I apologize for this late posting; although the week has been a bit busy, the delay is really because more work was required to prepare a useful and coherent set of notes. I had also wanted to add a note justifying traditional Hallowe'en practices, but time overtook me.
The festival of All Saints had its origins in the fourth century, when the great persecutions had ended, and the Church and there was a desire to remember all the martyrs, not just the local ones or those who had gained a wide veneration.
Christians have long recognized that some of their brothers and sisters showed “an extraordinary love for Christ”, as Fr Reynolds put it, and whose lives displayed Christ’s triumph over evil in the witness to death of the martyrs, the witness through suffering of the confessors, and rthe witness of those who made themselves the servants of others. These, according to the theology that developed, are in heaven granted the Beatific Vision, the vision of the glory of God. It is these men and women whose lives are commemorated in the Calendar of Saints. There are many who are known but have no place in the Calendar, and others who are known only to God: it is all these we remember on this day.
The Saints in Anglican Thought and Worship
The English Church maintained many commemorations of individual saints as well as the festival of All Saints after the Reformation, even though devotions to and invocation of the saints were eliminated from the liturgy. With the Catholic revival of the XIXth century a full-blooded devotion to the saints has been restored in many Anglican churches with the result that today some Anglican churches have images of the saints and do them honour, and both churches and individuals personally ask prayers of the saints, even though these practices are not found in any official Anglican liturgy. For the theological questions involved, see chapters 71 and 72 of C. B. Moss, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology:http://anglicanhistory.org/cbmoss/66_76.html
For the traditional doctrine of Heaven in Western theology, see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07170a.htm .
In the absence of a public cultus of saints and a formal doctrine of Purgatory it is rather hard to pin down the Anglican understanding of the distinction between All Saints and All Souls. Perhaps this is something that individual Anglicans need to think about and discuss. A good question to start with is: Do we believe that some of the departed are taken immediately into the presence of God while others are given healing and growth in Purgatory, and that we ask the prayers of the first and pray for the second group? If not, what difference is there? Does Scripture give us data enough for speculation?
Despite these questions, what might be considered the complex feast of All Saints and All Souls is a celebration of the community of the members of Christ, “knit together in one communion and felowship” in his mystical Body. It reminds us that, as Eric Mascall wrote, people become members of the Church in baptism; they do not leave it through death. It is the assurance that just as “neither death, nor life … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ,” so none of these things will be able to separate the members of Christ from one another.
Finally, on All Saints’ Day we must remember that the saints are not some special type of person more wonderful than us and somehow holy by nature, somehow without failings; they are, like us, redeemed sinners. To study the lives of the saints is to study all the achievements and faults of humanity taken up into the life of Christ. In them we see what we are called to do and be; their example reminds us that we can be and do the same.
The Sentence is taken from the first reading of this year; it differs from the Allelui verse in the Roman Missal (Matthew 11. 8)
The Collect of the Day is an adaptation of the traditional Prayer Book collect.
The First Reading: The Revelation to John, 7.9-17
It apparently cannot be said too often that this Book is not called the “Book of Revelations” but The Apocalypse, or Revelation, to John. “Apocalypse” is simply a Greek word that means “revelation”. The Revelation has been described as a fitting close to the Holy Scriptures, since its concluding chapters “depict the consummation toward which the whole Biblical message of redemption is focused”. (Though parts of it may be older, it is probable that it was put in its present form towards the end of the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96) by one John—scholars differ as to whether he is the same as the author of the fourth Gospel. This John had been banished to the island of Patmos (1.9), where he received a vision of consolation to the Church in a time of stress and persecution.
Much nonsense has been written about the Book of Revelation; a good commentary is absolutely essential when reading it. The Wikipedia article has a good bibliography, out of which I should recommend that one begin with the volumes in the Anchor Bible series. See
On All Saints’ Day we should stress that this vision is of a great throng beyond all reckoning; for the celebration of the Saints is the celebration of God’s triumph in Christ, made real and material in the winning of each Christian soul. By this vision we see the glory of the hope that is offered to us.
In verse 9 we read that the great multitude was “standing before the throne and before the Lamb”: in both cases the Greek word translated “before” is ἐνώπιον, which has a root sense of “in the sight of”. The same word is used in verse 11, where we read that “they fell on their faces before the throne”. The sense of vision is perhaps at a lower level here, in the “back story” of the words, but it is still here, giving a sense of closeness and knowledge.
A little point might be made about verse 14, where John says to "one of the elders", "Sir, you know". This translation obscures the fact that the elder is addressed as "my lord" (κύριέ μου). Distinguishing the meanings of "lord" and "sir" when translating κύριέ may make sense in our culture, but it obscures the fact that the same word covered both uses in the Greek. Thus a distinction unknown to the original writer and audience is imported into the text.
Like Psalms 9, 10 and 25, this is an alphabetical acrostic, in which the verses begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is a thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble, in which the psalmist tells of his experience of God’s answer to his cry for help (4-6) and calls on the people to have the same kind of faith in God that the psalmist has, and assures them that God will never be found wanting. Those who fear the Lord lack nothing – “They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more, nor shall the sun fall on them nor any heat.”
The theme of vision appears in verse 6: “Look upon him and be radiant” It is the vision of God which gives beauty and splendour to us.
The Epistle, 1 John 3.1-3
This is part of the Epistle for Epiphany VI in the BCP; it is the Epistle for All Saints in the Roman Missal.
Although called a letter, 1 John has neither the salutation nor the conclusion of a letter and resembles rather a sermon or treatise. None of the three letters “of John” give the author’s name: their theological ideas, vocabulary and style are so like the fourth gospel as to be from the same pen. It appears to date from the end of the first Christian century and may have circulated together with the Gospel of John. In the verses appointed to be read on this festival in Year A points to our hope of being made like Christ
Our being made like Christ will come in our vision of him: “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This is something to consider: what does it mean to say that to see Christ as he is will make us like him? The passage ends saying that it is because of the hope of this vision that we purify ourselves: is this what makes the change? Is this the same as what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.12
The Gospel, Matthew 5.1-12
The Beatitudes are the traditional Gospel for All Saints’ Day. In these opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares God’s favour towards those who aspire to live under his rule. To “live under God’s rule” is another way of saying to be a saint, for holiness is to live and be as God wills one to live and be. In self-examination it is good to read the Beatitudes regularly as a standard against which to measure your life.
The RCL notes, like some modern translations, suggest that “Blessed are” can be translated as Happy are those who. This is true, but depends one the meaning we attach to “happy”. A word’s etymology or derivation can be well thought of as its “back story”, those things that we might not consciously think that do influence the present sense of the word. The root of “happy” is “hap”, chance, fortune or luck. while it clearly means “very glad” it has a strong sense of luck to it, which is not what this passage has in mind. “Blessed” on the other hand, although it has taken on sense of “bliss”, ultimately means “consecrated”, “made holy” by sprinkling with sacrificial blood (see Revelation 7.14).
Here we will only note the sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” which brings in the theme of the vision of God. The vision of God, above all, describes a relationship. As St Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth:
For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood (1 Cor. 13.12).