Tag Archives: Anglicanism

All Saints: Remembering Those Who’ve Gone Before

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This past weekend, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints’ Day also known as All Hallows or the Feast of All Saints. It falls on November 1, the day after Halloween. In fact the term Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve. It is celebrated across the board; Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants celebrate this feast. The following day is All Souls (November 2). October 31-November 2 is called Hallowtide.

In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven. It is a national holiday in many traditional Catholic countries. The next day commemorates all the faithful departed who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. In both the Catholic and Anglican churches, November 2nd is called the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. The celebration of these days comes from the fundamental belief that there is a spiritual and prayerful bond between those in heaven (Church Triumphant) and those still on earth (Church Militant). In local congregations, deceased members are honored and remembered.

All Saints’ Day may originate in the ancient Roman observation of May 13, the Feast of Lemures, in which malevolent and restless spirits were propitiated. Some scholars base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin was that of All Saints on their identical dates and the similar theme of all the dead.

In the early church, Christians would commemorate a martyr’s death at the place of death. In the fourth century, with the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate date for each could not be assigned to each. But the church, rightly feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this can be found in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. And in the Eastern Orthodox Church, All Saints is still celebrated on this day.

The origin of All Saints’ Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been celebrated on various day in different places. The Feast of All Saints on its current date is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731-741) who in oratory on relics moved the day of celebration to November 1 and suppressed the May 13 festival.

A November festival of all saints was already widely celebrated in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious issued at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all of the bishops.

The festival was retained after the Reformation in the Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches. Protestants generally regard all true Christians as saints. There are those saints with a capital “S” like Luke, Peter, Paul, etc. And then there are those with a little “s” (the rest of us). In Protestant churches, All Saints is celebrated in remembrance of all Christians both past and present.

In Mexico, All Saints coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead celebration. Known as the Day of the Innocents, it honors deceased children and infants. In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and U.S. cities like New Orleans, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In some parts like Portugal, they also light candles on the graves.

In Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Catholic parts of Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Sweden, the custom is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. In English-speaking nations the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by Walsham How. The most familiar hymn tune for this hymn is “Sine Nomine” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Another popular hymn for this day is “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”

Remembering those who have gone before is especially important. Laura Huff Hileman writes, “Saints are just people who are trying to listen to God’s Word and live God’s call. This is the communion of saints we speak of in the Apostle’s Creed-that fellowship of believers that reaches beyond time and place, even beyond death. Remembering the saints who have helped extend and enliven God’s kingdom is what All Saints’ Day is about.” Indeed, we are surrounded by that “great cloud of witnesses” and they are watching us each and every day. On All Saints, we take time to remember “all the saints from whom the labors rest.”

Abide With Me: The Story Behind the Beloved Hymn

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The hymn, “Abide With Me,” is one of the most popular English hymns of the past 150 years. Its author, Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), was an Anglican priest and the vicar of All Saints in Brixham, England, a small fishing village on the coast of Devonshire. Lyte was a published poet and an accomplished hymn-writer who also penned “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven.” For most of his life, he suffered from poor health and would regularly travel abroad for relief, as was the tradition of that day. Despite his compromised health, Lyte was a tireless minister and a devoted family man. He would often playfully comment that “It was better to wear out than to rust out.” 

In 1844, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. For the next three years, his health deteriorated. On September 4, 1847, he stood in the pulpit for the final time and delivered his farewell message to his parishioners, preaching on the meaning of the Eucharist. It was out of this context that this beloved hymn came out of. 

For that same afternoon, Lyte, after a walk on the beach, retired to his room. He emerged an hour later with a handwritten copy of “Abide With Me.” He then left for a voyage to Italy in order to get away from the cold damp coastal weather. While en route, he mailed a revised copy of the hymn to his wife, Anne. A few days later, on November 20, 1847, while resting in a hotel on the French Riviera, Father Lyte went home to be with the Lord. A fellow clergyman who with him during his final hours reported that his final words were “Peace! Joy!”

Lyte’s hymn was set to music to the tune of “Eventide” by William H. Monk (1823-1889) and was debuted at Lyte’s memorial service. 

