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Allhallowtide Part 3: All Souls

Fra Angelico, Christ in Limbo, 1441-42

Note: This is the third in a 3-part series on Allhallowtide, the 3-day season of remembering the dead that spans All Hallows Eve (Oct 31), All Saints (Nov 1), and All Souls (Nov 2). Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.

First Thessalonians 4:13-14

I attended my first All Souls, or Commemoration of the Faithful service, just weeks after my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I didn’t know what to expect, but I needed a place to lay down my grief and fears. I found a solid resting place in a service that follows the Anglican service for the burial of the dead. Surrounded by my community, I joined their prayers for all who have trusted in Jesus Christ (including ourselves), heard God’s promise to bring them to life again, and had my faith revitalized. I faced my fear of death by rehearsing my mom’s funeral. And when her death came eighteen months later, I found comfort in the prayers and scriptures which had become so familiar in the intervening months.

The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed or All Souls (November 2) is an optional commemoration in our prayer book, whereas All Saint’s Day (November 1) is a major feast. It’s optional because it has a complicated history. There is evidence that early Christians prayed for the dead, but the observance of All Souls did not begin until the 11th century with Odilo of Cluny and his abbey. By the 11th century in the West, All Saints Day became the feast that celebrated the victorious saints and invoked their aid, while All Souls focused on all the other departed Christians and aiding their salvation. In the English Reformation, praying for the dead was condemned as a practice without scriptural support and consequently, All Souls was not recognized in English prayer books for almost 500 years.

Our Book of Common Prayer (2019) and the earlier 1979 BCP include collects for the communion of saints and all faithful departed. These direct us to pray that we might be encouraged by their example and strengthened by their fellowship so that we might also hear Jesus’ joyful voice say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But if you look closely at the prayers for the burial of the dead, you’ll note that they are mostly prayers for us, the living, we might persevere in our faith until that great day when we see our loved ones again.

And so, if you were to ask me why we celebrate All Souls Day, I would say it is certainly not because the dead need our prayers, but because we need to have our faith refreshed. We need a safe place to acknowledge and grieve our losses before God. We need to entrust our loved ones again to God’s love which is stronger than death. We need to celebrate their witness and be strengthened for our pilgrimage back to God. And we need to take stock of whether we are prepared for our deaths.

I pray that you will experience all that and more at our celebration of all the faithful departed on November 9. Join us at 7pm at Greenbrier Baptist.

- Katie Hamlin


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