In the French Quarter of New Orleans, there is a well-known place called Preservation Hall. It is in the front room of one of the old buildings in which there is a band of elderly musicians, usually black, who play Dixieland jazz. No food or drink is served there. There are no tables, but only a bunch of old chairs which are occupied on a first-come-first-served basis. You go in, drop your two or three dollar admittance charge into a basket near the door, sit down if you can find a place to sit, and listen to the mostly improvised music played by the elderly musicians. On the wall, clearly visible, there is a sign that says: “Requests: $3; Saints: $5.” That means that anyone wants to hear a particular song, it’ll cost him or her three dollars, but if one requests the great favorite “When the Saints Go Marching In,” it’ll cost five dollars. That song has become the anthem of New Orleans to some degree, and you hear it played by the marching bands in the carnival parades between Christmas and Lent all over the city. The words of the song say: “Oh, when the saints go marching in, when the saints go marching in, Oh, I want to be in their number when the saints go marching in!”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, and we take that old favorite Negro spiritual and lift it to the level of very serious theology. When the saints, that is, the holy ones of God, enter Heaven either individually at the end of their lives, or collectively at the end of time, we certainly DO want to be in their number and to be with all the saints forever.
The saint is the one who does God’s holy will and remains in union with him both in time and in eternity. Some are saints all their lives; others have a conversion experience at some point during their lives like the good thief on the cross or the tax-collector Zacchaeus. As we celebrate this solemnity and raise our eyes spiritually to the glories of Heaven, let us do all we can to merit heaven; let us echo the simple words of the song: Oh, I want to be in their number when the saints go marching in! Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.