Remembering the Faithful Departed in the Liturgy

November 2nd is the commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  For the Roman Catholics, this is a holy day of higher rank, equal (or almost equal?) to All Saints’ Day itself.  The distinction is that All Saints’ Day remembers the Church Triumphant – Saints with a capital S – and All Souls’ Day remembers the Church Expectant – those at rest, awaiting the resurrection on the Last Day.  In Protestant theology, most of us generally don’t make much (if any) distinction between these two groups.  Some might posit that the “Capital S Saints” are enjoying the beatific vision to a greater degree than others among the departed, but I’m not aware of much talk along those lines.

As a result, the All Souls commemoration has typically been rolled into the All Saints commemoration in Anglican practice and piety.

However, there is a good reason for distinguishing these two holy days.  Two analogies present themselves.  The first is in our Prayers of the People in the Communion service: historically the last petition of those Prayers acknowledges both the departed at rest and the saints in glory.  Even if one believes these are not two different groups of people, they are clearly presented to us as two aspects of people.  We remember the Departed in a joyful glorified state and in a mournful “we miss them” sense.  The second analogy is the funeral/Burial service: the interplay between giving thanks and mourning is intricate and (occasionally) controversial.

In the standard Prayers of the People we have now, there is a lovely inclusio wherein you can add the names of the departed to your prayers:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, especially ___, that your will for them may be fulfilled…

My congregation makes use of this on a regular basis, but if yours does not, this weekend is the perfect opportunity to do so!

Remembering the Saints in the Liturgy

All Saints Day is upon us!  As one of the seven principle feasts of the Church Year this is (or ought to be) a grand occasion not only for celebration and worship but also for teaching and catechesis.  The greatest holidays of the year, after all, are built upon the greatest doctrines of the Christian faith.  All Saints’ Day draws our attention to the communion of saints, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, that Body of Christ of which we are a part.  There are a few built-in features of the liturgy that can (or should) be highlighted to enhance the celebration:

  • The Collect of the Day is packed with Scripture and theology.
  • The heavenly multitude depicted in the epistle lesson from the book of Revelation is a beautiful picture of this holiday’s subject.
  • The Sursum Corda (or “Great Thanksgiving”) leads to a special Proper Preface for the occasion: “For in the multitude of your Saints, you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
  • The usual prayers leading up to the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) are worth emphasizing today: “with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven“.

The unity of prayer and fellowship, between all saints in heaven and on earth, is wonderfully celebrated throughout the liturgy.

But is there something more we can do?

There are many ideas that could be brainstormed, but this is probably the simplest one.  The final petition of the standard Prayers of the People reads:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, [especially ______________,] that your will for them may be fulfilled, and we ask you to give us grace to follow the good examples of [N., and] all your saints, that we may share with them in your heavenly kingdom.

This is a direct invitation to fill in the blank, and All Saints’ Day (or Sunday, when most of us will be celebrating this holiday) is the perfect opportunity to expand the second blank.  You could draw up a list of saints who are well-loved in your congregation, or list all twelve apostles (replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias), or list the Saints celebrated as Major Feast Days in the Prayer Book.  My church this year will just be listing categories: “give us grace to follow the good examples of Joseph and Mary the holy family, your Apostles and Evangelists, your holy Martyrs and Confessors, and all your saints…”

If you do include a list therein, note that the traditional ordering of Saints is basically:

  1. the Blessed Virgin Mary
  2. Joseph
  3. Apostles (not just the twelve, but including Paul)
  4. Evangelists (Mark and Luke)
  5. Martyrs
  6. Confessors
  7. Doctors (that is, “Teachers of the Faith”)
  8. Bishops and Kings
  9. Monastics or members of other religious orders
  10. Other Saints

The point of this is not simply “to be traditional” and “get things right,” but the general ordering tradition exists to denote a sort of hierarchy.  This is not to say that a Martyr is more holy than a Monk, per se, but that the witness of the former is generally greater than the latter, and so deserves a place of greater significance when presenting such names to the congregation.  If this sort of ordering offends your theological sensibilities, then be sure to use a different-but-clear ordering, such as alphabetizing their names, so it doesn’t just look like a hodge-podge thrown-together list.  Liturgy and worship always benefits from transparent forethought!

