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Saints and Souls

2011 November 4
by Gordon Reid

When sleep flees at 2 a.m, what do you do? Post a blog entry!

I’ve just finished two intensive and very happy days celebrating  All Saints Day and All Souls Day. In one sense they were very different (and the Church meant them to be so), but in another they were very similar.

As you can see on the St Clement’s web site, the altar was heavily laden with almost all the relics of saints we possess at St Clement’s – and that’s a lot. Almost   every saint in the universal calendar was there. It could have been over-the-top vulgar (like many an English parish church in the old days displaying every bit of gold and silver plate it had, on the altar at great Festivals) but, in fact, though definitely over the top, it was nevertheless incredibly moving. Here were tiny bits of bone or scraps of clothing from the bodies of some of the greatest heroes of our Faith, and I for one felt “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” by the host of golden reliquaries on the gradines behind the altar and at my feet under the altar. As I censed the altar and the reliquaries I recalled the angel in the book of the Revelation of St John, who was given a censer full of incense rising up before the throne of God “and the incense was the prayers of the saints”.

But the next day, everything was gone, and every trace of gold had been replaced with sombre black. The six candles at the altar were unbleached, which leaves them a golden orange colour. The altar frontal was solid black, broken only be exquisite old embroidered lilies. Down at the front of the congregation was the Catafalque, in which is placed the coffin at funerals, covered in a heavy black pall with a cross of deep green velvet running its length. Round the catafalque were six unbleached candles in tall candlesticks.

In one sense, it was all different from yesterday, and the Mass was sung by three cantors to beautiful Plainsong chants, instead of the joyful, almost boistrous music of the All Saints Mass sung by the full choir.

But it was the same Mass, and on the altar, instead of relics, was a long, long, list of names supplied by St Clement’s congregation. These were their loved ones, parents, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, children, friends. I keep a list of the deaths of all my friends and acquaintances during the year, and write a list of their names for the All Souls altar every November 2. So that list , and everyone else’s list, lay there throughout the Mass, and I touched it at the prayer for the Departed at the Offertory, and again at the Memento of the Departed during the Canon, and I was overcome by that same feeling of being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. This time, the Souls being remembered were not officially canonized saints, but they may well have been every bit as holy as some who have been canonized, and so, as well as praying for them I prayed that they would intercede for us.

And on Sunday, we shall have a perfectly ordinary Mass for perfectly ordinary people, whom no one would call saints. Yet that is what St Paul called all the Christians of his little churches. And that is where the distinction between Saints and Souls breaks down: only God knows the secrets of our hearts, and how far we have progressed along the road to holiness. So be very aware: you may be in the next pew to someone who, if you could see them as they will be glorified in heaven, you would bow down in reverence before them.

Here endeth the insomnia!

9 Responses leave one →
  1. November 4, 2011


    Almost makes me wish you had insomnia more often . . .! :)

  2. November 4, 2011

    And outstanding reflection, as always, Father! And I’ll pray to the saints that your sleep schedule may be restored :)

  3. stacey permalink
    November 5, 2011

    All Saints and All Souls Day had more meaning for me this time around. Thank you for your reflection on them. God Bless.

  4. November 16, 2011

    A heartfelt and thoughtful synthesis of the two great feasts, Father. Thank you.
    I think we need some relics here at Trinity…

  5. November 21, 2011

    What a beautiful blog. Thank you so much. It is posted on the above site along with images of the Feasts from your site. Truly yours is one of the premier AngloCatholic Parishes not only in the country but throughout the Anglican Communion. We, in that Communion, are helped enormously by your presence as a Priest and by St Clement’s for its example of what a church ought to be. Best blessings, Dick Lanham

  6. Cornelius A. Badger, Jr. permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Reverend Canon Thomas Wilson Stearly Logan Sr. was the oldest serving African-American priest in the Episcopal Church, USA. Father Logan died May 2, 2012. He was 100.

    He was born in Philadelphia on March 19, 1912. The son of a minister and a teacher, Logan was one of eight siblings to graduate from college. Education and achievement were very important in the Logan family.

    After graduating from Central High School for Boys, he attended Johnson C. Smith University and later graduated from Lincoln University in 1935 with a bachelor’s degree. Three years later, he earned a bachelor of sacred theology from General Theological Seminary in New York City, and in 1941 received a master of scared theology from Philadelphia Divinity School (now Episcopal School). Over the years, Logan also received five honorary doctorates from Lincoln University, Hampton University and St. Augustine’s College.

    In 1938, he married Hermione Hill at St. Simon of Cyrenian Church in South Philadelphia. The ceremony was officiated by his father, Rev. John R. Logan Sr., and his brother, Rev. John R. Logan Jr.

    From this union one son was born, Rev. Father Thomas W.S. Logan Jr., who died in 2011.
    “They are certainly the couple of longevity,” Michael Nutter said as he reflected on the Logans during a birthday celebration held for Hermione Hill Logan in March 2011 at City Council chambers.

    “Father Logan is the oldest African-American priest in the country. His service has been quite incredible and Mrs. Logan has been with him every step along the way. They really are quite an incomparable pair, but their service to the community, to the nation, and I would suggest to the world, has really been something to admire. Any one of us should hope to do so much, and live so long.”

    source: (excerpt)

    …and some personal thoughts:

    Fr. Logan baptized me a few decades ago. He was a life-long family friend. In the BCP, I found a prayer associated with Ascension Day.

    “Through thy dearly beloved son Jesus Christ our Lord, who after his glorious resurrection manifestly appeared to his disciples, and in their sight, ascended into heaven, to prepare a place for us; that where he is, there might we dwell also, and reign with him in glory.”


    • May 15, 2012

      A great man and priest, Neil. I hope you can come and pray for him at the Ascension Day Mass at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

  7. Cornelius A. Badger, Jr. permalink
    June 18, 2012

    Congratulations and best wishes to Dr. David Ousley. Having read his writings and collected sermons on the web, I’ve known for some time that he’s a very gifted pastor and theologian.

    In fact, he’s given me, and I suspect many others, new meaning to the terms courage and discipleship.



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