All Souls Day

Last Judgment, Stefan Lochner, 1435, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany

 

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”

John 6:37-40

The Last Judgment from the Beaune Altarpiece, Rogier Van Der Weyden

The Last Judgment from the Beaune Altarpiece, Rogier Van Der Weyden

From Catholic Online:

“All Souls Day is a holy day set aside for honoring the dead. The day is primarily celebrated in the Catholic Church, but it is also celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church and a few other denominations of Christianity. The Anglican church is the largest protestant church to celebrate the holy day. Most protestant denominations do not recognize the holiday and disagree with the theology behind it.

According to Catholic belief, the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.

Purgatory is necessary so that souls can be cleansed and perfected before they enter into heaven. There is scriptural basis for this belief. The primary reference is in 2 Maccabees, 12:26 and 12:32. “Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out… Thus made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin.”

Additional references are found in Zechariah, Sirach, and the Gospel of Matthew. Jewish tradition also reinforces this belief as well as the tradition and teaching of the Church, which has been affirmed throughout history.

Consistent with these teachings and traditions, Catholics believe that through the prayers of the faithful on Earth, the dead are cleansed of their sins so they may enter into heaven.

The belief in purgatory has not been without controversy. Certainly, some flagrant abuses of the doctrine were used to raise money for the Church during the renaissance. Famously, Martin Luther argued with the monk, Johan Tetzel, over the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were sold as spiritual pardons to the poor and applied to the souls of the dead (or the living) to get people into heaven. The abuse of indulgences and the blatant, sometimes fraudulent practice of selling indulgences for money, led to Luther’s protest.

When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he omitted the seven books of the canon which refer to prayers for the dead. He then introduced the heretical belief that people are simply saved, or not, and argued that there is no need to pray for the dead to get them into heaven.

The Church reeled from Luther’s accusation, and reformed its practice of selling indulgences. However, it reemphasized the Biblical and traditional practice of praying for the departed and the importance of such prayers.

All Souls Day is celebrated in much of the western world on November 2. Other rites have their own celebrations. The Eastern Orthodox Church has several such days throughout the year, mostly on Saturdays. All Souls Day is not a holy day of obligation. It should not be confused with All Saints’ Day, which is a holy day of obligation.

Many cultures also mark the day differently. In North America, Americans may say extra prayers or light candles for the departed. In parts of Latin America, families visit the graves of their ancestors and sometimes leave food offerings for the departed.”

The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican 1536–1541, Fresco, 1370 cm × 1200 cm, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican
1536–1541, Fresco, 1370 cm × 1200 cm,
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

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Are you a Faithful Servant?

Beaune Altarpiece with the Last Judgment, Rogier Van der Weyden, 1445-50, Hospices de Beaune

Beaune Altarpiece with the Last Judgment, Rogier Van der Weyden, 1445-50, Hospices de Beaune

Jesus said to his disciples: 
“Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Then Peter said,
“Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”
And the Lord replied,
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward
whom the master will put in charge of his servants
to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.
Truly, I say to you, he will put him
in charge of all his property.
But if that servant says to himself,
‘My master is delayed in coming,’
and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants,
to eat and drink and get drunk,
then that servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour
and will punish the servant severely
and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
That servant who knew his master’s will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly. 
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

Luke 12:39-48

The Last Judgment, Hans Memling, 1467-71, National Museum, Gdańsk, Poland

The Last Judgment, Hans Memling, 1467-71, National Museum, Gdańsk, Poland

 

Rogier Van Der Weyden is one of my favorite Northern Renaissance artists and his Beaune Altarpiece with the last judgment is a tour-de-force. It’s actually fifteen separate paintings on oak panels, some painted on both sides, assembled into a complex folding altarpiece, or polyptych. Here it is closed.

Beaune Altarpiece folded, Rogier Van der Weyden

Beaune Altarpiece folded, Rogier Van der Weyden

Here we see the donors who commissioned the work on the sides with angels. In the center are figures painted to look like like statues, a technique known as grisaille, with Sts. Sebastian and Anthony, and the Archangel Gabriel with the Virgin Mary above.

 

The opened Altarpiece measures an enormous 220cm x 548 cm, roughly 7 ft tall by 18 ft.wide! The scene of the last judgment shows Christ appearing in Glory, with the archangel Michael weighing souls. There’s a decent Wikipedia article about this masterpiece if you would like more information.

 

The other work is by Rogier’s student, Hans Memling, and may have been inspired by his master’s work. It is a triptych, with three panels.

 

Be sure to click on the paintings to see details.

Feast of the Archangels

Michael Tramples Satan, Guido Reni, 1636, Santa Maria della Concezione church, Rome. A mosaic of the same painting decorates St. Michael's Altar in St. Peter's Basilica.

The beautiful vision of Reni! Michael Tramples Satan, Guido Reni, 1636, Santa Maria della Concezione church, Rome. A mosaic of the same painting decorates St. Michael’s Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.

War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night.
They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
love for life did not deter them from death.
Therefore, rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them.”

Revelation 12:7-12

In Catholic writings and traditions, St. Michael the Archangel acts as the defender of the Church and chief opponent of Satan. He also assists souls at the hour of death, as we see here in the central panel from one of my favorite works of all time, The Beaune Altarpiece (c. 1445–50), often called The Last Judgement, a large polyptych altarpiece by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden.

The Last Judgement (detail), Rogier van der Weyden, 1445-50

The Last Judgement (detail), Rogier van der Weyden, 1445-50

 

Here’s a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel written by Pope Leo XIII in 1884:
St. Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in the day of Battle; 
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. 
May God rebuke Him, we humbly pray, 
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, 
by the power of God, cast into Hell, 
Satan and all the other evil spirits, 
who prowl through the world, 
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Flemish), The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

A phantasmagoric vision by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Flemish), The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

 

Saint Michael expelling Lucifer and the Rebellious Angels‎, Peter Paul Rubens, 1622, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Love me some Rubens! Saint Michael expelling Lucifer and the Rebellious Angels‎, Peter Paul Rubens, 1622, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

 

Here’s a link to an informative article about the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.