Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls: An Autumnal Triduum

I write a weekly note to the community of Montreal Diocesan Theological College. This week’s is about our liturgical calendar.

When used in a liturgical context, the word Triduum (from the Latin “three days”) often refers to the holiest period of the church’s year, that beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday. But there is also an autumnal Triduum and we mark it this week: the Feast of All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day, and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. This week’s Triduum is of a decidedly lower profile but it is still worth taking time to pause and think about what the church calendar is telling us.

All-SaintsAt the centre of this Triduum stands one of my favourite holy days, the Feast of All Saints. The church remembers all those who have gone before us in the faith, both those who are famous and commemorated in our church calendars and also those known perhaps only to ourselves alone. For me, All Saints is an opportunity to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” who have shaped my life and my faith. Like those who have gone before us, we seek to make God’s grace visible in our lives and in our work. We also look ahead to the final consummation when we will stand with all these saints to praise the lamb on the throne. All Saints is preceded by All Hallow’s Eve, now more a secular holiday than a religious one. Historically, some Christians have believed that on this day the separation between heaven and earth is at its thinnest—it is a “liminal” moment at which we come close to glimpsing the life that awaits us.

The Triduum concludes with the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on November 2. As we learned in our impromptu theological disputation at lunch last Wednesday, opinions about this day vary widely. All Souls, as the day is also known, has a long history in the Christian tradition connected with beliefs in purgatory. To be sure, the 39 Articles of Religion declare purgatory “a fond thing vainly invented” (Art. 22) but the day retains a special resonance. For us, it can be a day when we remember before God all those who have died. We can also pray, in the words of the Book of Alternative Services, that “they may have a place in your eternal kingdom” (p. 127) and that God may “bring them into the place of eternal joy and light.” (p. 210) We have already begun collecting the names of those known to members of this community who have died in the past year so that we can remember them by name in chapel on Thursday morning.

As with so much in the church calendar, this week’s Triduum encourages us to do many things simultaneously. We look inwards and contemplate our own limitations and mortality. We remember how others have worked with their own imperfections to reveal God’s grace to the world. And we look forward to the glorious fulfillment which Christ will bring about. As we approach the end of the church’s year, the readings for the Daily Office in the weeks ahead will begin to highlight these same eschatological themes that are raised by this Fall Triduum.

As a Christian, I find that this Fall Triduum is valuable for the way it reminds me both of my own limitations (there is nothing more limiting than death) and also shows me the possibilities and the hopefulness that are at the centre of the Christian gospel. God has worked in the lives of so many people in the past and by God’s grace is working through us even now.

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