On the Observance of All Souls in the Office

Tomorrow is All Souls, noted in the BCP kalendar as Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. I’ve written on the importance and place of All Saints and All Souls before but, a quick scan of the archives turns up only one brief piece from 2005 (!) and a more poetic piece from the Cafe. I think a new piece on this topic may be needed…

In any case, I’m becoming increasingly convinced—and you will be hearing more about this in coming days—that one of the Episcopal Church’s main theological problems is a poverty of ecclesiology. One way to act against this trend is the proper observation of All Souls alongside All Saints. Naturally, we’re having a parish All Souls mass tomorrow but the question of the Office is a live one.

All Souls only ranks as an Optional Observance in the BCP meaning that, in most methods of saying the Office, it rates only a proper collect. In traditional Western practice, the usual offices for the day are the Offices of the Dead. As the Anglican Breviary notes, the Offices of the Dead retain some of the primitive characteristics of the early Office in like fashion to the Offices of Triduum. (On their antiquity, a quick scan of Taft (Liturgy of the Hours in East and West) and Vogel (Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources) turns up nothing, raising a topic for later study.) Thus, the Offices of the Dead are unlike regular Offices since, due to their primitive character, some of the usual options are dropped. As in the case of Triduum, Anglican traditionalists must ask just how much the offices should be altered.

Looking back at the Tridentine form of the Vespers and Lauds Offices we note the following:

  • All initial verses and responses are dropped; the Office begins with the first psalm antiphon.
  • The psalms are proper and appropriate antiphons have been drawn out of those proper psalms.
  • All gloria patris are replaced by: “O Lord, grant them eternal rest, and let light perpetual shine upon them”
  • The psalms are followed by a Scriptural v/r only (viz.:  Answer. I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me : Verse. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. [Rev 14:13]).
  • The Gospel Canticle follows immediately.
  • After the Gospel Canticle is the Lord’s Prayer, then Ps 146 or Ps 140. [This is omitted on days of death, burial, and on All Souls, though.]
  • A brief litany concludes with the collect which ends the Office..
  • The Canticle of Hezekiah takes the OT Canticle slot in the Lauds Psalter.

Glancing at the Anglican Breviary and the Monastic Diurnal, they follow the Tridentine Offices.

Moving to the Anglican side of things, the English Office uses the structure of the Tridentine Lauds/Vespers. While the Lauds psalms are different (with correspondingly different antiphons) it is in other respects similar. The major difference is the usual change—the insertion of two full-length Scriptural readings and an additional morning canticle. The lessons chosen here are Wis 4:7-20, 1 Cor 15:35-58 || Job 19:21-27, 1 Thess 4:13-18. The Canticle of Hezekiah is used after the first lesson.

A Monastic Breviary from the Order of the Holy Cross (the first attempt to do a breviary based on the ur-text of the ’79 BCP) omits the opening material, uses one of the traditional antiphons but with the psalter for the day and replaces the gloria patri with the “Rest eternal.” The first Canticle of MP is replaced by a Respond drawn (as usual) from among the traditional Matins responds. A second Respond (composed de novo, I believe) replaces the hymn. The Office then proceeds as usual except that it ends after the collect using a brief verse-response. The readings are Eze 37:1-14, 1 Cor 15:35-49 || 2 Sam 12:15b-23, 1 Thess 5:1-11.

Galley’s Prayer Book Office retains a regular prayer book structure with the allowance for dropping the Prayer for Mission. Proper psalms are given—the evening two taken from the traditional Vespers. The readings given are Job 19:21-27a, Rom 8:14-19, 31-39 || [Lam 3:22-26, 31-33], John 14:1-6. The canticle after the first reading is Canticle 11 (Surge, Illuminare).

As I look back at my own efforts (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer)  I’m still satisfied with the choices that I made. I abridged the Office following the Tridentine structure more closely in the same way that A Monastic Breviary did. My decision on the readings was, in keeping with the traditional Matins readings, to stick with Job texts. In fact, I think I simply took the texts from the three nocturns and squished them together in order to produce three readings (so there’s one missing from Evening Prayer).

I think what I’m doing to do for the St Bede’s Breviary is to leave the structure as is with the proper collect and Gospel canticle antiphons. However, I am going to try and get up the Office for the Dead in SSB format so that those who desire that can use it.

What are your thoughts—especially those of you who use the breviary?

5 thoughts on “On the Observance of All Souls in the Office

  1. Joe Rawls

    I use The Prayer Book Office and find its version of the Office for the Dead quite acceptable. I just have to remind myself that it’s All Souls’ Day!

  2. Andy

    (Long time reader, first time commenter.)

