Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Feast of All Souls

Today is the Feast of All Souls.  You might be confused--didn't we just celebrate this holiday yesterday?

No, that was All Saints.  All Saints was originally designed to honor the saints, those who had been beatified.  Official saints, canonized by the Pope.

All Souls Day, celebrated the day after All Saints, was designed to honor everyone else who had died. 

In some traditions, All Saints Day honors all the Christian dead, and All Souls Day honors those who have died in the past year.  Those of you with excellent memories of your English major days may remember that Sir Gawain left for his adventure with the Green Knight on All Souls Day.  Medieval audiences would have read a lot into that date of departure.  As Sir Gawain leaves, his castle-mates would have been expecting to celebrate his life the following year.
All Souls' would develop into the kind of day that drove Martin Luther crazy. On All Souls' Day, people would be encouraged to spend money so that their loved ones would get out of purgatory sooner. According to medieval theology, a soul wasn't ready to go to Heaven right away.

In most Protestant churches, All Saints' and All Souls' have merged into one, and that makes sense to me. Still, my inner English major will always have a sense of these alternative liturgical calendars. I like having more to celebrate, more ways to remind myself that there's more to life than what occupies most of my time (work--both on the job and at my house). I like having holidays that remind me that we're only here for too brief a time. It helps me to treasure the fleeting moments that I have.

 In most Protestant churches, I'm guessing that you'll only celebrate All Saints Sunday, unless you're part of a tradition that doesn't celebrate that holiday at all.  It is a holiday that has retained a lot of its Catholic form, and some Protestant traditions will want no part of that.

What a pity.  I'm all in favor of more church holidays, more ways to infuse spirituality into our lives.  So let's take a few moments today to think about those who have died recently.

Here's a prayer I wrote for today:

Comforter God, you know that we miss our recently dead.  We do take comfort from your promise that death will not have the final word, but there are stages of our grief where it is difficult to believe.  Please forgive us our unbelief and doubt.  Please keep reminding us of your love and care.  Please strengthen us to be able to provide the same quality of love and care to those around us who are grieving loss.  Please keep our creative imaginations focused on the redemption of Creation, where you have promised we will not have any reason to cry anymore.

No comments: