Friday, November 06, 2015


Halloween this year seems to have plunged to new depths of social irresponsibility.  Bikers rampaging through south London, stealing and frightening residents; a Halloween 'Rave' in Lambeth which turned ugly with “public disorder and criminal damage” and police being attacked: the notion of partying has seemingly been corrupted.  Yet might this be a consequence of the way the public/commercial celebration of Halloween has increasingly focused on the forces of darkness  Where 'Tricking', ghouls and fear have become the focus?  Should we be surprised that people lose their moral compass if they are directed to corruption? 

Whilst it is clear we live in a post-Christian society, the Church side-lined to the private sector and our Faith being derided by many, the observations surrounding death have also changed.  Mourning seems to be out and celebration in.  Yet the notion of heaven seems as popular as ever, except now God is absent and the experience seems more akin to an eternity enjoying your favourite hobby and meeting up with friends and relatives.   Frequently funerals rehearse the story of the life of the departed but make no reference to God, don't include scripture or Prayers for the Departed.  And that can even be true when they are celebrated for practicing Anglicans and are celebrated in church.  It reminds me of the importance of making sure that we leave proper instructions about our own funeral to make sure that we are accorded the proper Rites of the Church.

But I wonder if, as Anglicans, our lack of teaching about death and of attention to the place of Purgatory have contributed to this?  Just because the Thirtynine Articles state that: The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory. . .is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. (Article XXII) does not mean that Anglicans deny any concept of Purgatory.  The early Church inherited from Judaism the belief that the souls of the departed are either in bliss or in pain, as they wait for the general Resurrection of the dead.  

We still believe that, when we die, we will be rewarded in accordance with our faith and our works – as S. John of the Cross said: ‘At the end of our days, we shall be judged by our loving.’   So traditionally the church has affirmed that before we can enter into the presence of God there is a time of preparation.  Just how long that will last we don’t know for, as the psalmist said:
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night.
That is why we pray for the departed and offer Masses on their behalf.  Yet because we have free will we have to accept that some may not want to be united in Divine Love – in God – and, as impossible as it may seem, may choose what we call Hell, an eternity without God.

But, for Christians, heaven is not about an eternity of playing golf but about being at one in love with the Trinity and with Mary and all the Saints.  And, yes, with those loved ones who have gone before us and have come into the presence of God.  That is what Jesus enabled for us by His Passion and Death and what he longs to share with us.  Scripture speaks of this state in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him."  (1 Cor.2:9 cf. Is.64:4) 

But these are all images – metaphors – which try to express the inexpressible.  As Peter Abelard wrote in the 12th cent. and which is particularly sung during All Saintstide:
O what their joy and their glory must be,

those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;
crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:
God shall be All, and in all ever blest.

So, at our death, we may pass immediately to a life with the saints in heaven or spend time in Purgatory being prepared for that life.  Or, if we have not sought to live in love, we may find ourselves in Hell, separated from God.  Finally, there is the Last Judgment – that moment we affirm when, in the Creed, we proclaim that Christ
will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
This is the Second Coming of Christ and the final Judgment at the end of Days when, as Matthew records Jesus as saying: the damned ‘will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ (25:46)

Traditionally, the month of November is dedicated to the Holy Souls with Masses offered for them each day and it is a pity that most parishes no longer observe this custom.  For at the heart of our Faith lies this simple desire – that the soul, the essence of who we are, might one day, with all the Saints, be re-united with its Maker in the joy and wonder of heaven. 

‘May they rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon them – those millions among whom our friends are lost, those millions for whom we cannot choose but pray; because prayer is a sharing in the love of the heart of God, and the love of God is earnestly set towards the salvation of His spiritual creatures.’ (Austin Farrer – Anglican theologian)

ALL SOULS and All Saints - a history

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