I do have a draft of On Memorizing Scripture, III written but it’s not finished yet; ought to be up in the next day or two as nothing else is going on…
Today, however, it’s worth saying a few things about All Souls…
If we talk about a Baptismal Ecclesiology and take it seriously, than All Souls—alongside All Saints—ought to be a huge day in our church. Because this is a celebration of baptismal ecclesiology on display. The vast majority of the baptized sleep in the earth. But, as our Proper Preface says, “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended…” As fellow witness with us, closer to the resurrection than we, this is our day to celebrate that while we miss their physical absence, we remember their spiritual presence alongside us. This is a core part of our faith: that the whole company of the baptized is joined together in the Body of Christ, hid with Christ in God.
One of the things that makes celebrating this day hard is, ironically, the appropriation of All Saints’ Day. Since Vatican II, I suppose, Protestant churches like the Lutheran one I grew up in marked All Saints Sunday by reading the necrology—the list of those who had died in the previous year. In a Lutheran context, I suppose that makes sense with Luther’s emphasis on simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinner) and the Augsburg Confessions rejection of Saint as a category outside of the general meaning of “baptized believer.”
The proto-catechism in the BCP doesn’t make it any easier either, noting that “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” (BCP 862)
Classically, liturgically, there has been a distinction between “saints” and “souls.” All Saints got white vestments; All Souls got black. The saints are rejoicing in the nearer presence of God now; the souls are sleeping in the earth or else on a path to purification since Matthew—relaying Christ’s words—records “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…” The saints are the already; the souls are the not yet.
And yet who wants to see their family’s dead as the not yet? Commemorated on the day for sinners rather than saints? The emotional weight makes this a challenging topic to handle with both pastoral and theological integrity. (And, no, “pastoral” is not cover for “bad theology” despite its usual deployment…)
I know I’m not a saint; bring on the black vestments! Put me on the All Souls’ list! (Speaking rhetorically—hopefully it’ll be a while before that’ll be necessary, deo volente.) But—remember me as one of the baptized.
There’s a scramble each year by most clergy and parish administrators to pull together the list of names to be read in the parish necrology. And this makes we wish for a recovery of the concept of a Guild of All Souls, a group of intercessors at the parish level who pray for the baptized of the parish before the sacrament. Who pray for the whole parish—those above ground as well as those below.
We honor the baptismal ecclesiology of our church and prayer book when we enact it in our practices, rather than giving it lip-service for causes.
Especially these things weigh on me this year amongst the Covid pandemic and the protests against souls lost because of racism. So, I invite you to remember the baptized, the living and the dead.
Here are the forms for the Office for the Dead that I put up before.
Here is a book I discovered the other day on Project Canterbury that also contains Anglican resources for burial and remembering the whole company of the baptized which also contains Anglican-style Offices for the Dead.