and is sometimes used for religions other than Christianity. In Roman Catholicism, however, there are some rather strict requirements for being an official saint. For one thing, you have to be dead. Well, except for St. Michael the Archangel, I guess, but that’s more of honorary title for him. Also, you have to have performed two posthumous miracles. Any miracles you performed during your lifetime presumably don’t count. This is a rather recent requirement, however, and many saints are recognized without this. The first people to be considered saints were the martyrs. Being martyred was basically considered a free ticket to Heaven in the early Church, so it became quite popular. Nowadays, though, you don’t come across all that many Christian martyrs, so the list of official saints began to include confessors, who were people who lived exemplary lives and did a lot of service for the Church. Most early saints were chosen through popular acclaim, and in a way they still are, because I’m sure the Pope can come up with some sort of miracle if a person is popular enough. Canonization became the privilege of the Pope in particular in the twelfth century.
The Church is careful to say that saints aren’t really worshipped, but from a layman’s perspective, they sort of are. Officially, their role is to serve as intercessors between humanity and God, I guess because the Almighty is too busy to listen to all the prayers himself. It sounds like, if you live a good life, God makes you a permanent administrative assistant in Heaven. While some polytheistic religions have patron gods for specific people or general professions or ideas, Catholicism has patron saints. Not too much different if you ask me, but nobody has. There are apparently over 10,000 Catholic saints, so obviously they can’t all have their own days. That’s why we have All Saints’ Day, when all the others get to share a cake. I wonder if there’s any jealousy of the famous saints going on. I guess if they’re all perfectly holy there wouldn’t be, as envy is a sin.