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All Saints/All Souls 2014

2014 November 3
by Gordon Reid

This year’s configuration of the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is probably the most pesky possible (I hope my American English has chosen the right word!)

If you follow the old rules precisely, as St Clement’s does, you will have three High Masses on three consecutive days: All Saints on Saturday, November 1; Trinity 21 or Pentecost 22 on Sunday, November 2; and All Souls transferred to Monday, November 3.

Many churches reckon that it is unlikely that they would get their people to turn out three times in three days, so they make other arrangements, as I have discovered here in Washington, D.C. where I have been  staying with a friend for a a few days.

I went this morning to a well-attended High Mass at All Souls Church. This was a Mass of All Saints, which is perfectly legitimate within the Octave of All Saints. I have known All Souls since I swapped parishes for three weeks with its then Rector, Fr John David Van Dooren, and I was Archdeacon of Italy and Malta and Chaplain of All Saints, Milan. I  had a splendid time in DC, and Fr John David enjoyed three weeks exploring the country round Lake Como (and, incidentally, burying  some of my parishioners!). The choir of All Souls sang some beautiful anthems, but oddly, there was a very long list of the departed which was read out at the offertory. This would normally be done on All Souls, not All Saints.

This confusion of the two feasts is common, I think, but it is a pity, since All Saints Day should be our rejoicing in having one day when we can  ask for the intercession of all those Christian souls who have reached the perfection of heaven and now participate in God’s work and purpose in a special and powerful way. All Souls Day, on the other hand is, as Hispanic cultures in particular call it, the Day of the Dead, when we pray for our loved ones departed that they may be blessed in their continuing journey towards the perfection of Heaven, which we call Purgatory.

This evening, I went to the National Cathedral at 6 p.m. for a Requiem Mass beautifully sung to the Durufle setting by the men and girls of the Cathedral choir. This was again a concession to getting everything over on the Sunday, but perfectly defensible, since it was held on the Sunday evening, the Eve of All Souls. I would rather have seen it done in black vestments rather than the white that was worn, since this again confuses the  two feasts, but otherwise the Requiem was splendid. However, again we had to endure a very long list of the departed being read out, which was tedious and lengthened the service unnecessarily.

One solution is simply to print the names in the bulletin and lay the cards requesting prayers on the altar during the Mass. But another solution is one which I first heard in Hamburg when I was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative at a service commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, St Petersburg and Coventry. With representatives from  all these places as well as several others in local and national governments, Hamburg Cathedral was crowded. The service was pretty long, and it was made even longer by a group of protesters who stood and shouted for about twenty minutes right at the beginning. The Bishops and others in charge simply let them shout themselves out, rather than attacking them, but eventually the police escorted them out peacefully. And the wonderful thing was that three voices continued reading  in Russian, German and English, the names of all  who had died in these ghastly attacks. There were so many, that the reading of their names had begun early in the morning and continued till the evening. So all through our two hour long service, one could hear in the background these three calm voices reading out the names very slowly. It did not interrupt the Mass and was extremely moving.

That way of covering the two hundred or so names at All Souls church and the National Cathedral might have been equally impressive. I don’t know, since it wasn’t tried, but it would have avoided the fifteen minute solid reading of names, which interrupted the flow of the Liturgy.  I’d like to hear it done on a small scale, perhaps reading the names quietly from the offertory till the end of the Mass, or however long they lasted.

As you can see, we retired priests have great ideas the minute we are let loose! Happy All Saints Tide and may the souls of all the Faithful Departed rest in peace.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert McCormick permalink
    November 3, 2014

    We had All Saints with High Mass on the Eve, Friday, Low Mass of the Day on Saturday, Masses of the Sunday after Pentecost today, and Low Masses of Requiem tomorrow, with hymns at 6:00. No confusion of the two. I like a day to remember before God those I knew and love personally, more than the general “great cloud of

    • Gordon Reid permalink*
      November 3, 2014

      I knew St Paul’s would get it right, Robert.

  2. November 3, 2014

    Indeed, a pesky calendric conundrum. Pleased to say that the Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Toronto) will also celebrate three high masses on three successive days. All good wishes, Fr., in these early days of ‘retirement’.

  3. Alex Robertson permalink
    November 3, 2014

    Your account of the Hamburg practice remind me of the extremely moving, slow and calm recital of names and ages of soldiers fallen in the battle of Paaschendael in Flanders, delivered via low loudspeakers close to the ground, as one walks from the car park to the reception building at Tynecot cemetery. The readings continue inside the museum and by the time I leave to actually visit the cemetery itself I am in a very reflective and sombre mood as I stroll around the immaculately kept graves. Having ran the gauntlet of quietly read names, one, I recall, aged 14 years, it is a very effective way of reminding the visitor of just where he or she is, and what happened in that awful place.

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