All Souls Thoughts

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.

4 thoughts on “All Souls Thoughts

  1. Joel Hatfield

    How do we reconcile keeping All Souls, when its express purpose is to pray for souls in purgatory? Since Anglicanism rejects the notion of purgatory, would we not dispense with All Souls, and simply keep All Saints in recognition of the unity of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant?

  2. Derek A. Olsen Post author

    Joel, the ’79 prayer book explicitly refers to a growth in grace of souls after death. While I don’t think any of us envision it like the late medieval concept that certainly spawned abuses, I do think we need to revisit the question of how we understand the purity of heart and entering into the nearer presence of God after death. At the end of the day, the question is whether Christian moral and spiritual formation is necessary or whether it is simply a matter of adiaphora.

  3. Joel Hatfield

    Good point. I always enjoy your posts, btw!
    My contention is not what happens after death, per see, as all the saints/faithful departed/Christian souls are in the presence of God–at least the way that I understand scripture. Hence, no purgatory. How they grow in that presence or into that presence is more or less a mystery.
    My concern is about celebrating a holy day of All Souls, that by a traditional understanding and despite what LFF says, does not seem to fit with an Anglican sensibility. Perhaps this is why All Saints is the chief holy day, and All Souls is relegated to being a commemoration. I would consider the celebration of All Souls to be adiaphora, superseded by a celebration of All Saints (as it is the principal feast). I think this would matter more if Anglicanism had a definitive role and process for creating saints, like the RCC. Then perhaps two holy days would be more warranted. This of course is just my opinion, others will see it differently. Pax.

  4. W. Charles Paul

    I have been affiliated with this group for many years. The Guild of All Souls From their website: The Guild, founded in England in 1873, is a Prayer Guild within the worldwide Anglican Communion which seeks to promote the Church’s teaching in regard to the Faithful Departed through Intercessory prayer for the Dying and for the Repose of the Souls of the Departed; encouraging Christian customs at burial, especially the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and promoting the two great doctrines of the Christian Creed: The Communion of Saints and The Resurrection from the Dead. Independence was granted to the American branch in 1889.

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