Halloween; All Saints and All Souls – a Sacred Triduum

An autumnal Triduum – (Anglican Diocese of Montreal)

Dear colleagues,

When used in a liturgical context, the word Triduum (from the Latin “three days”) often refers to the holiest period of the church’s year, that beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday. But there is also an autumnal Triduum and we mark it this week: the Feast of All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day, and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. This week’s Triduum is of a decidedly lower profile but it is still worth taking time to pause and think about what the church calendar is telling us.

At the centre of this Triduum stands one of my favourite holy days, the Feast of All Saints. The church remembers all those who have gone before us in the faith, both those who are famous and commemorated in our church calendars and also those known perhaps only to ourselves alone. For me, All Saints is an opportunity to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” who have shaped my life and my faith. Like those who have gone before us, we seek to make God’s grace visible in our lives and in our work. We also look ahead to the final consummation when we will stand with all these saints to praise the lamb on the throne. All Saints is preceded by All Hallow’s Eve, now more a secular holiday than a religious one. Historically, some Christians have believed that on this day the separation between heaven and earth is at its thinnest—it is a “liminal” moment at which we come close to glimpsing the life that awaits us.

The Triduum concludes with the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on November 2. As we learned in our impromptu theological disputation at lunch last Wednesday, opinions about this day vary widely. All Souls, as the day is also known, has a long history in the Christian tradition connected with beliefs in purgatory. To be sure, the 39 Articles of Religion declare purgatory “a fond thing vainly invented” (Art. 22) but the day retains a special resonance. For us, it can be a day when we remember before God all those who have died. We can also pray, in the words of the Book of Alternative Services, that “they may have a place in your eternal kingdom” (p. 127) and that God may “bring them into the place of eternal joy and light.” (p. 210) We have already begun collecting the names of those known to members of this community who have died in the past year so that we can remember them by name in chapel on Thursday morning.

As with so much in the church calendar, this week’s Triduum encourages us to do many things simultaneously. We look inwards and contemplate our own limitations and mortality. We remember how others have worked with their own imperfections to reveal God’s grace to the world. And we look forward to the glorious fulfillment which Christ will bring about. As we approach the end of the church’s year, the readings for the Daily Office in the weeks ahead will begin to highlight these same eschatological themes that are raised by this Fall Triduum.

As a Christian, I find that this Fall Triduum is valuable for the way it reminds me both of my own limitations (there is nothing more limiting than death) and also shows me the possibilities and the hopefulness that are at the centre of the Christian gospel. God has worked in the lives of so many people in the past and by God’s grace is working through us even now.

Faithfully yours,
Jesse Zink
Principal

This message was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. Photo: Día de Todos los Santos in Guatemala.

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This article, from the website of the Anglican Church of Canada, featuring the diocese of Montreal, reminds us of the implications of the Season of the Church’s Year when Christians around the world are celebrating what might be called ‘The Second Great Triduum’ – Three Days of solemn celebration of ‘Halloween’; All Saints Day and All Souls Day – drawing tegether our catholic understanding of ‘Those who have gone before us in the Sign of Faith’.

All Hallows is the ancient name for the Feast of All Saints, so that ‘Halloween’ – the Eve – is more celebrated in the secular sphere for its representation of the macabre world of quasi-religious effigies of witches, demons and skeletons, with children doing the rounds of the local neighbourhood with their ‘Trick or Treat’. This practice would seem to highlight a strange conflation of the tradition of both All Saint and All Souls.

All Saints Day (Halloween) , itself, on the other hand, is an unequivocal celebration of the Lives of the Saints – known and unknown – whose Christian witness has been recognised by the Church in their lives of self-offering in service to both God and their fellow human beings. They are considered by the Church to have attained a standard of perfection in this life that has guaranteed them the distinct privilege of recognition as already being part of the fullness of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in the Presence of God and the Holy Angels.

All Souls Day, is a celebration of the Faithful Departed – and that of ‘those whose faith is known to God alone’ – for whom we pray, and who many of us believe are in a state of further spiritual growth in Paradise – the place of departed spirits that Jesus, in the Gospels, indicated would be the location of the Penitent Thief in his words: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise”. (Saint Paul describes his own idea of what will happen ‘on the Last Day’; when “those who belong to Christ will be raised first” – an indication that most of us – at our death – will share the place of waiting, being perfected by God in Paradise, with our Departed sisters and brothers; at rest, until Christ comes in glory to take us with him to our Heavenly home with God).

I recognise that for many Protestants (Anglican as well as others), any thought of prayers to or for the Saints and for the ‘Faithful Departed’ are contrary to any direct Biblical evidence. However, divine revelation did not come to an end with the writing of the Scriptures. There is such a thing as Tradition – the ongoing experience of the Church through the time of its existence, which has raised up supporters of the idea of asking the Saints for their prayers of intercession. (In the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, one of the bases for sainthood is evidence of their prayers of intercession having been answered by miracles of healing experience by living persons).

While the 39 Articles of the Church of England had its reservations on praying to the Saints and prayers for the Faithful Departed, the tradition still flourishes in that part of the Anglican Tradition that claims continuity with the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as defined by the tracts and teaching of the ‘Oxford Movement’.

There is a philosophical construct in Christian theology which speaksd of three consecutive states of existence for believers: (1) the Church Militant (here on earth); (2) the Church Expectant (in Paradise) and (3) the Church Triumphant (in heaven).

However, as fully-alive Christians, we can understand these 3 stages of progression as being beyond the limitations of time and space – all encompassed in the idea of The Kingdom of Heaven as being in the Eternal Now – as Jesus himself promised: “The Kingdom of Heaven is among you!“. This is all part of the great Mystery of Faith which is ‘hidden with Christ in God’ until such time as God chooses to reveal it to us.

However In the celebration of The Eucharist, we can experience, already, the reality of being together with Christ, crucified, risen & glorified; together with the Saints in Heaven, and with our Departed sisters and brothers gathered around the altar – a divinely-provided foretaste of what is yet to come.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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