Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

Early November 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 2 November 2018

All Souls

Today is the second of November, the commemoration of All Souls, and this is providential in its way, since the big message this time is indeed about the dead.

All Souls is a little awkward for those of us not advanced in holiness. It is not neat and tidy the way most feasts are. Those all come packaged with the name of a saint and even an implication as to what we ought to be feeling when we commemorate him or her, but All Souls doesn’t. All Souls is not about this saint or that saint but about practically anybody, so there is no such automatic agenda. Even the tone is undefined. Should we be sorrowing, or sympathizing, or celebrating? Is that “black or violet” of the vestments a flat black of gloom or a rich velvet deepness of solemn glory? Surely it should be the latter, since the journey through death is the journey towards God, and the ones we celebrate today are one step ahead of us. Even astronomers will agree, since they tell us that the surface of the Moon is blacker than soot, and yet, reflecting the Sun, moonlight illuminates the night and stops us getting lost on our way.

Which is all very well and all very inspiring, but it still leaves us not quite knowing what to do about our dead, today and through the month of November. There is a sort of feeling one should feel sorry for them, especially for the “forgotten souls in Purgatory” who have nobody left to pray for them; but feeling gently sorry is neither accurate nor adequate. It will do for pagans, who believe themselves to crumble into dust or into a whisper blown away by the wind, but for us, for whom eternity is a grand building of which, in this life, we are building the foundations, it makes no sense at all. As C.S. Lewis put it (rather dramatically), “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit –  immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Now, what ties all this in with Universalis is the idea that All Souls is not a feast for all of us but for each of us. When we celebrate St Peter Claver, we all celebrate the same saint. If we prefer St Basil to St Gregory, or St Gervase to St Protase or Cyprian to Cornelius or John Fisher to Thomas More, that doesn’t break the principle, it only stretches it a little. But my dead are not your dead and your dead are not mine. Our perspectives, now, are truly distinct, even if they are still perspectives on the same ultimate truth. Even more, there is a sense in which I am my dead and you are yours. That is why the young are so half-formed: having no dead of their own they cannot yet know who they themselves are. They are not themselves, yet. They are surrounded by unfinished music and are unfinished themselves; but we, as time goes on, are surrounded, are formed, by more and more music that is not still going on but is completed, definite, and real.

Remembrance cards

A feature was cleverly slipped into Universalis last month (or, to be honest, in September). It was this. If you were using an iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch, and if you labelled any of your contacts with a date of death, and if you told Universalis, in its settings, to take notice of this, then you would see reminders of the dead on their anniversaries: in the About Today page of the day, in the About Today page of the week, and (by special request) in the prayers and intercessions at Vespers.

Almost as soon as this feature was completed, and before Apple had even approved the update, we were aware that this was a mistake. Not the feature, but the manner of it. Not because it wasn’t a good thing, but because it was. It was too good to be hidden away in an ingeniously programmed corner where few would find it and still fewer would use it. It was just too clever.

Now, therefore – and this is what the long October silence has been all about – the creation of “remembrance cards” is accessible to anybody. Just tap in the middle of the screen in the usual way you do when you want the toolbar; tap on the circled ‘i’ in the toolbar to get the menu; and tap on “Remembrance Cards”. [This all works on the iPhone and iPad and so on, but we will extend it more widely in due course].

We call them remembrance cards because they are like the sort of thing you might stick in your missal. If a name and a date is all you have got, just put that; but the real value comes when you add a photograph or a few sentences to say how this person is important to you. Whatever you put, it will appear every year on the anniversary of that person’s death.

That is the dry description. Purely from having to put cards into the thing in order to try it out, I can testify that the power of the exercise is something far greater than anything that can be described. It is nothing like those necrologies in diocesan or monastic Ordos which list names dating back long before any of us was born – which makes them a list of names and not much else, because they are names of people we do not know and have not met. Compare that with seeing C., whom you were with as she died, or J.D.A., whom, now you think of him, you realise that you owe more than you had ever imagined. These all, each in their own way, were panes through which the light of God was refracted into your life and who now still refract that light, brighter than ever now, if you will only stopfor a moment and see it. And being reminded each year, you will see it. Commemorating these people is not an act of condescending kindness towards them: it is an act of thanks to God for what they have been for you and, more than mere thanks, it is an annual renewal of it. Perhaps they were friends, perhaps they were enemies; you may be sad they are dead, or glad; perhaps it was more complicated than that; but from now on you will see it, increasingly see it, in the light of eternity. Each year you will understand it better.

Do it yourself, and you will see. It is not hard, and the reward is great.

One final practical point arises. What to do about J.L., whose date you don’t remember, or P., whose date you never even knew but which (given her age) must be long in the past by now? Perhaps there is an authoritative answer, and perhaps the answer I am going to give is wrong for one reason or another. Still, here it is. The Queen, for reasons which from childhood I have never understood, has an Official Birthday on which various grand and ceremonial things happen. Perhaps the weather is better than on her real one, or perhaps the idea of monarchs’ birthday celebrations shifting as the monarchs change is inimical to the good order of the British constitution. Whatever the reason, it is an idea worth adopting. For J.L., and for P., and for anyone else I specially need to remember, I will not engage private detectives to look up official records, or waste too much energy on doing research. I will assign each of them an “official death-day” on one date or another in November, taking advantage of the whole month instead of trying to cram them all into the same day. And so, from year to year, November will become more and more a month to look forward to.

New Kindle e-books

The other thing about November is that Advent is nearly with us, so if you buy the ready-made Universalis e-books from Amazon, for the Kindle, then the old ones have nearly run out. The new season’s e-books are ready now: the Liturgy of the Hours for the half-year from Advent to next Pentecost, and the readings at Mass for a bit more than a year, from Advent to the end of next year. Our catalogue has links to all the available e-books. Of course you don’t need to buy from Amazon: if you have a Universalis registration code, you can make e-books for yourself whenever you want.

How to update

There are new versions of all the Universalis apps and programs, containing the usual corrections and completions and also, this time, one beautiful new feature in “About Today” which I shan’t mention because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of discovering it.

Updates are (or should be) automatic on Android and iOS, while on the Mac and Windows Universalis checks for updates from time to time and lets you know when one is available. In case any of this doesn’t happen, we have instructions for updating manually here.

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