    I generally use the ’79 for my Daily Office; for Feasts, however, I use The Anglican Breviary. I am using it today for All Souls and it is basically just an augmented version of The Office of the Dead (which, I need to get in the habit of praying once a month, but never seem to get around to it).

    Things that surprised me:
    1) Even Compline is slimmed-down, just like the offices of Holy Week. I was surprised to read this, because I think it is the only time outside of Holy Week that Compline is shortened. Tonight, it was just the Psalms (123, 142, 143 with no anitphon), The Nunc (no antiphon) and a few final prayers.

    2) The absence of the Dies Irae. Back when I was using the RC Liturgy of the Hours (and flirting with Rome) a few years ago, I remember it being the hymn in the Office of Readings. So, I just assumed that it would be said during Matins. I was surprised that it wasn’t. According to Wikipedia, the Vatican II Editors removed the Dies Irae from the Requiem, but inserted it into the Daily Office. Due to its simplified nature, there are no hymns in The AB’s All Souls Offices, so no Dies Irae for me.

    I’d be curious about your thoughts regarding the venerable Dies Irae. Yes, it is bleak, but I was especially moved when reading it about the connection to the Earth at the second coming being like burning ashes and how our hearts are much the same. God is so beyond knowing that it is almost frightening. I was reminded of the fffff burst from the Orchestra in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, when God looks at the soul and it is terrifying. Now, this is far removed from my beloved Julian of Norwich, but I think the Dies Irae brings a balance to our Church that may be lacking. Namely, that we all will fall on our faces and cry, “Lord, have mercy” to the Creator of the Universe who is all Love — with the prayers of Christ and His Saints as our aid.

    It is terrible, yes, but, I think it is the good kind of terrible. And I think I do well to remind myself of in these days. I would be grateful for your thoughts.

  3. John-Julian, OJN

    Well, Andy, the Order of (your beloved) Julian of Norwich DOES use the Dies Irae on All Soul’s Day and (at least in its customary) for Funerals. BUT, I re-translated the Dies Irae, and made all the singulars (I’s) plural (we’s), and it transformed the hymn! Here is my version (and anyone, if you think it is any good, feel free to use it):

    John-Julian, OJN

    Dies Irae

    Ah, that Day, that Day of Passion,
    Earth exploding, heavens ashen,
    Just as prophets’ warnings fashioned.

    Ah, the trembling and the shaking
    With the Final Judgment breaking;
    All the world is crushed and quaking.

    Gabriel’s trumpet cries: its singing,
    Through the graves of earth is ringing,
    All before the throne is bringing.

    Death and nature are confounded,
    By the rising dead surrounded,
    As the call to Judgment sounded.

    From the book with all recorded,
    Sin is judged and good rewarded;
    Thence each verdict is awarded.

    When to shame we are committed,
    All our secret faults admitted,
    Nothing then will be omitted.

    How shall fools like us be pleading?
    Who will hear our poor entreating
    When the best are mercy needing?

    Lord of kingly exaltation
    Who has offered us salvation,
    Pity us in tribulation

    Mindful, Lord, that our salvation
    Caused Your wondrous Incarnation,
    Leave us not to condemnation.

    With the labors You have given,
    On the tree of suff’ring riven,
    Shall we still be unforgiven?

    Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution,
    Grant the gift of absolution
    Ere the day of retribution.

    Through our weeping we implore You;
    Shamed and anguished we adore You;
    Spare us humbled here before You.

    Sinful Magdalen You greeted,
    And the dying thief You heeded,
    Giving us the hope we needed.

    Pray’rs of ours, though undeserving,
    You redeem with love unswerving,
    From the endless flames preserving.

    With Your lambs a place provide us,
    From the goats rejected hide us,
    To Your right hand may You guide us.

    When the wicked are refuted
    And to bitter flames deputed,
    Let our sentence be commuted.

    Low we kneel with hearts entreating,
    Worn to ruin by death’s beating,
    Save us at our lives’ completing.

    On that day of agonizing
    From the dust of the earth arising,

    Though our sins to guilt subject us,
    Of Your mercy, Lord, protect us.

    Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
    Grant us Your eternal rest. Amen.

    Latin, 12th century; tr. John-Julian, OJN, 1992

  4. Derek Olsen

    I’m a fan of the Dies Irae but, in my medieval way, I connect it to Advent as much as I do the dead.

    I can’t remember offhand my source on this but I think it was originally composed for seasonal use. Can anyone confirm or deny before curiosity forces me to look it up? (My books are still terribly scattered after the move and it takes me entirely too long to find the simplest thing…)

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