Friday, November 1, 2019

For All the Saints

If you want to know what Episcopalians believe, all you have to do is open the Book of Common Prayer--or as it is more casually known, the Prayer Book or BCP. It takes some practice to know how to flip effortlessly back and forth between the different parts of the Eucharist service, as well as the BCP's other resources. The more you do, however, the deeper an understanding you will gain of the "faith once delivered to the saints," as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it. The same could be said of the Hymnal 1982. It, too, is a good reflection of Episcopal belief, and on a day like All Saints' Day, when we sing so many classic favorites, our theology jumps out from the page.

In churches that only gather for worship on Sundays, it's difficult to differentiate between the two holy days of All Saints' Day (November 1) and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed (November 2). Parishes with a daily Mass are able to keep them distinct; but for parishes like ours, we have to make the most of that one day when we're all together at the Lord's Table. The hymn we're going to sing at the Gospel on Sunday begins, "I sing a song of the saints of God, patient, and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherd on the green: they were all of them saints of God--and I mean, God helping, to be one too." The saints comprise a dazzling variety of people, both the lofty and the humble.

All Saints' Day, strictly speaking, commemorates those that the Church over the centuries has seen fit to add to its official Calendar of Saints. As this Sunday's offertory hymn, "By all your saints still striving," notes, it includes "apostles, prophets, martyrs, and all the noble throng who wear the spotless raiment and raise the ceaseless song." Yet it's not only the greats like the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Luke, St. Francis, or contemporary luminaries like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr., but also the unsung heroes who have done great things without official recognition. The verse of the offertory hymn fittingly ends, "for them and those whose witness is only known to you--we give you praise anew."

The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, on the other hand, remembers all who have died: my Grandma Kibby; my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cortese, and so on. They may not have had a global impact like St. Joan of Arc or St. Thomas Becket--my patron saints--but they made a huge contribution to the person I am, and I am eternally grateful to them. So, it's wonderful that the Church offers a place in its calendar to commemorate them, too. One of the consistent messages of these two days is that we are called to remember both the Church's greats, and the people that were great for us, inspiring us to strive to become the best versions of ourselves, saints in our own way. And it is an expression of the Church's belief in the communion of saints, or as the Letter to the Hebrews calls it, "so great a cloud of witnesses." We pray for them as they reside with God in heaven, as we ask them to pray for us while we continue our earthly journey, hopeful that we will join them some day.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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