The hymn is essentially a prayer for God to remain with the speaker throughout his life, trials, and death. The opening line alludes to Luke 24:29, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”

The hymn has been popular across many Christian denominations and was said to be a favorite of King George V and Mahatma Ghandi. It is often sung at Christian funerals. In the aftermath of the Titanic sinking, survivors reported that the ship’s band played the hymn while the ship was sinking. It was also sung at the weddings of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. It is sung before kickoff at every FA Cup Final and Rugby League, and at various annual celebrations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom, including Remembrance Day (what we call Veterans’ Day). It has also been recorded by various jazz and gospel music artists. The hymn has also been a part of the soundtrack in numerous films and television programs including “Shane,” “Doc Martin” and “Touched By an Angel.” It was also sung at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London games. 

One scholar has commented, “As He often does, God took the sad ending of a life and made something lasting and beautiful.” May this also be our constant prayer-that the Lord would indeed abide with us throughout our lives and also at our death. Amen. 

America: The Land of Dissenters

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The American Revolution followed closely on the heels of the Great Awakening. This momentous religious event contained seeds for potential social change. Now the Awakening did not cause the Revolution, but it did anticipate it in many ways including the assertion of the rights of individual in whatever social level to challenge the established authority. This country is a land of dissenters and it has been since its inception. 

The most important link with the Revolution and a much older tradition of Protestant dissent that the Awakening reinforced. This went back to Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth in the 1650s. The American colonies were populated mostly with people, especially New England Congregationalists and Scotch Irish Presbyterians, who thought of themselves as heirs to that valuable heritage. In their eyes, they were Dissenters rather than part of the powerful Anglican establishment. The Awakening intensified the dissenting tradition in America and increased their numbers. When the Revolution started, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Baptists were almost invariably on its side.

George Marsden points out that one of the overlooked aspects of early America is its almost tribal ethnoreligious diversities. Politically, the most significant was the Scotch-Irish. During the reign of Elizabeth I, these Scots migrated to Ulster or Northern Ireland. As Scots, they disliked the English and as Presbyterians they disliked the Anglican church. During the course of the eighteenth century, they sailed in large numbers to the colonies, making up about one fourth of the population in Pennsylvania. They developed a strong animosity to the ruling Quakers, who were English and whose pacifist beliefs the gun toting Scotch-Irish saw as cowardly. They eventually brought Quaker rule to an end. Their even stronger hostility toward the English Anglicans, who were in control of the imperial government, was a major ingredient in the Revolution. Interestingly, the British sometimes referred to the American army as Presbyterian. But it was not just the Presbyterians. The Congregationalists in New England had a long and bitter history of antagonism with the Church of England. 

There was also a tradition of political dissent during the eighteenth century. The thought of English Dissenters was almost universally appropriated by the American revolutionaries. This thought first developed in the 1720s and it has been referred to as the Real Whig, or Commonwealth tradition. The commonwealth referred to the time of Puritan rule in England in the 1660s. These eighteenth century commonwealth men were heirs to this heritage because they belonged to nonconformist or dissenting denominations. 

Yet we most also recognize the importance and political implications in England of having an established church. Mirroring the practices of old Christendom, the Church of England was practically a department of the state and political power was tied to church membership. Other denominations were tolerated, but the memories of the Puritan takeover was recent enough that Anglicans were not ready to give up their political and social control. During the 1700s in England, if one were to hold public office or attend Oxford or Cambridge, one had to belong to the Church of England. 

This ties in to the most striking factor of religious dissent in the colonies was what one historian called the “Great Fear” or the fear of the American bishop. Anglicans in America operated at a considerable inconvenience by having no resident bishop by having no resident bishop since the church holds that the direct laying on of hands by a bishop was essential to ordination of clergy. Yet the same republican Americans, including many Anglicans, who opposed the new taxes for the empire were dead set against such an otherwise sensible proposal for an American bishop. They saw it as a major step toward imposing on the colonies the whole of the English hierarchical model for governing society.

Religion was a significant factor but it was not an isolated variable in the political events. Instead, the resurgence of dissenting religious heritages during the Great Awakening reinforced other ethnic and regional loyalties that contributed to the Revolution. Dissent was and is an important American tradition, whether it be religious or political. I spoke of the Whigs, they are one of the topics coming up, in particular, their view of history.