31 October 2021

‘The souls of the righteous
are in the hand of God, no
torment will ever touch them’

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

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 31 October 2021, All Saints’ Sunday.

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

11 a.m.:
The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2, United Group Service)

The Readings: Wisdom 3: 1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21: 1-6a; John 11: 32-44.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Saints and Angels in the glass wall by John Hutton at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

November is a month when we traditionally remember the saints, the Communion of Saints, those we love and who are now gathered around the throne of God, those who have died and who we still love.

As the evenings close in, as the last autumn leaves fall from the trees, it is natural to remember the dead and the fallen, with love and affection.

All Saints’ Day on 1 November is one of the 12 Principal Feasts of the Church. In many parts of the Anglican Communion, 2 November is All Souls’ Day, the ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’ (Common Worship, p 15). In Ireland, 6 November traditionally recalls ‘All Saints of Ireland.’ Remembrance Day is on 11 November, and this year we mark Remembrance Sunday on 14 November.

Hallowe’en is not a day to associate with ghouls and ghosts, still less for making light or making fun of evil. There was a disturbing discussion on Joe Duffy’s Live Line show last Thursday of Nazi uniforms being hired out as Hallowe’en costumes. One contributor to the show even thought this was funny. How can anyone make fun of the Holocaust and the mass murders of World War II? How can anyone want to link the Nazis with saints, except as martyrs and victims?

Hallowe’en is the day before we remember the Hallowed, the blessed, the saints, who are models for our lives, our Christian lifestyle today.

When he was Dean of Liverpool, Archbishop Justin Welby organised a Hallowe’en service he labelled ‘Night of the Living Dead’. At first, it sounds ghoulish. But that’s what it is … the Night of the Living Dead’. We believe the dead we love are still caught up in the love of God and are alive in Christ.

Indeed, saints do not need to be dead to be examples of ‘holy living and holy dying’ (Jeremy Taylor).

Saint Paul regularly refers in his letters to fellow Christians as ‘saints.’ Saints Alive!

Yet we have been shy, reluctant, perhaps even fearful, in the Church of Ireland when it comes to recalling, commemorating and celebrating the saints. We only have to compare the calendars of the Church of Ireland and the Church of England.

Perhaps we were too afraid in the past of being seen to pray to the saints, or to pray for the dead. But, really, these are quite different to finding examples of godly living among Christians from the past, and expressing confidence that the dead we have loved are now committed to God’s love.

Our psalm this morning (Psalm 24) talks about those who can enter the presence of God. The response provided in the Lectionary is a quotation from the first reading, ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, no torment will ever touch them’ (Wisdom 3: 1).

Is anyone this morning able to name the patron saints of Ireland? (Answer: Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Columba or Colmcille?)

Apart from Saint Patrick, do you know the saints’ day for the other two? (Answer: Brigid, 1 February; Columba, 9 June)

Does anyone remember who is the patron saint of the Diocese of Limerick? (Answer: Munchin, 2 January)

Yet the Church of England sees the calendar of saints as a living calendar, something that is added to as we find more appropriate examples of Christian living for today.

Saints do not have to be martyrs. But in recent years Oscar Romero was canonised and there was a major commemoration in Westminster Abbey of Oscar Romero to mark his 100th birthday.

Saints do not have to be canonised. Modern martyrs may include Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, or Heather Heyer, the civil rights activist killed by far-right neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, Kentucky, in 2017.

Many of us we know people who handed on the faith to us – teachers, grandparents, perhaps neighbours – even though some may be long dead yet are part of our vision of the Communion of Saints.

Saints do not have to live a perfect life … none of us is without sin, and none of us is beyond redemption. Some of the saints carved on the West Front of Westminster Abbey might have been very surprised to know they were going to appear there. But their lives in sum total are what we are asked to think about.

They are: Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Archbishop Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.

Some years ago, I asked students to share stories of their favourite ‘saints and heroes.’ They included an interesting array of people, some still living, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year.

In the back-page interviews in the Church Times, people are sometimes asked who they would like to be locked into a church with for a few hours.

Who are your favourite saints? (time for answers).

Who would you like to learn from a little more when it comes to living the Christian life?

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess our faith which includes our belief in ‘the communion of saints’ and ‘the resurrection of the body.’ In a few moments, we confess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, including our belief in ‘the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Then there is an opportunity to recall the saints in our lives, in our own personal calendars, and to recall those we have committed to God’s love and who are part of ‘the communion of saints’.

We have had seven funerals in this group of parishes since last Christmas. There are seven candles on the altar with a single name on each one. In addition, there are two bowls of water here, in which we can place our nightlights to remember those we still love.

And throughout the month of November, there are opportunities to include their names in our weekly, Sunday intercessions.

In the meantime, ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, no torment will ever touch them.’

May all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘The Tree of the Church’ (1895) by Charles Kempe … a window in the south transept of Lichfield Cathedral shows Christ surrounded by the saints (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

John 11: 32-44 (NRSVA):

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

The Great West Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, ‘Revelation of the Holy City,’ was designed by Alan Younger, who was inspired by Revelation 21 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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:

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 …

Christ the Pantocrator surrounded by the saints in the Dome of the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


459, For all the saints, who from their labours rest (CD 27)
466, Here from all nations, all tongues, and all peoples (CD 27)
468, How shall I sing that majesty (CD supplied)

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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