All Saints & All Souls
The time of year has come that the days grow shorter and the nights longer and the Church year is coming to its end. We celebrate several important feasts in this period which will my topic below.
From the I Vespers (sung the evening before All Saints, Halloween ! ) the Feast begins with great joy by rapturing us from this earth into the heavens with the first antiphon (short sung verse enveloping each Psalm of this evening prayer): “I beheld a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, standing before the throne.” This exercise of prayer elevates us to God’s vantage point. The veil separating the heavens from our earth is removed from the eyes of our heart. We, who have been made pure by the waters of Baptism, are able to “see God” as our Lord taught in the 8 beautitudes. This service of prayer, given to us in the Anglican Breviary, is the means by which God draws us out of ourselves into His throne room. There we behold a “great multitude that no man can number.” No matter how marginalized Christians are in our world today, no matter how little our local community seems to impact the world around us … God is gathering an innumerable multitude of Saints. We are not a few … We are not negligible … We are the those who have overcome the world by our faith! Our spirits are encouraged, our hearts are strengthened in this service of prayer.
More Psalms and their antiphons follow continuing this theme. Now follows the (much shorter than in our Prayer Books) chapter from Scripture: Revelation 7, 2 “Behold I John saw another angel …” assuring us that the ways of the world are not beyond God’s control. Christians take courage! A hymn is can be sung at this point which is concluded with a short versicle: “Be glad, O ye righteous, and rejoice in the Lord” and a response: “And be joyful, all ye that are true of heart.” The prayers and readings have effectively united us to the “great multitude” which the world cannot see but is revealed to the eyes of our hearts. Such is the power of our traditional liturgy.
The traditional collect concludes this evening service affirming that we venerate the Saints by God’s favour and we ask Him that we be assisted with the intercessions of all these Saints in the wonderful grace of God (the traditional collect is not provided in the Prayer Book or the Anglican Breviary). The Prayer Book collect beautifully sets before us the fact that we are “knit together” with the great multitude and are not mere observers on the outside. Much the same thought governs the other liturgical prayers for this day, including the Mass, but it would take much too much space to cover it all. Traditional liturgy is extremely rich and takes a lifetime (or more) to exhaust. I will simply end this section with the Offertory Sentence (taken from Scripture) from the Mass of All Saints: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them: in the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, but they are in peace, alleluia” or in the words of St. Paul: “… in all these things we are more than conquerors.”
Immediately following the second evening prayer of All Saints there follows the Vespers of the Dead. That’s right! On the evening of November 1st two evening services are sung. The first one celebrates the completion of the Feast of All Saints (the outgoing feast) and the second evening prayer celebrates the solemnity of All Souls (not a feast, but an important celebration nonetheless). Skipping ahead to the next day, at morning prayer (or Lauds, so named after the “laudate psalms” 148, 149, 150 always sung in this Office) we are presented with a remarkable journey of prayer. Different from the previous journey explained above but equally significant. The Vespers takes place as light turns to dark, whereas the Lauds takes place as dark makes place for sunrise.
Once again we have 5 Psalms enveloped by 5 antiphons. The first Psalm to be said is 51 placed on the lips of us mortals as we are confronted with death, judgment and our guilt for transgressing the Divine Law of God: “The bones which thou hast broken in the grave, O Lord, may rejoice in the resurrection to come” says the antiphon. Our sins are the cause of our brokenness “in the grave” rather than God’s judgment. The divine judgment is simply the affirmation of what we have done by our transgressions. The Lord does not put us in the grave … We do. The guilt and the responsibility is ours. “I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me (Ps. 51, 3).” The second Psalm, Ps. 65, moves from the confession of sin of Psalm 51 to joy over the harvest: “The folds shall be full of sheep; the valleys shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing (vs. 14).” This is the imagery of paradise. The antiphon to this psalm: “Thou that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come” gives us the assurance that God hears the prayers we form on our lips on behalf of our beloved departed. The next Psalm, Ps. 63, expresses a yearning or being intimately united with God “My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth after thee, in a barren and dry land [hell, the Grave, the place of the dead] where no water is.” This is the place where Dives could find no water and why he begegd Abraham to send Lazarus (from Paradise) to provide him with a drop from heaven (Abrahams’ bosom). A canticle from the Old Testament always follows here. In this case it is taken from Isa. 38. The canticle opens on a note reminding us of Psalm 51, but moves from there to joy in the resurrection: “For the Grave cannot praise thee as I do this day” … “he that verily liveth, only he shall praise thee” … “The Lord Eternal is ready to save me.” The praise of God requires that we do not reside in the Grave, it requires that we are alive. The antiphon affirms this: ‘From the gates of the Grave and the portals of hell deliver my soul, O Lord.” Therefore the Lord rescues from the Grave by resurrection so that we might praise Him. This praise is expressed with great exuberance in Psalm 150: “O praise God …” the antiphon encouraging us so to sing this Psalm: “Let everything that hath the breath of life, praise the Lord of Life.” We have now arrived at the place where the New Testament Canticle is sung in morning prayer. The antiphon enveloping it says: I am that Iam, saith the Lord, the Resurrection, and the Life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever believeth in me shall never die.” Truly the Lord “hath visited and redeemed his people” He has given “light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” bringing us to the conclusion of this journey of morning prayer.
“O GOD, the Creator and Redeemer of all them that believe: grant unto the souls of thy servants and handmaidens the remission of all their sins; that as they have ever desired thy merciful pardon, so by the supplications of their brethren they may receive the same. Who liveth and reignest … Amen.
And finally from the Offertory Sentence of one of today’s Masses (there are three to be celebrated today): “O Lord Jesu Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell, and from the bottomless pit …” The death of the Christian is still death. It is still destructive, painful, and to be mourned. But in the mourning of the great loss we also have the hope that we have been inebriated with by means of the evening and morning prayers of the Anglican Breviary. We cry and seek comfort while at the same time we are strengthened by the promise of salvation. Death is still death, but it has been robbed of its dominance and permanence by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the words of St. Paul: “Death where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy victory?”
Fr. Gregory Wassen