Virginia Barton

2 November 2018: “A Huge Number Impossible to Count”

2 November 2018


One’s images get a little muddled, and I have to confess that in my fantasy moments, the multitude of Saints has sometimes reminded me of the 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death. I’m sure you’ve seen it? Perhaps you have my DVD because I have bought it and lent it, several times over.

Perhaps I was extra-impressionable when I saw it for the first time. The moving stairs, the switching from colour to black and white, the signing-in with the collection of wings, and the judge on a plinth. Silly of me, I know, because surely Heaven is not a bit like that is it?

Not with Marius Goring as inquisitor, for a start.


St John’s apocalyptic vision of all the Saints in Heaven speaks of “a huge number impossible to count,” and when the man asks his guide, the angel, who these people are, he is told that “… these are the ones who have been through the great persecution and washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”

Yet another biblical contradiction to get your head round.

Washing blood clean with blood.



Pope St Paul VI and St Oscar Romero formally joined the ranks of the Saints in October. The intellect (a controversial choice for sainthood) and the heart (by popular acclaim), one might say.

We all know of people who are not formally canonised and who by our reckoning should be. Can I put in for my late mother-in-law and a host of her friends who suffered at the hands of the Soviets in the wastes of Siberia during the last war? They managed, nonetheless, to lead the rest of their lives without rancour or bitterness; on the contrary, their lives were filled with humour and huge generosity.

I bet you can add a dozen names for canonisation; holy, saintly people who have died without any particular recognition.


The Feast of All Saints was yesterday, November 1st.

Today is rather different, it is The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, or All Souls as many us still call it. These two Feasts have long sat back-to-back in the Church’s calendar. Was All Souls moved from October 31st to November 2nd to distance it from the secular bunfight of “Hallowe’en”, I wonder?

All Souls includes all the faithful departed; our nearest, dearest, and most beloved; not forgetting all those others we promised to pray for over the years. Take a look at that carefully kept stack in your drawer: the Orders of Service for Requiems, Funerals, Memorial Services, black-edged prayer cards, and photographs with just a name and dates. These were the people we knew.

In November most churches adopt the happy practise of putting a basket near the altar in which to place a purple (for mourning) card. On it you write the name or names of the person or persons you wish to be included in every Mass.

I know very well whose name I will be writing this year.


Then there are the millions of the Faithful Departed of whom we know nothing. They have passed out of sight over the centuries. When we ourselves are long-forgotten we will join their number as part of the throng of all the nameless souls.

Nameless perhaps, but still prayed for. Future unknown thousands, from generation to generation, will pray for us in their turn.


It’s a comforting thought which I must tell the Muslim taxi-driver I came across the other day. He gloomily announced that:

“We die, we are remembered by our children and possibly by our grandchildren. Then that’s it.”

There’s some truth in that; but I wasn’t sharp enough to tell him about praying for the Faithful Departed, ALL of them, for always, including him and me, whether we like it or not.







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