Materials for Worship on All Saints and All Souls Sunday

Ven. Peter Potter writes: This time of year we celebrate and give thanks for the lives of the saints, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and remember our own loved ones, souls in transition, the Church Expectant.

The notion of Purgatory was attacked during the Reformation but I actually find it a reasonable and comforting concept. I once heard an eminent Lutheran theologian say “God had not finished with us when we die”. He himself was comforted by this thought; it is a response to the sadness we feel when someone’s life has been cut short and their promise unfulfilled. This year sees the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alligieri and I have been reading his Divine Comedy lately. His section on Purgatory ends with the poet feeling “remade, refreshed, as any new tree is, with the foliage anew; pure and prepared to rise towards the stars”.

And what of Paradise? Our imagination fails us. One hymn refers to “those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see”, which might not seem very exciting, especially if we think of the typical Scottish Sabbaths of yesteryear! Dante, on the other hand, imagines it as a place of eternal springtime, where the song is “Hosanna … winter’s done”. For him, heaven is a place of pleasing melodies where many different voices blend in the manner of the polyphonic music of his day. He even imagines the saints dancing complex figures together – Strip the Willow at a perpetual ceilidh.

The illustration is a poster for a lecture marking Dante’s anniversary. It shows him, together with Beatrice, standing at the gate of Heaven (actually a real gate on the bank of Lake Lugano). Across the lake is Monte San Salvatore and at its foot the district called Paradiso. Heaven is nearer than you think!

For Dante, the life of Heaven is not a flat sameness but one that expresses the conviction that the variety and difference we find in this life will be preserved and will produce, not strife and dissension, but a true harmony. God’s great gift of free will is now purified by his love so that we wish “no more than we have … and our own wills are thus made one with the divine”. The harmony that humans were intended to enjoy is restored. This is what we are actually praying for when we ask “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

Dante’s guide to Paradise is Beatrice, a young woman to whom he was devoted but who died an early death. Now, having arrived in Paradise, she embodies the full range of possibilities that she, made in the image of God, was intended to enjoy. Dante ends his Commedia with the realisation that, in seeking God, we discover what we had truly been all along: “Now my will and my desire were turned … by love that moves the sun and stars”.

This is God’s will for us all ? the joy, peace, light and truth that awaits us in Paradise.


Lord, give us wisdom and courage to strive for a better world. May we to care for and respect the life that you give to all you have made. May we follow the example of the saints and all your faithful people in past ages.

Give wisdom to all in authority that they may learn from all in the past who have governed according to your will. May they remember that they are mortal and the works of their hands will not last for ever. May that knowledge draw them to a closer harmony that will enable them to tackle the problems of our day.

Guide the Church to follow the example of your saints in this and every age. May we be lights to the world in our generation and witness to your love with joyful praise, reverent worship and faithful service.

Bless our community and help us to share the grace which we have seen in the lives of the saints.
As we pray for our families and friends, we give you thanks for those whom we have loved but see no longer and for the generations from which our lives are drawn.

Have compassion on the bereaved. Grant them the support of human love and may they know the comfort that comes from a firm faith in the Resurrection. Receive the souls of the departed, may they be made ready to come into the light and glory of your presence.

Together with the saints, we make our prayers in the name of Jesus, our Saviour whose death has given us life. Amen.