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St Cyprian on the Communion of Saints

Gregory DiPippo

Although the feast of All Saints on November 1st became a universal custom of the Roman Rite in the mid-9th century, it was not until the later 15th century that it became common to celebrate it with an octave. When the Breviary of St Pius V was promulgated in 1568, a new selection of Matins readings for the feast and octave was made; the feast ends on November 8th with this beautiful passage from the end of St Cyprian of Carthage’s treatise On Mortality. Cyprian wrote this as part of his pastoral response to the terrible plague that afflicted the Roman Empire from 249 to 262, consoling his suffering flock by encouraging them to remember that union with God and the Saints, and reunion with our loved ones, await us in the next life.

“Considerandum est, fratres dilectissimi, et identidem cogitandum, renuntiasse nos mundo, et tamquam hospites et peregrinos hic interim degere. Amplectamur diem, qui assignat singulos domicilio suo, qui nos istinc ereptos, et laqueis sæcularibus exsolutos, paradiso restituit, et regno cælesti. Quis non peregre constitutus properaret in patriam regredi? Quis non ad suos navigare festinans, ventum prosperum cupidius optaret, ut velociter caros liceret amplecti? Patriam nostram paradisum computamus, parentes Patriarchas habere jam cœpimus: quid non properamus et currimus, ut patriam nostram videre, ut parentes salutare possimus? Magnus illic nos carorum numerus exspectat, parentum, fratrum, filiorum frequens nos et copiosa turba desiderat, jam de sua immortalitate secura, et adhuc de nostra salute sollicita. Ad horum conspectum et complexum venire, quanta et illis et nobis in commune lætitia est! Qualis illic cælestium regnorum voluptas sine timore moriendi, et cum æternitate vivendi! Quam summa et perpetua felicitas! Illic Apostolorum gloriosus chorus, illic Prophetarum exsultantium numerus, illic Martyrum innumerabilis populus, ob certaminis et passionis victoriam coronatus. Triumphantes illic Virgines, quæ concupiscentiam carnis et corporis continentiæ robore subegerunt. Remunerati misericordes, qui alimentis et largitionibus pauperum justitiæ opera fecerunt, qui Dominica præcepta servantes ad cælestes thesauros terrena patrimonia transtulerunt. Ad hos, fratres dilectissimi avida cupiditate properemus, et cum his cito esse, ut cito ad Christum venire contingat, optemus.

(The lower central section of the Ghent altarpiece, showing the adoration of the mystical Lamb by the company of the Saints. 1425 ca. – 1432, by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

 

We must consider, most beloved brethren, and continually reflect upon the fact that we have renounced the world, and in the meanwhile live here as guests and pilgrims. Let us embrace the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which restores us to paradise and the heavenly kingdom, delivered hence and freed from the snares of the world. What man that has been placed in foreign lands would not hasten to return to his own country? What man that is hastening to sail back to his friends desireth not the more eagerly a prosperous wind, that he might the sooner be able to embrace those dear to him? We regard paradise as our country, already we begin to deem the patriarchs as our parents: why do we not hasten and run, that we may see our country, that we may greet our parents? There a great number of our dear ones awaits us, and a dense crowd of parents, brothers, children, longs for us, already assured of their own immortality, and still solicitous for our salvation. To attain to their sight and their embrace, what gladness both for them and for us in common! What delight there is in the heavenly kingdom, without fear of death, and with eternity of living! How lofty and perpetual the happiness!”

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