For All Souls’ Day, 2021
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
The above reading, from the Book of Wisdom, is the first reading for All Souls Day, celebrated today, November 2nd. It is a day to remember all our beloved dead, to pray for them, for their redemption and salvation and renew our belief in the communion of saints, living and dead.
It is also read at a number of funerals. I know many families I worked with in funeral ministry found it consoling. Many endured great and vicarious suffering as they watched their loved ones deteriorate, and the thought of them in the hand of God, after so great a suffering, was a consolation.
The liturgical year has impeccable timing, placing the Feast of All Saints, and then All Souls, next to each other. But it also provides a fitting context for the end of the liturgical year, and the beginning of a new one at Advent. In the next few weeks, we will hear apocalyptic reminders of the end times, and the importance of living each day with our own end in mind. And of course, the dawning hope and light of Christ, who conquers death and wipes away all tears.
We also begin to enter the holiday season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas arriving soon. People who have lost loved ones this year, or who have had a difficult and complicated year in their familial relationships and friendships, may feel a special sort of dread. Sometimes the joy of the season rings hollow to those who are carrying a heavy cross. Sometimes it is an invitation to a deeper healing and renewal.
As we consider these important dates, All Saints, All Souls, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, how are you feeling? Do you “wait in joyful hope”? Or, like those in the reading from the book of Wisdom, do you feel like gold in the fiery furnace, tried and tempered over the past year? What are your hopes for the holiday season ahead?
In the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for the Dead, it reads:
In him who rose from the dead,
our hope of resurrection dawned.
The sadness of death gives way
to the bright promise of immortality.
Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended.
When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death
we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
Reflect for a moment on these words. Do they bring you consolation? How have you experienced this reality: Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended?
Who are those in our community who are carrying a heavy cross this year? How can we best reach out to them during the next couple months? How can we include them?
Do you or your family have any traditions or memorials for family members or friends who have died? What are they?
Re-read the above prayer from the Masses for the Dead. If your group is comfortable, feel free to say the names of your beloved dead aloud. Then pray:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen
Explore Further: One of the greatest short stories in the English language is James Joyce’s The Dead. It is easily in one sitting, and perfect for a chilly November night. Dark beer, a glass of good Irish whiskey, or a nice Brunello is optional, but highly recommended. It is the final story in Dubliners, a collection of short stories. More information here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1853260487/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_EK4DKQPT31AXN3JXFPBS
“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”The Dead, James Joyce