By Larry Peterson
The holy people from the Old Testament are not usually called saints. We do not say, “St. Abraham”, or “St. Moses” as we do for St. Joseph or St John. But the church does allow for them to be called saints one day during the year. That day is their acknowledged feast day. There are forty-two different Old Testament saints that have designated feast days. The first one during the year belongs to St. Abel. His feast day is January 3.
The very first human to die was none other than Adam and Eve’s son, Abel. Ironically, since a natural cause of death had not yet occurred, the first recorded death in all of human history was the result of a murder. And the man who was murdered is also a saint. The evil that precipitated and was involved in the killing is referred to in the New Testament by Christ Himself.
Abel is considered part of the Six Ages by St. Augustine; First Age of the World (this is also covered in the CCC; 282-284). This age is considered the time from the beginning of the human race up until Noah. The Ages reflect the seven days of creation and the last day is the day of rest which we call the Sabbath.
We rarely talk of or ask for intercession from Saint Abel. But Abel is mentioned in the Roman Canon when, after the Consecration, we tell God how pleased we are with His accepting “the gifts of Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of the high priest, Melchizedek.”
The story of Cain and Abel is pretty straightforward. Cain was the first born of Adam and Eve. Abel was their second son and Cain’s true brother. Cain tilled the soil while Abel tended to the flocks. When Cain’s crops had been harvested, he brought some of them as an offering to the Lord. Abel brought the best of his flock to the Lord as an offering. Genesis Ch 4: 4-5 “—the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not. Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen.”
This is where pride comes into play. Adam and Eve succumbed to pride when Satan convinced them that they could be “like” God if they ate from the Tree in the Garden of Eden. Cain’s pride was hurt, and he became jealous of his brother. Genesis Ch 4: 8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
The offerings of Cain and Abel are an important part of the Bible narrative because they lead us to the New Testament and to the ongoing battle between Good and Evil. St. John gives us the real reason why God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s. In 1 John 3:11-12 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil and those of his brother righteous.
The importance of Abel in our Catholic/Christian world is shown in the Gospel of Matthew. In Chapter 23, Jesus was speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees and, for the most part, denouncing them as hypocrites. Then we come to Ch 23: 34-35 Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon earth, from the righteous blood of Abel—-”
This is none other than Jesus Christ, invoking the name of Abel as one who was righteous. The church Fathers include Abel among the martyrs and St. John Chrysostom associates Abel’s death comparable with St. John the Baptist’s. Abel is considered the first in a long line of martyrs who were killed not so much for the words they spoke, but for the example they set.
St. Abel’s feast day is January 3 and he is invoked in the prayers for the dying.
St. Abel, pray for us
©Larry Peterson 2019