As I have conveyed in my discussion of our daughter Bethany’s memory of emulating the cartoon character of Mulan “praying to the ancestors,” (see the related entry on that topic) I certainly do not think there is anything magic about praying for the ancestors. But I also have found it to be a source of consolation as well as grace to take the time to pray for my ancestors. For example, I love the following collect prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church) for All Saints Day (Nov. 1st):
“Almighty God,you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son our Lord: Give us grace so as to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
As my friend and mentor, Prof. Stanley Hauerwas has written in another context,
“We know many of their names. . . . but even if we named all those whose names we know, the list of those we do not know is even longer. Most of the saints we celebrate today had names that are now lost to us. The saints of times past and even thoe present are most often people who lack the power to insure that they will be remembered. They are the blessed ones Jesus describes as the poor, the hungry, the mournful.”
The Difference Christ Makes edited by Charlie Collier (Wipf & Stock, 2014).
Whether we are thinking about members of our family or the communion of saints (or both), it does not take long before we get to the end of the list of those we know by sight (somewhere between 1860 and 1900) and we only have to go back another couple of hundred years until we start to run into the fact that we aren’t really sure of the names either.
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