I attended the Vigil of All Saints up the street at the Dominican House of Studies. Oh my goodness! What an amazing and grace-filled event! I've been to many services in my life. This is easily one of the most beautiful ones I attended.
The invitation letter warned us to get there early. I showed up (with some friends) at a little after 7:00. The chapel was already packed. We managed to find seats, separated, in a corner just outside the choir. (At the end of the service, I noticed that there were people filling the corridor outside. I'd say several hundred attended, but I'm notoriously poor at estimating such things). And overall, what a young crowd! (Of course, Catholic U. is just across the street ...) And young nuns and young priests! Several Dominicans (to be expected!), also several Missionaries of Charity, their blue-bordered saris flowing out from underneath sweaters. And others I didn't recognize.
Part of the "feel" was that of the Easter Vigil (the only Vigil so celebrated really in the calendar anymore) -- readings in darkness, candlelight and so on. And boy, what readings here! Such a diverse selection from the lives of the saint, in all their variety, joy, humor (St. John Carrafo pulling the beard of a prisoner and not letting go till he went to confession.), marvelousness (Bl. Margaret of Castello levitating twenty inches, which causes a hardened prisoner's heart to finally succumb to divine grace!) The saints are indeed the "proof" of Christianity, and in their dazzling diversity, God's creative beauty and love are indeed revealed.
The central highlight for me was the Te Deum. Way back, as I was discovering this thing called the Catholic Church, I stumbled upon a little "Manual of Gregorian Chant" in the college library (I think it was from Solesmes, published in 1910). I taught myself many chants, including the Te Deum. I've heard it chanted often enough in recordings. This was the fist time I experienced it in the context of worship, the first time that I really prayed it in a community.
And then, everyone, it seemed, chanted the Salve Regina (the words weren't printed in the program). Wow! There's such a treasury in the Church's heritage ... bring it out, share it, and people will take it up.
Of course, the true treasury that was presented to us was that of the saints. The reflection by the young friar was simply fantastic. Erudite, drawing on Dante and T.S. Elliot (among others), and starting with the ancient pagan festival celebrated tonight, it presented a compelling vision of the "economy of sanctity" (if such a term is indeed appropriate), the role of the saints in the Body of Christ.. No 7-minute canned sermon this! This is the Order of Preachers after all, and while listening intently, I was reminded of the power of good oratory, something that our modern sound-byte culture, it seems, can barely appreciate. It seems that last year's reflection is online, so, one prays, this one will end up on the web as well! I would surely love to listen (or read) again. (The title of this post is taken from Br. Anthony's reflection, incidentally. It's a phrase that stuck with me -- the saints demonstrate the conquest of charity over death.)
And so, at the conclusion of the service, the pilgrim Church, the Church militant, processed out past a reliquary filled with the tangible imprints of sanctity, hundreds of us, faces glowing in the flickering candleight, calling on the saints, oh what a long glorious list of them, the saints triumphant around the celestial throne, to pray for us, to deliver us from evil, to make us, by the grace of God, holy.
As St. Paul put it to the Colossians: "Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Here's an outline of the service:
- O Sacred Banquet (recited)
- Hymn: From all thye saints in warfare
- Opening Prayer
- Vigil Readings
- The Passion of the Apostles Peter & Paul by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius
- The Life of Bl. Margaret of Castello
- A selection on Devotion to St. Joseph from the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila
- The Life of St. Joseph Cafasso by St. John Bosco
- The Te Deum (Dominican chant)
- Reading: Colossians 1:12-20
- Reflection by Br. Anthony Giambrone OP
- Night Prayer
- Canticle of Simeon
- Concluding Prayer
- Salve Regina (Roman Chant)
- The Beatitudes (Slavonic Chant)
- Litany of the Saints (Traditional Dominican Chant)
The National Catholic Register article on the event. It's also featured at Open Book.