Sadly, the list of the departed seems to grown exponentially every year. And with the pandemic, there is oh so much loss. May we remember those we have lost, whether recent or many years ago. 11/1/20
Originally written on November 2, 2018. Having lost my mother-in-law this summer, and my friend Rhonda just last week, the prayers for the departed mean more than ever. 2019
Growing up in the Baptist faith, we never practiced praying for the dead. We were taught if you were “saved,” that when you died, you would go straight to heaven. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. That was it. There was no need to pray for those who had died because they were outta here. I have always been curious about other denominations and branches of Christianity so I had a vague knowledge of the purgatory of Catholicism but overall, I tried not to dwell on the afterlife in any shape, form or fashion, other than worrying that something I did or didn’t do was going to lead to the wrong destination. Although I had experience with the loss of grandparents during childhood and adolescence, it was my experience with cancer that lead to more frequent thoughts on the subject and, coping with the losses of friends I made during that journey played a part in returning me to a faith long neglected.
Since I have begun attending the Episcopal church, I have observed in all of their services, they pray for the departed. Although I have a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, I am still not familiar enough with it to find the particular prayer that is used in our services. In any event, the names of the recently departed are read and in the period of silence that follows, there is an opportunity for those in the congregation to reflect either silently or aloud on those who they would like to remember.
So it was not a surprise to discover that the Episcopal Church also observes All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Again, I had no knowledge of these days except I had knew All Saints Day was the day after Halloween. In doing research, I learned that All Saints Day, November 1st, is when the church honors all saints, “known and unknown” through prayer and remembrance. Now before all my Evangelicals get in a huff about this, please note that according to the Episcopal Church a saint is “a holy person, a faithful Christian, one who shares life in Christ. The term may also indicate one who has been formally canonized or recognized as a saint by church authority.” In addition, “the Saints are not divine, nor omnipresent or omniscient. However, because of our common communion with and through Jesus Christ, our prayers are joined with the heavenly community of Christians.” In other words, the term “Saints” can refer to any Christian and are holy people to be honored, but we do not pray to them. So all y’all can calm down! 🙂
Similarly, All Souls Day is a day set aside to remember the departed, and is observed on November 2nd. Also referred to as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, this day was was created as sort of an extension of All Saints Day to remember all family and friends rather than simply “well known saints.”. In modern times, both days are are often observed on the first Sunday after November 1st, referred to at St. Peter’s as All Saints Sunday. The departed are remembered through prayer as their names are read.
But back to the original question – why pray for the dead? The answer to that question varies according to who you ask. The scriptural explanation would take a deep dive into theology (The Communion of Saints, The Church Triumphant). And that is a discussion I am not at all qualified to have, nor do I wish to as it would likely trigger too much thinking in my OCD addled brain. In addition, is not an issue of “praying them out of purgatory” as many who are unfamiliar with Episcopal doctrine would believe. For me I think it is more about honoring and remembering those we have lost, sometimes mourning that loss, and finding peace in the belief that there is something beyond this life.
C.S. Lewis sums it up in this quote:
“Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden… At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best is unmentionable to Him? Even in Heaven some perpetual increase of beatitude (sanctification), reached by a continually more ecstatic self-surrender, without the possibility of failure but not perhaps without its own ardors and exertions…might be supposed.” (CS Lewis, Letters to Malcom, pp. 107-109 ).
So on this All Souls Day, take a moment to reflect on those you have lost – whether it be recently or long ago. Allow yourself to feel sadness, happiness, anger, regret or joy, but ultimately, feel peace. If you feel so inclined, light a candle and say a prayer. Remember them with love. And in the words of Dumbledore “Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”
Karri Temple Brackett
November 2, 2018
I used the following websites as sources, as well as relied on information from the ever knowledgeable Jerusalem Greer