Communion without Communion

One of the realities of modern church life is that the vast majority of us only open our doors for public worship on Sunday mornings.  A lot of churches have mid-week programs, sometimes even worship services, but it takes a great deal of searching, nation-wide, to find a church that actually offers the full pattern of Prayer Book worship: daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and Holy Communion every Sunday and major feast day listed in the Prayer Book.  It would take a radical, serious, and long-term effort to restore the ancient rhythm of Christian worship to the public space of our church buildings.

Instead, the Daily Office is commonly perceived and treated as a family or private devotion.  Indeed, the Office can work that way – the English Reformers intentionally simplified precisely so anyone literate could pray it!  And although the Office is grossly underused today, it is at least available wherever a Prayer Book is to be found.

What is less accessible is the service of Holy Communion.  You need a priest or bishop to preside and celebrate the sacrament.  Oh, actually, you could just have a Deacon lead the service and distribute pre-consecrated bread and wine.  Wait, no, even a licensed lay minister can do that.  Ah, but even that requires planning, resources, and trickiest of all, an open place to gather and people to gather.  The majority of us simply do not have access to a Communion service on most major feast days throughout the year.  What to do?

Consider taking a page from historical Anglican practice: Antecommunion.  First of all, make sure you don’t pronounce it so it sounds like “anti-communion.”  This ante-Communion, that is, the Service of Holy Communion before the actual celebration of Communion.  If you don’t have a church to go to, offering the primary liturgy of the holy day, you can read the first “half” of it yourself!  Let’s look at how to do that:

First, grab one of the Communion services from the ACNA website.  The Collects for the Christian Year and the Sunday, Holy Day, Commemorations Lectionary are further down the page.  Today is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem, so find his Collect & lessons.  Grab a Bible, and you’ve got everything you need.  The order of service will look basically like this:

  • Acclamation: “Worthy is the Lord our God…”
  • The Collect for Purity
  • The Summary of the Law & The Kyrie
  • The Gloria in excelsis
  • The Collect of the Day
  • The Lessons (Acts 15:12-22a, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Matthew 13:54-58)
  • Instead of a sermon, perhaps you can spend a minute in quiet reflection on the lessons… maybe look at some study notes if your Bible has them.
  • The Nicene Creed
  • The Prayers of the People
  • Confession of Sin
  • If you’re not a priest you shouldn’t declare the Absolution, and if you are a priest but praying this on your own, it might seem inappropriate to absolve a non-existent gathering, so perhaps use the Prayer for Forgiveness from the Daily Office.
  • Wrap up with a blessing from the Office and/or a Dismissal from the end of the Communion service.

Side note: if you’re using a classical Prayer Book, this works almost the same way.  Conclude with the Words of Comfort after the Confession, and either add a Blessing from the end of the Daily Office, or, if you’ve got the 1662 in hand, there are a few Collects provided at the end of the Communion service to say in place of the Communion prayers for this very scenario.

If you’re a priest, this is an excellent way to deepen your Eucharistic devotion at the altar even when you’re unable to celebrate Communion on a given day.

But for anyone, this is a marvelous devotional opportunity, one of the best ways to strengthen your roots in our common life of worship if your church isn’t open that day, and also a really good Bible Study opportunity, as a feast day’s readings usually speak together with one voice more clearly than the average Sunday morning’s lessons.

A Special Pastoral-Liturgical Opportunity

A month from today is 11/11 – Veteran’s Day in the USA, Remembrance Day in several other countries; originally Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the Great War (WW1) in 1918.  This year is the centenary of the Armistice and the institution of this multi-national state holiday.  And it falls on a Sunday!

Normally state holidays like this do not take precedence over the regular Sunday Propers (Collect & Lessons), though in England, I believe Remembrance Day is big enough to observe on Sunday.  Given the special timing of this particular November 11th, however, it struck this small-church Vicar as an opportune moment to break the usual rules of precedence in our Calendar and plan to celebrate Armistice Day on Sunday 11/11.  And yes, I got my Bishop’s permission to do this!

