02 November 2020

A message of hope and
love for All Souls’ Day
from Lichfield Cathedral

All Saints and All Saints commemorated in Lichfield Cathedral this week

Patrick Comerford

Following All Saints’ Day yesterday (1 November 2020), today is All Souls’ Day (2 November 2020). Although this day is not included in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland, it is marked in many parishes, and indeed is marked more widely throughout the Anglican Communion.

For example, at Lichfield Cathedral, to mark All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day yesterday and today, the interior and exterior of the cathedral are being lit up each evening from 6:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Three beams of intense light illuminate Lichfield Cathedral’s three spires and a cross beam of light dramatically points out the cross-shaped space of the cathedral’s interior.

People are being invited to come, see, ponder, reflect and pray. As the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said in his circular email on Friday, ‘it has been a momentous year with much to depress us, but these beams of light both search the darkness and pierce it, pointing us to the source of our hope: the One who said “I am the Light of the World”.’

He invites people to ‘come and bring others with you and do what Lichfield is good at – talk about it!’ He quotes the poet Thomas Traherne, who wrote, ‘To delight in the Saints of God is the way to heaven.’

Reflecting on this day in the calendar of the Church, Dean Dorber writes in his letter:

‘All Souls’ Day has grown in importance and observance since the end of the First World War. Churches of the Reformation have eschewed praying for the dead on the grounds that once a person died there was nothing the human community could do to affect the destiny of the departed.

‘The Funeral service of the Book of Common Prayer is austere and uncompromising: it is a liturgy to surround the seemly burial of a body. No attention is given to the corpse. The deceased is not directly addressed. The boundaries of human community were redrawn to exclude the dead. The minister is instructed in the 1552 version of the service to turn away from looking into the grave and exhort the congregation to be mindful of the Resurrection.

‘We can argue about the rights and wrongs of the theology, but the baldness of the liturgy is about as pastorally appropriate as being slapped by a wet haddock. Many similar Protestant (though not Lutheran) rites severed the link between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. That severance has difficulties.

‘In the aftermath of war, the Churches had to minister to populations who had lost sons who were buried near battlefields far from home. Street shrines sprang up in British cities to remember the fallen. People needed to pray for the dead and find consolation and hope.

‘There was therefore a return to the pre-Reformation practice of offering the Eucharist the day after All Saints Day naming the dead in prayer and in the hope that God would give to the departed a share in the victory of the risen Christ.

‘The All Souls’ Day liturgy and our revised Funeral services now emphasise hope in a “blessed resurrection” and Christian love for departed relatives and friends. The link between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven is re-stated: the bridge is love.

‘Saint Augustine memorably said: “though the ocean divide us, the Eucharist unites us.” There’s nothing more appropriate, it seems to me, at this time of year to link our loved ones with God’s great work of redemption and the promise of resurrection.

‘It takes a good Methodist (who started out an Anglican) Charles Wesley, to put it properly:

Come let us join our friends above
That have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love
To joys celestial rise:
Let all the saints terrestrial sing
With those to glory gone;
For all the servants of our King,
In earth and heaven, are one.

Readings: Lamentations 3: 17-26, 31-33 or Wisdom 3: 1-9; Psalm 23 or 27: 1-6, 16, 17; Romans 5: 5-11 or I Peter 1: 3-9; John 5: 19-25 or John 6: 37-40.

Collect (Common Worship):

Eternal God, our maker and redeemer,
grant us, with all the faithful departed,
the sure benefits of your Son’s saving passion
and glorious resurrection
that, in the last day,
when you gather up all things in Christ,
we may with them enjoy the fullness of your promises;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of love, may the death and resurrection of Christ,
which we have celebrated in this Eucharist,
bring us, with all the faithful departed,
into the peace of your eternal home.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
our rock and our salvation,
to whom be glory for time and for eternity.

Saints in a row on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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