prepared by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber
As we continue the selfless practice of restricted physical contact, as we adapt and welcome new ways of being communities of faith, our souls need special care. This ritual is one of a series services designed to align us with the Living God during these pandemic-impacted times as social justice reforms arise.
The Thin Veil
Around the globe diverse cultures and religions understand that there are times when the veil between the living and the dead thins. Usually these times align with nature’s conclusion of the harvest season as plants release spend biomass and concentrate on regenerating internal resources for next year’s crop. The wheel turns — life to death to life. In Christian tradition we observe this thinning most especially with two feast days: The Feast of All Souls on November 1st and the Feast of All Saints on November 2nd. Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is “All Hallows Eve” the night before All Souls.
Reclaiming a Spiritual Communion with the Dead
In 2019, US consumers spent $8.8 billion on playful decorations, costumes, and treats for Halloween. Spooky play is big business. Sadly, many souls lament the loss of the ancient purpose of this holy season. This is a time when the eternal in us reunites with the eternal in others, including the dead. We have a deep need to attend to and exercise that part of us that will never die – our souls. Our loved ones’ souls also have a deep need to be remembered and honored. When we pay attention to the divine gift of eternal souls, we prepare ourselves and our community for a more peaceful translation into the afterlife. During the pandemic, this is an especially significant time to honor the newly dead and to experience the sweet, mystic communion of souls when physical encounters are limited.
- Timing: Construction of a home altar/ofrenda can begin weeks before All Saints or All Souls days – November 1-2. The building of a physical tribute can be a very prayerful, healing activity especially when one is actively grieving.
- Location: Use the top of a bookcase, table, counter or fireplace mantel that can be left undisturbed.
- Construction: The base surface should be stable and flat. Use solid stackable items (bricks, books) to create “steps” to display many items to best advantage.
- Decoration: Fabric, woven mats, large leaves, or colored paper can be used to craft a colorful base. Mexican ofrendas are decorated with papel picado (colorful cut tissue paper), marigolds and calla lilies (real or paper), candles and calvaveras (skeleton figurines and sugar skulls). Include images of deceased loved ones and symbolic objects and favorite treats. (The spiritual nature of the offerings will be consumed when they come to visit.) Images of saints and objects from holy places are also welcome. If your little voice says “add this” – please do!
- Education: If you are new to such observances of All Saints/All Souls and the creation of altars/ofrendas, learn more from your local Latino community’s Mexican Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. Watch the 2017 film “Coco.”
- Fire Safety: Review safety rules: https://candles.org/fire-safety-candles/ Charged fire extinguishers should be handy. Never leave burning candles unattended. If your area is prone to wildfires please consider switching to flameless battery-operated candles.
Time for Children of All Ages
Out of the Bag “Ofrendas” making a home memorial; on “Kathryn Schreiber” YouTube channel, https://youtu.be/vxlyl166kzo
Invoking Souls Ritual
Please adapt order and words to make this ritual and your own.
“Come and Fill our Hearts” https://youtu.be/to01d0ejx7c
Bro. Jacques Berthier and the Taizé Community, CONFITEMINI DOMINO; performed by Grace Notes (Cheryl & Karl Aufderheide, Mary & Bob Richards)
Sing while lighting candles or decorating the altar; repeat chant as many times as needed.
Holy God, we gather at this altar/ofrenda eager for a communion of souls. In Your blessed presence, we call upon the souls of the Dearly Beloved who wish to assemble in goodwill. May they gather with us bringing with them heavenly gifts, as well as their perpetual intention to do Your will. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ who opened the gates of Heaven. Amen.
Place a living thing (fruit, flower) on the altar, or burn some incense, while singing the Gloria Patri.
“Gloria Patri” https://youtu.be/oghJOsXG-3E
The Lesser Doxology, GREATOREX, (Chalice #35); Performed by members of the Delaware Valley Classical School.
Take a few moments and remember your deceased loved ones, as well as those who went before who have impacted your life. If children are present, be sure to tell stories about those who have died. Ask them to share their memories and assure them that the souls of the dead are near and blessed when they are remembered. This may be a time for reunion tears which is a good thing. We do miss those who have crossed over. Also, try to be still and sense their presence. Maybe a particularly strong memory or thought arises? Souls speak a more subtle language than mortal mouths, but they do communicate and love to be heard.
Prayers of the People
Offer prayers for those who living and dead, including:
- the saints and friends of Jesus;
- the ancestors, named and without names;
- those who are memorialized on the altar;
- those who have recently died;
- those who are preparing to die;
- those who are grieving;
- our own eternal souls.
The Lord’s Prayer
Assembled here in this communion of souls, we join together to pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Words of Faith
Let us take assurance from these words of faith from St. Paul:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)
Let us listen for the wisdom in these words from Thomas A Kempis:
“It is a vanity to mind only this present life, and not to look forward to those things which are to come. It is a vanity to love that which passes with all speed, and not to hasten to that place were everlasting joy abides. Often remember the proverb: The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing. Study therefore to withdraw your heart from the love of visible things, and to turn yourself to things invisible.”(tak)
May Christ speak to us, as Jesus spoke to his beloved followers, saying:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3 (NRSV)
We are grateful for all who have assembled here. As we conclude this time of sacred communion of souls, let us wish peace upon all beings in all places, in all times.
“Dona Nobis Pacem” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmqPP5rt1c8
Traditional Latin hymn, DONA NOBIS PACEM (Chalice #297); performed by Anaya Guitar.
Blow out all the candles saying: “Peace upon all Beings.”
This concludes the ritual. Repeat daily while the veil is thin.
Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995
Online New Century Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/NCH1995
HOL: Hymns of Life, bilingual hymnal. ©1986, China Alliance Press.
(kms) All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber unless attributed to another source.
(nrf) National Retail Federation
(tak) Thomas a Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, New York: Thomas Whittaker 2 & 3 Bible House. ©1981, pp4-5. Modern language adaptation kms.
(NRSV) New Revised Standard Version ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, have suspended copyright restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Online Publishing Date: October 20, 2020.
Worship Credit: ©2020, Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber
Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author.
Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. However, you may express your gratitude financially by supporting disaster relief giving to One Great Hour of Sharing through your church, our church, or directly: http://www.ucc.org/oghs. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!
Living Liturgies: www.inthebiglove.com; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn Schreiber”