Today is November 2 & All Souls' Day! In modern prayer books it is the day for "the commemoration of the faithful departed".
I think that I understand All Saints' Day, its Collect & its Preface and the reason for keeping the Octave of All Saints (as required by the BCP 1928 of PECUSA). In fact I rejoice with exceeding great joy as I contemplate the saints of God in glory serving the Holy Trinity and the saints of God on earth doing battle against the world, the flesh and the devil.
But when it comes to All Souls' Day, November 2, I have mixed thoughts and feelings. I am familiar with its origins and its basic history in the Western Church and I recognize that pastorally it still has great appeal to many Christian people, who feel a sense of loyalty and kinship with departed loved ones. But I do not know what to do with it.
The Protestant Reformers sought to eradicate all traces of the doctrine of purgatory, of prayers & masses for the dead, of All Souls' Day and the like from the life of the Church. But All Souls' Day is back on the Anglican Calendar with Collects & Prefaces being created for its modern celebration in the new prayer books of the last thirty or so years.
So much, of course, depends on what we think happens at the death of a baptized Christian.
If we believe, as solid Protestants, that the effects of justification and sanctification are such that his soul, when leaving the body, is immediately, miraculously & totally sanctified, perfected and fully graced and enters into the very presence of Christ, there to bask in his glory until the full redemption, when his perfected soul unites with his resurrected, immortal and supernaturalized body, then all talk of purgation is an abomination.
Yet there may be talk of the intermediate state as the period when the purified soul awaits its glorified, spiritual body.
If we believe, as [reformed] Catholics, that the effects of justification and sanctification are such that his soul, when leaving the body, remains united with God in Christ but yet imperfect in itself and with the need to be perfected, and that this process includes the ready cooperation of the Christian soul with the work of the Spirit, as he moves closer to the very presence of Christ, then we are led to think of the intermediate state as one of purging, cleansing & purification and to give it a name like "purgatory."
The only exit from such an intermediate state of cleansing is into the glory of heaven, there to join others who have passed through purgatory or been taken at death (because they were martyrs or exceptionally holy Christians) immediately into heaven.
If there is no purgation after death and before full entry into heaven, then there is no need to pray for those who have died into Christ. Yet we may judge (as did the Church of the Fathers) there is good reason to ask the saints in heaven to pray for us on earth as we fight valiantly for Christ against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Certainly the Church of God, the "Catholikos" as the Fathers called her, belongs to heaven and earth. She is one Church, visible and invisible, and her Head is in heaven while his Spirit is with his members on earth, bringing his presence, gifts and graces to them.
As One Church do we think of her as Militant here on earth, Expectant there in purgation and Triumphant in heaven? Thus do we pray for our brethren in purgation in such words as "Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them"? We are certainly all members of one and the same Body of Christ, Household of God and Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Let us note that to believe in the need for purgation of the soul (that is of the person that each of us is) does not commit one to believe in the whole late medieval apparatus associated with masses for the dead and the like. It does, however, require one to believe that sanctification is as important as justification and that without positive holiness no man shall see the Lord.
Today the official prayer (not obligatory) of the Church of England is:
"Everlasting God, our maker and redeemer, grant us with all the faithful departed, the sure benefits of thy Son's saving passion and glorious resurrection, that, in the last day, when thou dost gather up all things in Christ, we may with them enjoy the fullness of thy promises, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
I can pray this prayer for it is sufficiently vague as to allow a breadth of interpretations. In fact it could be prayed also on All Saints' Day and during the Octave of All Saints.
P.S. the Nov/Dec issue of Mandate is now on the Web Site of the PBS -- www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928 --- and it features the theme of Advent and has an article on the new St Andrew's Church of Savannah, where Dr Lou Tarsitano is the Rector. Pay a visit please.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon