Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Humanity Bloomed in Heaven

The commemoration of the Dead is a Family Feast that Celebrates our Dead Who we Know are Happy in Heaven and Who Want us Happy with Them

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Roman Rite and Ambrosian Rite – Solemnity of All Saints and Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) – Year A – November 1 and November 2, 2020


The month of November begins with the feast of All Saints that is immediately followed by the Commemoration of All Souls. It should not seem strange that these two celebrations come one after the other because they have one thing in common: they open us to the afterlife and strengthen our faith in the resurrection. If we did not believe in a life after death, it would be useless to celebrate the feast of the Saints and going to the cemetery would be a simple sentimentality. Whom would we go to visit and why would we light candles or bring flowers?

These two days invite us to meditate with seriousness and joy on the verse of the psalm that says: «Teach us to count our days and we will come to the wisdom of the heart» (Ps 89, 12). This biblical phrase does not stop with the observation of the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti: «It looks like autumn leaves on trees” because in Spring the tree starts blooming again but with other leaves. The leaves have no second life, they fall off and rot. From the leaves that we are «life is not taken away but transformed» (Preface of All Souls’ Mass).

The important thing is to believe with ever greater firmness in Jesus who said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me, even if he dies, will live «(Jn 11:25). At this point a question may spontaneously arise: “What do the saints and all souls do in heaven?” We can get the answer from today’s first reading. The redeemed adore, throw their crowns before the throne, and cry out: «Praise, honor, blessing, action of grace …». In them it is realized the true human vocation, which is to be «praise of the glory of God» (Eph 1:14). Their choir is led by Mary who continues her hymn of praise in heaven: «My soul magnifies the Lord». It is in this praise that the saints find their bliss and exultation: «My spirit rejoices in God». Man is what he loves and what he admires. By loving and praising God, we identify with God and we participate in his glory and his own happiness.

In short, the purpose of today’s solemnity and of the commemoration of all souls tomorrow is to make us contemplate the shining example of the saints and to remember the departed to awaken in us the great desire to be like those in heaven: happy to live close to God, in his light, and  in the great family of God’s friends. Being holy means living in closeness with God and living in his family. This is the vocation of all of us, reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council and today solemnly re-proposed to our attention.

1) Entrusted to Love.

Today’s Liturgy celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints and tomorrow it will make us remember the Faithful Departed with a great prayer that embraces them all in our thoughts and in our memories. Our prayer must turn to the Lord so that He may welcome into his kingdom of eternal joy and peace those who have left this world and passed into eternity: our relatives, friends, acquaintances, and the dead of all times that we do not know but God knows.

The prayer is for the holy souls in purgatory, especially the most abandoned and of whom we even do not know the name and the existence: the dead of all the wars and all the violence, the dead of the past and of today, the dead on the road, at sea, in hospitals, in homes, in small and large cities, the ones who died because of shipwreck or epidemics and, of course, those who recently have left our hearts deeply saddened. Let us commemorate all the departed, without excluding anyone. Let us raise for every one of them a prayer so that the Lord may grant them eternal rest and perfect peace.

If it is natural that our memory tomorrow will go to our deceased loved ones, whom we have entrusted to the love and eternity of the Lord;, it is also «natural» that we receive from them the teaching that the eternal love of God, after having welcomed them with his forgiveness, preserves in his heart those He loves. Our deceased loved ones remind us that it is not worthy to waste time and effort in ambitions and ephemeral things because everything passes and only love remains.

We must not forget that November 2 is not just a day which recalls to our attention the nature of transience and brevity of life that marks in a painful way our human story. It is a day for the celebration of our greatest hope if we really believe in the faith of the Risen One. The day dedicated to all souls, therefore, it is not a celebration of mourning if we consider the omnipotence of God- Love, who does not leave the dead in their graves because He himself has destroyed death rising gloriously from the tomb. Dying for the Christian is not a simple passing of the soul from one state to another, but the realization of the individual meeting with a loving God who saves bringing trust and hope in a life without end. As it is said in the preface of the All Souls ‘Mass «Life is not removed, but transformed» by forgiveness, as it happened to Marmeladov, the drunkard described by Dostoyevsky in «Crime and Punishment». Marmeladov is a bad lot, a drunkard who does not like to work. His behavior has ruined his family, and his daughter Sonia was forced into prostitution. This man experiences inside him an acute sense of loss and guilt. He is a loser. One day, drunk in the tavern, he makes an incoherent speech and, speaking of the Last Judgment, ventures into a sort of vision that I summarize as follows: «God calls next to him first those who had lives blameless and holy. They are the people who deserve to live close to God, at least according to a human criterion. Then He calls those who have done little good, the drunkards and the junkies like him, those that we, the self-righteous, call ‘the bad guys. Then He will call us, “Even you, come forward” He’ll say, “Come forward drunkards, come forward you weak, come forward children of shame”. And all of us will come forward shamefully and we will keep standing in front of Him. And He will say, “You are pigs, made ​​in the image of the Beast and with her mark, but come ye also!” And the wise and sensible people will say” O Lord, why do You welcome these persons?” And He will say” The reason why I welcome them is that none of them believed to be worthy to be welcomed”.

Is that possible, or is it just a waffling typical of the drunks? Not only it is possible, but truly it happens as it happened to the adulteress, to Mary Magdalene, to Zacchaeus and to Peter. All of them have delivered to Christ their pain considering themselves unworthy, and all have been forgiven. As proclaimed in Psalm 27 “ The Lord «is my light and my salvation … is the stronghold of my life … Hear my voice, LORD, when I call; have mercy on me … your face, LORD, do I seek!... I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living”.  Jesus lived an extreme agony, as we have seen sick people do, apparently without any hope on their deathbed. He died as a man, because of men, for men, with men and in front of men. This faith is joined to hope which,  as Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that was given to us» (Rm 5, 5).

2) The Faithful Departed and the Saints, people who live in the truth of Love.

The proximity of dates between the feast of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2) reminds us of the mysterious truth of eternal life and the bond of brotherhood between us and our loved ones who have passed to the other shore.

It is not because of nostalgia that we go to the cemetery, but because we hope in a future of glory and joy. As we pray for the souls of our dead, they tend from heaven their hands and assure us a close and intense proximity so that we may walk steadily towards a life that has no end.

It is with hope that the Christian perceives and accepts the earthly end, death. His faith in the risen Jesus gives him the certainty that death is not an irreparable defeat, but the dramatic shift to the glorious condition with his Lord. «Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.» We are not strangers to God, but his children and heirs destined to share the resurrection of Jesus.

A hymn of Lauds sings: «And we who kept watch at night, conscious of the faith in the world, looking forward to the return of Christ, now look toward the light.» In the night of death in which all sink, we are given a light that illuminates the intangible depths of our heart, and in faith we can have a religious experience in which the final resurrection reverberates. Christ embraces every moment of our lives and makes us understand and live the fact that at any time there is a redundancy of eternity, and that every moment tied to him involves the eternal.

To this embrace deliver themselves the consecrated Virgins in the world to whom «It is the duty to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal towards which all things tend, the splendor before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.  «(S. John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, n. 16).

The choice of the virginal life is a reminder of the transience of earthly realities and the anticipation of future goods. It reminds all the faithful of the need to walk through the vicissitudes of the world always oriented towards the future city, and it contributes in an exemplary way to highlight the real nature of the true Church that has the characteristic of being both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in this world and yet pilgrim.

To the spiritual and eschatological meaning of the virginal condition refers in a manner suggestive and deep the ancient Roman prayer of consecration of the Roman Pontifical attributed to St. Leo the Great: «You … have reserved for some of your faithful a special gift sprung from the source of your mercy. In the light of eternal wisdom you made them understand that, while the value and honor of the wedding remained intact, sanctified at the beginning by your blessing and depending on your providential plan, virgins must arise who, while renouncing marriage, aspire to possess the intimate reality of the mystery. You call them to make, beyond the conjugal union, the nuptial bond with Christ of which marriage is the image and sign. (See nr.38).

From the virginal consecration flows the specific ecclesial grace which makes operative the original symbolism of this rite. In this way the prophetic and eschatological gift of virginity acquires the value of a ministry in the service of God’s people and places the consecrated persons in the heart of the Church and of the world (see Conc. Vat. II of the Constitution. Dogmatic Constitution. On the Church, Lumen Gentium, nr. 42) This public and acknowledged covenant between Christ and the consecrated virgin proclaims to the world the primacy and the fruitfulness of the total and perpetual self-giving with full availability to the needs of charity toward God and neighbor.

