“Preach always. Use words only if necessary,” was the admonition of Francis of Assisi.
Our All Saints Sunday proclamation of the resurrection of the dead neither end nor begins with the sermon. This article briefly outlines ideas for extending our proclamation throughout the worship service and throughout the day.
For congregations with many names of annual deaths to read out, make available a book of remembrance (blank book or notebook) during the month of October through All Saints to allow people to record names they wish to remember. Make general reference to the names written in the book of remembrance as part of the list of specific names of those who have died since last All Saints Sunday.
For congregations with fewer names of annual deaths to be read, distribute cards on Reformation and All Saints Sundays to allow people to write names they wish to remember and return to the ushers for use on All Saints. Use these cards to compose the list, as a supplement to the names of this year’s funerals/deaths. Or, on All Saints Sunday, allow space in the service to invite people to speak out the names of the people they wish to remember during the naming of the recently deceased in the liturgy.
All Saints Day entrance
Provide small votive candles at the entrance to the worship space. Ushers or hosts may invite worshipers to light a candle and place it in a prepared location (near the front or the baptismal font) as a memorial of those who have died. In some parishes the book of remembrance may remain available at the entrance to record names on All Saints Sunday.
Reading the names
Prepare the list of names of the departed (arranged in groups of three or four if there are many, perhaps punctuated by music or ritual action. Place the names in your book of remembrance if you have created one. Introduce the names with words such as:
Blessed be the memory of these saints of God who lived and worked among us, our companions in our pilgrimage of faith, who have found their rest in God…
Include in the list and read out the names of all who have died since last All Saints Sunday (both parish funerals and parish members).
The list may be interspersed with local, national, and worldwide notable deaths from the past year, such as the children of Darfur and China or victims of hurricane and natural disaster, to include the whole Church and broaden our celebration.
Conclude the list with words such as:
Eternal rest grant to them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Punctuate with music
Musicians can help with the reading of the names of the dead by inserting musical sounds between the names. Consider ringing handbells or church bells, brief refrains/antiphons, or hymn stanzas. For example, the stanzas of For All the Saints can broken into two groups; reading the names between the groups, with the melody continuing quietly in the background. A candle may be lit during each musical interlude or after each name is read.
Environment and art
If you develop a book of remembrance, use calligraphy or typeset and create an annual page, dated with the year, which holds the list of those who have died. On the pages following, include space for worshippers to add their own names of people they are remembering.
During the liturgy place the book of remembrance in the same place, using the same furnishings, that you use during a memorial service for cremated remains or a photograph.
Create a poster/banner/electronic slide with the names of all the dead to be used on All Saints Sunday. Candles or flowers (one for each name) may be placed nearby.
Surround the assembly with temporary banners, each banner including the name of one of the dead, giving a sense that this cloud of witnesses surrounds us.
Begin introducing harvest colors/wheat/traditional Thanksgiving images or use images of the gate/door/path.
Using one the quilters’ quilts or a blanket, talk about being wrapped up in Grandma’s love− Grandma’s quilt — an image of being gathered up into the life of Christ, wrapped forever in God’s love.
Repeat the names of the dead in the preface to the hymn of thanksgiving: “…and so with [names], with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn…”
As long as we are proclaiming the resurrection of the dead, you might conduct a funeral planning workshop on All Saints Sunday. Make available a funeral planning form. Discuss what funerals do (a movement from comforting the bereaved with the promises of baptism, to remembering the dead, to intersecting their story with the Gospel story, to celebrating the promise of the resurrection). Express your congregation’s preferences for funeral celebrations. Describe what you as a pastor do when death comes to a member. You can even share your thoughts about your own funeral.
Afternoon/after church cemetery visits
If you have a church cemetery or columbarium, announce a time during the afternoon when the pastor will be available for cemetery visits.
If you have no cemetery, or if your parish uses multiple municipal cemeteries, in the weeks before All Saints Sunday, invite people to request All Saints Day cemetery visits. Then publish times when the pastor will be at each cemetery so others may attend. Conduct a brief prayer service as you move from grave to grave with the families.
Families will naturally tell stories of loved ones and discover other parish members who share this cemetery as the burial place of their loved ones. If there is no risk of fire, add votive candles to each grave visited (or another symbol such as a wheat shaft from a craft store). To add an intergenerational dimension, provide supplies for tombstone etching/stenciling, or a picnic in the cemetery.
Hold an evening prayer service with special invitations sent to those recently bereaved or whose grief is close to the surface. Invite the families of all those who have died since last All Saints Sunday. A flower (such as a white rose) may be distributed or a candle given as each name is read, or following the service, or during the sharing of the peace.