Today is All Souls day, a day when in some parts of Christianity the living pray for the dead and specifically those that we have loved but see no more. Throughout the world there are many traditions associated with this day, though it probably observed less in ‘Reformed Christianity’ in the West.
There are references to prayer for the dead in a number of Books of the Bible, including: 2 Maccabees, Zechariah, Sirach, and the Gospel of Matthew. Reacting against flagrant abuses in the Church, when Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he omitted the seven books of the canon which refer to prayers for the dead (except interestingly Matthew’s Gospel). He then introduced the doctrine that people are simply saved, or not, and argued that there is no need to pray for the dead to get them into heaven.
“Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors….They turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out.… therefore they made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin..“2 Maccabees 12:39, 42,45
All Souls Day is celebrated in much of the western world on 2nd November. The Eastern Orthodox Church has several such days throughout the year, mostly on Saturdays.
Different cultures mark the day differently. In North America, Americans may say prayers or light candles for the departed. In parts of Latin America, families visit the graves of their ancestors and sometimes leave food offerings for the departed. The Mexican traditions surrounding this day are probably the most widely known. They celebrate the day as “El Dia de Los Muertos” (“The Day of the Dead”). Today they traditionally visit graveyards and have a picnic and leave food out for their dead relatives who are on their journey to heaven.
Here in this part of Christendom, we mark the day with a special Eucharist, when we pray for the dead and read out a list of names of the friends, relatives and members of our congregations who have died, both recently and also in former years. Many of us find this a very moving experience.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us“Hebrews 12:1
We generally have just one service which alternates between St Finnbarr’s and St Andrew’s, but we read the names of those provided by members of all our congregations and drawn from our Registers.
This year, the service is as follows:
All Souls Requiem
St Andrew’s, Tain
Wednesday 2nd November
All are most welcome
“Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.”