Following the example and the testimony of these Consecrated Virgins, who live their faith with joy and hard work and who every day live in love, for love, and to love, let us persevere in the path of holiness to which all are called. Let us ask the intercession and help of all the saints who were so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth to allow himself to be transformed by it. For this beauty, truth, and love they were willing to give up everything, even themselves, and they lived in praise of God and in humble and disinterested service of the neighbor.


Patristic Reading

St Ambrose of Milan

(Lib. 2,; CSEL 73, 270-274, 323-324)

On the Belief in the Resurrection.

We see, then, that this death is a gain and life a penalty, so that Paul says: «To me to live is Christ and to die is gain.» [1523] What is Christ but the death of the body, the breath of life? And so let us die

with Him, that we may live with Him. Let there then be in us as it were a daily practice and inclination to dying, that by this separation from bodily desires, of which we have spoken, our soul may learn to withdraw itself, and, as it were placed on high, when earthly lusts cannot approach and attach it to themselves, may take upon herself the likeness of death, that she incur not the penalty of death. For the law of the flesh wars against the law of the mind, and makes it over to the law of error, as the Apostle has made known to us, saying: «For I see a law of the flesh in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity in the law of sin.» [1524] We are all attached, we all feel this; but we are not all delivered. And so a miserable man am I, unless I seek the remedy.

But what remedy? «Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.» [1525] We have a physician, let us use the remedy. Our remedy is the grace of Christ, and the body of death is our body. Let us therefore be as strangers to our body, lest we be strangers to Christ. Though we are in the body, let us not follow the things which are of the body, let us not reject the rightful claims of nature, but desire before all the gifts of grace: «For to be dissolved and to be with Christ is far better; yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sakes.» [1526]

Why should more be said? By the death of One the world was redeemed. For Christ, had He willed, need not have died, but He neither thought that death should be shunned as though there were any cowardice in it, nor could He have saved us better than by dying. And so His death is the life of all. We are signed with the sign [1529] of His death, we show forth His death when we pray; when we offer the Sacrifice we declare His death, for His death is victory, His death is our mystery, His death is the yearly recurring solemnity of the world. What now should we say concerning His death, since we prove by this Divine Example that death alone found immortality, and that death itself redeemed itself. Death, then, is not to be mourned over, for it is the cause of salvation for all; death is not to be shunned, for the Son of God did not think it unworthy of Him, and did not shun it. The order of nature is not to be loosed, for what is common to all cannot admit of exception in individuals.

And, indeed, death was no part of man’s nature, but became natural; for God did not institute death at first, but gave it as a remedy. Let us then take heed that it do not seem to be the opposite. For if death is a good, why is it written that «God made not death, [1530] but by the malice of men death entered into the world»? For of a truth death was no necessary part of the divine operation, since for those who were placed in paradise a continual succession of all good things streamed forth; but because of transgression the life of man, condemned to lengthened labour, began to be wretched with intolerable groaning; so that it was fitting that an end should be set to the evils, and that death should restore what life had lost. For immortality, unless grace breathed upon it, would be rather a burden than an advantage.

The soul has to depart from the surroundings of this life, and the pollutions of the earthly body, and to press on to those heavenly companies, though it is for the saints alone, to attain to them, and to sing praise to God (as in the prophet’s words we hear of those who are harping [1656] and saying: «For great are Thy marvellous works, O Lord God Almighty, just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations; who

shall not fear and magnify Thy Name, for Thou only art holy, for all nations shall come and worship before Thee»), [1657] and to see Thy marriage feast, O Lord Jesus, in which the Bride is led from earthly to heavenly things, while all rejoice in harmony, for «to Thee shall all flesh come,» [1658] now no longer subject to transitory things, but joined to the Spirit, to see the chambers adorned with linen, roses, lilies, and garlands. Of whom else is the marriage so adorned? For it is adorned with the purple stripes of confessors, the blood of martyrs, the lilies of virgins, and the crowns of priests.

Holy David desired beyond all else for himself that he might behold and gaze upon this, for he says: «One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, and see the pleasure of the Lord.


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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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