After death and before the General Resurrection.
November 1 is “All Saints’ Day” which is identified as a “Red Letter Day” in The Book of Common Prayer, and is celebrated in the West to remember all Christian saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and are now with Christ.
November 2 is “All Souls’ Day” which is not included in The Book of Common Prayer, but is celebrated in the West (by Catholics and by some Anglicans) to commemorate the souls of the faithful, Christian departed.
A strange fact is that in most Anglican parishes in the West more people attend the Eucharist on All Souls’ than on All Saints’ – that is, when and where a church offers both!
Why so? Probably because (in Europe especially) many people, especially widows, remember the loss of loved ones in World War II; and, more generally, this Day is the only Day in the Church Year when public opportunity arises to express devotion in relation to family and friends who have died as Christians. In contrast, there are many Days for remembering those known as Saints. Further, while most folks feel a sense of nearness to departed family members, they do not feel any profound sense of nearness to or fellowship with the Saints of God who live within the mystical Body of Christ and the Church invisible. So it is that the attendance on All Souls’ seems more practical and helpful than attendance on All Saints’ (though being present at the latter is regarded a good thing). [Possibly if we were all more spiritually minded and had a greater sense of belonging to the communion of Saints, then All Saints’ Day would be the more precious to us!]
However, it would appear that very few Anglicans who go to a Mass or Eucharist on All Souls’ Day have any real sense of the Roman doctrine of purgatory, that is of their loved ones being purged of their sins in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead and the glorious life of the age to come in redeemed bodies as saints in glory.
Indeed, the various Collects used by Anglicans on this day are deliberately vague in doctrinal terms. Here is a typical one which does not specifically refer to purging and cleansing of the soul from sin:
“O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the souls of the faithful departed all the unsearchable benefits of thy Son’s passion, that in the day of his appearing they may be manifested as thy children; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord…..”
We may assume that all Christians who recite the Creeds faithfully believe in “the intermediate state” between personal death and personal resurrection at the Last Day. However, most agree that the precise nature of this sphere and period of bodiless life for baptized Christians are not clear, except that the departed are in some real sense with Lord Jesus and not separated from him. And the question as to whether or not the prayers of believers on earth and the offering of the Eucharist on their behalf can in some way enrich the experience of the faithful departed is not often raised.
The Anglican Collect for All Saints’ Day is very clear in terms of their being One Body of Christ and thus one mystical communion and fellowship, which exists across and through death into and then within the age to come. Further, this Prayer expresses confidence in God’s provision for this age to come of tremendous joy for those who are in this life his true children.
O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There have been real saints of God in every generation in all places where the Church has existed. Most of their names are now forgotten by us but they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in heaven!
Now let us return to consider the soul of the faithful believer in the intermediate state.
All Christians possess both a sinful human nature and the presence of a new nature, a new creation, wherein the Holy Spirit is pleased to dwell. In the process of sanctification, the old nature is to be put to death, to be mortified, but it never fully dies. While the sins of the believing child of God are forgiven for Christ’s sake, the diseased nature is not removed.
Then most Christians at death have not reached a stage where their love of God and of man has reached true maturity or perfection. They are imperfect in love.
So the question arises: Does the soul as it leaves the body at death experience a total cleansing by the Holy Spirit and an infusion of divine love so that in the intermediate state, it is wholly regenerated and renewed and able to have pure fellowship with God and all the saints? If it does, then the doctrine of purgation and of growth and development in maturity (which presupposes that the souls of the departed enter the intermediate state as they were at the last moment of life on earth) is without any foundation in reality. For Purgatory is based on the assumption that cleansing and renewal – not to mention appropriate punishment -- are still needed in the soul whose body has been given Christian burial.
Now there is no assumption of purgatory anywhere in The Book of Common Prayer (1662 & 1928) and in the Articles of Religion printed in the prayer book we read the following: “The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory… is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God” (Articles XXII). Now this was written before the Council of Trent carefully defined the “Romish doctrine of Purgatory” and, possibly, had the Article been written after the Tridentine doctrine was known, it would have been less judgmental, even if it still rejected not only purgatory but the customs and rites associated with it.
In recent centuries it seems that that many Anglicans have believed in the intermediate state, holding that there is only one door out of it and that is into God’s courts, and also holding that prayers for the faithful departed in suitably vague form can do no harm and may do good – even as prayers for believers on earth may do good. A minority have vigorously opposed all forms of prayer for the departed on the basis that Scripture nowhere requires them. And yet others, having adopted the Tridentine doctrine of purgatory, do believe that prayers and masses for the dead will by God’s grace speed the faithful through purging into the blessedness of heaven itself.
Whether we observe only All Saints’ Day. or we observe both All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, will probably reveal a lot about what we believe and how we feel about the state of souls in the intermediate state between life on earth and life in resurrected bodies of glory in heaven.
Certainly we should all observe All Saints’ Day for that is RED LETTER!
Peter Toon October 19, 2005