Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee.
Every year at St. Mark's we take great care to commemorate All Saints and All Souls, and this year was certainly no exception. The three Sunday liturgies celebrating All Saints were each unique and wonderful in their own way. I was amazed at how our 8:00 am Sung Mass has been steadily growing, especially because this is a relatively new service for us at St. Mark's. As to be expected, the Solemn High Mass for All Saints was yet another time when we "worshiped the Lord in the beauty of holiness." I often have to remind myself not to take our Sunday worship for granted at St. Mark's. Not every church is able to accomplish the full Sunday rota of worship that our people so faithfully perform Sunday after Sunday, weekday after weekday. As well, not many churches are able to observe both All Saints and All Souls. From what I have seen on Facebook, many Episcopal churches seem to do an All Souls remembrance within the context of All Saints.
The real reason for this column is my excitement about our commemoration of All Souls. About a year ago I suggested to some members of our choir that they should tackle Gabriel Fauré's beloved Requiem in D Minor. At the All Souls Solemn High Mass our choir proved they were truly up to the task. In my twelve years as a priest, I have never been so proud of a choir as I was of our St. Mark's Choir this All Souls. The entire liturgy came together seamlessly. Sam Lam's organ accompaniment was masterful, Mike Dupre's conducting and preparation of the choir was superb, the choir soloists performed with passion and energy, and the choir overall was excellent. My favorite movement of the requiem was the Libera me. As we were doing the censing at the catafalque my body was tingling. Here we were commemorating the dead as a parish, and we were experiencing resurrection because of the music intersecting with the liturgy. This year's All Souls high mass will be one of the great achievements of our liturgical life. I continue to marvel at how much progress has been made over these past years. It is also important to mention the hard work of the Altar Guild. They switched the church over from All Saints to All Souls with great ease and aplomb, and the acolytes outdid themselves at both of these liturgical celebrations, as they typically do.
Of course all of this is only possible because of the faithful congregation that comes to worship. One of the great strengths of St. Mark's is that we are not a "Sunday-only" parish. Yes, Sundays are important - it is the Lord's Day, and the Lord's Day frames our entire week. At the same time, the liturgical year gives us many great days which do not fall on Sundays, and we do not proclaim a "Sunday-only" faith. Whether it is the Ascension, the Epiphany, Candlemas, Michaelmas, All Saints or All Souls, just to mention a few of the great traditional feasts, we gather faithfully on the day appointed to celebrate the life of Christ. Last Holy Week I was talking to a priest who was lamenting that he could not get his parish to come to church on Good Friday, basically because Good Friday is not a Sunday celebration! Even worse, only about ten people would attend church on Maundy Thursday. It continues to be an intractable problem for his parish, for they do not understand the liturgical rhythm of the year as it signifies the life of Christ. Just think about how much of the Christian story we would miss if we were to gather only on Sundays - our faith would suffer.
The poet priest George Herbert wrote, "seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee." At St. Mark's we try to form our lives so that the faith is not just a Sunday affair, but rather we want the faith to empower each and every day. Rather than compartmentalizing Christ for an hour on Sunday, we seek to infuse Christ into every moment of each day. When such a practice becomes our reality, our lives become a complete offering to God, whether on a Sunday like this past All Saints, or whether on a Monday, like our beautiful commemoration of All Souls. Our parish's practice of keeping Sundays and other holy days is a great gift.
The next weekday feasts besides Christmas are early next year. We will celebrate the Epiphany on the appointed day (Wednesday, January 6), and we will celebrate Candlemas on the appointed day (Tuesday, February 2). "Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee." Such adoration of our Lord may be viewed as a lot of extra work by some, but for us it shall be a great delight to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness whatever the day of the week it might happen to be.
Father Paul Lillie