If you have veterans in your congregation, as I do, this could be a very special opportunity to honor and minister to them.  That’s why this article is entitled a “special pastoral-liturgical opportunity.”  How can you implement this in your church?  Let us count the ways:

  1. Go all-out and use the Collect & Lessons for Remembrance/Veteran’s/Memorial Day (copied below).
  2. Reference poetry contemporary with the War such as Dulce et Decorum est or For the fallen.
  3. Reference the origin of Veteran’s Day in the USA.
  4. Include hymns such as the second stanza of I vow to thee my country, or Faith of our fathers! or God bless our native land or In Christ there is no East or West or O God of earth and altar or even Silent Night (referencing the Christmas Day Armistice of 1914, and providing a haunting double meaning to the phrase “sleep in heavenly peace”).
  5. Browse the Church of England’s vast collection of resources surrounding their observance of this day for other bits and bobs you might incorporate locally.

There are so many directions this observance can go: the noble call of patriotic service to one’s country, the devastating idolatry of nationalism run wild, commemorating the departed (not unlike All Soul’s Day back on November 2nd), praying for our current service-men and -women and veterans.  For sure, do what makes sense for your congregation!  But it strikes me as a very special opportunity to seize.

Collect and Lessons in Texts for Common Prayer

O King and Judge of the nations: We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our armed forces, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy; grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever.  Amen.

Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 121, Revelation 7:9-17, John 11:21-27 or 15:12-17

NOTE: the reading from Revelation is also an option for All Saints’ Day, so if you go for this commemoration be aware that you might end up with the same Epistle lesson twice in a row unless you plan carefully.

The Evening Before…

In Jewish accounting of time, the “day” begins and ends at sundown.  This concept survives in Christian liturgy; the “Eve of” a Holy Day is the beginning of that Holy Day.  Christmas Eve is the beginning of Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve is the beginning of All Saints’ Day, and so on.

It can be easy to forget, but Sundays are Holy Days, or feast days, too.  Therefore, as the rubrics in Calendar of the Christian Year explain:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebration of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

So when you pray Evening Prayer later today, make sure you read the next Collect of the Day: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in continual godliness…”  This isn’t just a nit-picky point to make sure you “get your prayers right”, but can also help you prepare for church tomorrow morning!  If you pray this Collect tonight and again at Morning Prayer before the Communion service tomorrow, then by the time you hear it (or say it yourself) in church it’ll be fresh on your mind already.  Just like with music or preaching, a prayer that is prepared is easier to share!


Note: this blog will not be updated tomorrow, or on subsequent Sunday mornings.  I’m rather assuming that you, like me, have got enough to do already at that time!

Looking Ahead: Sts. Simon & Jude

While you’re out flinging holy water at your friends’ animals for a Saint Francis Day blessing, let’s take a moment to look ahead towards the end of this month. Specifically, let’s look at October 28th.

The last Sunday of this month, the 28th, is Saints Simon and Jude Day. Chances are you’ve already got a sermon topic in mind by now, but give this some consideration…

The Prayer Books before 1979 had a different approach to Major Feast Days: whenever one landed on a Sunday, it was celebrated on that Sunday in place of the regular Collect and Lessons. Advent, Lent, Eastertide, Ascensiontide, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday were exempt from this, but that leaves Epiphanytide, Trinitytide, and Christmastide fair game for the celebration of Major Saints’ Days on Sundays. Only in the ’79 book, with the introduction of a completely new Sunday lectionary and radically revised calendar system, did this rule get relegated to the status of “rare exception.” Today, many Anglicans are completely unfamiliar with the idea of celebrating Major Feast Days on Sundays.

Although the Calendar and Sunday lectionary of our up-and-coming Prayer Book remains in the modernist form akin to that of 1979, the rubrics have changed, allowing for this piece of the Anglican tradition to make a return. Specifically, the Calendar of the Christian Year says:

Any of these feasts that fall on a Sunday, other than in Advent, Lent and Easter, may be observed on that Sunday or transferred to the nearest following weekday.

Here two choices are given: observe it on Sunday or on the next free weekday (usually Monday). One can understand this rubric either to be posing both options as equal recommendations or the first option as primary and the second option as secondary. The Saint Aelfric Customary opts for the traditional choice – if it isn’t too late for your worship planning, consider giving Saints Simon and Jude a try that Sunday!