01 November 2019

‘O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine’

Christ and the Saints depicted in a dome in Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford,

All Saints’ Day, 1 November 2019,

11 a.m.: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

Readings: Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1: 11-23; Luke 6: 20-31.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

All Saints’ Day is one of the 12 ‘Principal Holy Days’ of the Church. This is one of those days, according to the Book of Common Prayer, when ‘it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and every parish church or in a church within a parochial union or group of parishes.’

In our first reading (Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18), Daniel’s visions include one in which he sees beyond persecutions to a time when God shall rescue his people, and ‘the Most High shall possess the kingdom for ever – for ever and ever.’

In the Psalm (Psalm 149), the worshippers, the saints, are invited not only to sing but to dance and to make music on the tambourine and the lyre, so I am going to say something, in a few moments, about one of our hymns this morning.

In the Epistle reading (Ephesians 1: 11-23), Saint Paul is writing ‘to the saints who are … faithful in Christ Jesus,’ and reminds them that Christ has made them heirs to the kingdom of God.

In the Gospel reading (Luke 6: 20-31), Saint Luke gives us his version of the beatitudes, with a different emphasis that the way Saint Matthew lists them (see Matthew 5: 3-12).

Christ now speaks of four blessings or beatitudes and four parallel woes or warnings of the age to come. Some people are ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ (μακάριος, makários) by being included in the Kingdom, but they are paired with those who are warned of coming woes:

● those who are poor (verse 20) and those who are rich now (verse 24)
● those who are hungry now (verse 21) and those who are full now (verse 25)
● those who weep now (verse 21) and those who laugh now (verse 25)
● those who are persecuted, or hated, excluded, reviled and defamed (verse 22) and those who are popular now (verse 26)

Who are the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are persecuted today? And do we see them as saints?

Our offertory hymn, ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest’ (459), was written by Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897) as a processional hymn for All Saints’ Day.

The saints recalled in this hymn are ordinary people in their weaknesses and their failings. In its original form, it had 11 verses, although three are omitted from most versions – the verses extolling ‘the glorious company of the Apostles,’ ‘the godly fellowship of the prophets’ and ‘the noble army of martyrs’ were inspired by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version of the canticle Te Deum.

The tune Sine Nomine (‘Without Name,’ referring to the great multitude of unknown saints) was written for this hymn by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) while he was editing the English Hymnal (1906) with Percy Dearmer.

When he wrote this hymn, Walsh How was Rector of Whittington, Shropshire, a canon St Asaph Cathedral. He also spent time in Rome as chaplain of the Anglican Church there, All Saints’ Church, before returning to England.

While he was Bishop of Bedford, Walsham How became known as ‘the poor man’s bishop.’ He became the first Bishop of Wakefield, and died in Leenane, Co Mayo, in 1897 while he was on an Irish fishing holiday in Dulough.

The hymn vibrates with images from the Book of Revelation. The saints recalled by ‘the poor man’s bishop’ in this hymn are ordinary people who, in spite of their weaknesses and their failings, are able to respond in faith to Christ’s call to service and love, and who have endured the battle against the powers of evil and darkness.

In its original form, this hymn had 11 verses, although three are omitted from most versions: the verses extolling ‘the glorious company of the Apostles,’ ‘the godly fellowship of the prophets’ and ‘the noble army of martyrs’ were inspired by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version of the canticle Te Deum.

But the heart of the hymn is in the stanza in which we sing about the unity of the Church in heaven and on earth, ‘knit together in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of … Christ our Lord.’ Despite our ‘feeble struggles’ we are united in Christ and with one another in one ‘blest communion’ and ‘fellowship divine.’

It is a hymn that celebrates that there among the saints are the ordinary people, the people who are blessed and happy in Saint Luke’s version of the Beatitudes this morning.

And so, + may all we think, say and do be to praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, surrounded by the saints in glory.

All Saints depicted in the window in Saint Columb’s Cathedral, Derry, in memory of Canon Richard Babington (1837-1893) of All Saints’ Church, Clooney, Derry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 6: 20-31 (NRSVA):

20 Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.’

Saints and Martyrs … the ten martyrs of the 20th century above the West Door of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical colour: White

Penitential Kyries:

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are loving to all,
and your mercy is over all your creation.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your faithful servants bless your name,
and speak of the glory of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
Grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who were near (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).

The Preface:

In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory …

Post-Communion Prayer:

God, the source of all holiness
and giver of all good things:
May we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


God give you grace
to share the inheritance of all his saints in glory …

The Berliner Dom in Berlin, popularly known as Berlin Cathedral … the images inside the dome illustrate the Beatitudes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)


459: ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest’ (CD 27)
468: ‘How shall I sing that majesty’ (CD 2, Church Hymnal discs)

All Saints’ Church, Rome … the Anglican church where the hymn writer Bishop William Walsham How was chaplain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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