In a flurry of liturgical activity, the past few days in the Church calendar have been full of feasts and commemorations. Many of these days may be unfamiliar and perhaps even disconcerting to those who have grown up without any exposure to the Church Calendar and the practice of commemorating the lives of those who have gone before us.
The commemoration of the Feast of All Souls is further problematic for Protestants, as this is a day set aside to purposefully pray for the souls of the dead. This practice is familiar to those who have grown up in the Catholic tradition, based on the text of II Maccabees and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. This tradition holds that after death, our souls spend time in a place called Purgatory, where we do penance for the sins committed on Earth in order to be purified for our reception into eternal life in Heaven.
Whether or not you hold to Catholic tradition, though, All Souls can be a deeply meaningful time of reflecting on those in our lives who have passed before us. It can be a time of reflecting on the gifts that they have given us, or even a releasing of the pains and abuses of the past in an extension of forgiveness that unburdens us from carrying them with us in our daily lives.
I’ve also seen how All Souls can be a beautiful commemoration of those children who have gone before us, unnamed and unknown, lost to abortion or miscarriage.
Consider stepping past the aspects of All Souls that seem unusual or uncertain to you and leaning into a commemoration of both life and death. As St. Benedict suggests, we should have death daily before us. Not in a morbid or obsessive manner, but in a way that inspires us to live lives of love, joy and peace in this moment.
If you’re interested, here are a few prayers that can be prayed today. You might also think about visiting a cemetary (which isn’t as dark or frightening as it sounds—did you know the Mount of Olives where Jesus spent his last night before His Passion is a large cemetary?), or praying for those in your community who are slowly or rapidly dying without family or friends around them.
• • •
O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers:
Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son;
that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen
your Son is the resurrection and the life
of all the faithful;
raise us from the death of sin
to the life of righteousness
that at the last,
with all your faithful servants,
we may come to your eternal joy;
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
[who is alive with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and for ever]
The above prayer is a revision of a 1549 collect for the funeral Eucharist.
Cranmer probably borrowed it from a collect in the Dirige in Bishop Hilsey’s Primer of 1539. Cf. the 1552 & 1662 final prayer in the Burial Service. Also Alternative Service Book (CofE) p834. Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. cf. ASB p612 Collect for Easter 3. NB Jn 11:25f
Father of all,
we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer.
Grant them your peace,
let light perpetual shine upon them,
and in your loving wisdom and almighty power,
work in them the good purpose of your perfect will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Book of Alternative Services (Anglican Church of Canada) p.429