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Feast of All Souls

The Rev’d Charles Everson

Nov. 2, 2023 • All Souls’ Requiem


“The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well as Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”

That is what the 39 Articles of Religion, the defining doctrinal statement of the Church of England first promulgated in the year 1571, had to say about purgatory, among other things.

In hindsight, no one is surprised that the Reformers took issue with the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, particularly as it related to indulgences. According to the current Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, “Purgatory is an intermediate state after physical death in which some of those ultimately destined for heaven must first “undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”, while an indulgence is a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo in purgatory for sins, such as saying a certain prayer or doing specific good works. By the time of the Reformation, there had developed a practice of the church offering indulgences for a fee. While the origin of this saying is in dispute, it certainly captures the spirit of how indulgences were perceived in the time of Martin Luther: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

And so purgatory was jettisoned by Protestants at the Reformation, along with the corresponding practice of Christians praying that those in purgatory might be sped quickly along their way. It’s no wonder that even today, some 500 years later, the word “purgatory” makes many Protestants squirm in their pew.

This is why I really appreciate the way the authors of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and its addendum Lesser Feasts and Fasts, reintroduced public prayers for the dead in our tradition for the first time since the Reformation. In the catechism of the ’79 prayer book, the question is asked, “Why do we pray for the dead? We pray for them because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.”[1]

I’m not sure about you, but it comes naturally to me to pray for those I love. That doesn’t change when someone has died. At every Mass, I pray for my deceased grandparents and uncle, and sometimes other mentors and friends who are dear to me. I continue to pray for them because I still hold them in my love, and because I trust that in God’s presence they will grow in God’s love, until they see God as he is.

When C.S. Louis, 20th century British author and theologian, was asked by a friend whether he prays for the dead, he responded, "Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?”

So tonight, no matter what you think about the Romish Doctrine of purgatory, I encourage you to continue to pray for those you love but see no longer: those whom you love and those whom you hurt. I’m sure the loved ones you’re praying for weren’t always models of virtue, and they may have in fact hurt in you in a good number of ways, and you them. But on this day, we pray that they may continue to grow in God’s love, and we long for the day that we will be reunited with them in that heavenly city where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. We long for that day, and as we approach this altar in a moment, for a moment, we are as close to the dead as we can be on this side of the veil as we partake in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. No matter how we may feel, we are brought so close to them that all of creation seems to groan and long for the day when all will be made whole, when Christ will come in glory to judge both the living and the dead, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, the day when all our hopes will be fulfilled and we are reunited with those who have gone before.

Tonight, we remember the dead. We not only remember them, we commune with them. We pray for them, and we draw near to them, and we long to be with them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


[1] BCP 862.

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