The modern church dearly needs All Souls. In particular, we need to see and understand that there is a distinction between All Saints and All Souls. Especially in a time when the Baptismal Covenant is being highlighted as an important part of our ecclesiology, we must be able to point out and explain the difference between the two days.
Baptism joins us to Christ, to the church, to the company of all faithful people. It invites us to the life hid in God.
It invites us to the life hid in God—but it does not thereby accomplish that life within us.
Baptism is a covenant. It is a set of promises. Christ makes promises to us, and we know that his word is trustworthy and true. But we also make promises. Our word isn’t as good.
Our promises—the ones that we take upon ourselves in Baptism—are confirmed in the cruciform life of discipleship. All Saints holds before our eyes the life of discipleship in every age and condition, and reminds us that discipleship does not end at the edge of the grave. The work of love, care, and intercession continues.
All Souls reminds us of the importance of Baptism, but also acknowledges that Baptism—indeed, salvation—is not the end of the Christian life. It is the beginning.
Does this mean that All Souls is the feast of the “also ran”? That it is the day for second-class Christians? It can come across that way, particularly when we only see from this perspective in contrast to All Saints. But there’s another important side of it as well. All Saints is a party; it’s a rejoicing. All Souls gives us a liturgical moment for grief. Yes, we have faith in the resurrection. But just as much we are embodied emotional beings who miss those whom we love and see no longer. We can’t pretend that death is all party. Death is pain; death is tragedy. Some deaths are better than others, but no death is easy. All Souls gives us space to offer and honor our sadness and grief.
This year is particularly poignant in our house following the death earlier in the year of M’s grandfather, Horace. His was a good death following a truly exemplary life. As I celebrate these days this year, I can’t help but find him in both observances. A man virtually bristling with the Christian virtues, one who formed M strongly in the faith, and supported her in her ministry when no one else in her family did, he has been a beacon of Christ to us. I can’t help but believe that he is among the blessed—and that’s not a thing I say easily or lightly. On the other hand, we still mourn his passing; we weep for us and for the Christ-pointing presence that we lost. I thought of him last night at mass, and will remember him again tonight.
May all the faithful departed rest in peace—and may all the blessed company of heaven pray for us.
For your observance of the day, a BCP-style Morning Prayer for the Dead and Evening Prayer for the Dead are available. Also available are the traditional Offices for the Dead in Rite I (Matins, Lauds, Vespers) and in Rite II (Matins, Lauds, Vespers).