All Saints Episcopal Church, Hillcrest

It wasn't so much the 22 candles being lit for the High Mass celebrating All Saints' Day at All Saints' Episcopal Church; it was the guys lighting them: two strapping young Polynesians in floor-length black cassocks. Later, they showed up bearing candles, white albs over their cassocks, processing behind an equally imposing young man whipping his smoking thurible in great, controlled arcs that rose above his head before he yanked the brazen vessel back toward the floor. The three were preceded by two bagpipers and a drum and followed by a banner-bearer, the verger, the choir (also in cassocks and albs), the subdeacon and deacon, guest preacher Archdeacon David Lowman, and, finally, the rector, Father Tony Noble, draped in an embroidered gold cloak highlighted by a midnight-blue mantle bearing the image of Mary and the infant Jesus. Noble ascended the steps at the front of the church, past the choir stalls; ascended again into the sanctuary, past the communion rail; ascended a third time to the altar set against the front wall. He turned and greeted the congregation and then joined in a second procession (minus the pipers and the choir) around the church, while everybody sang over the lively organ: "For all the saints, who from their labors rest..." When he returned to the Sanctuary -- stopping at the communion rail to doff the cloak and mantle and don a gold chausible -- he censed the altar, genuflecting frequently before the domed tabernacle. The attending deacon and subdeacon did the same.

References to the saints permeated the Mass. "My dear brothers and sisters," said Noble at the outset, "we come to rejoice today in our communion with the saints in heaven. We give thanks for their examples and their prayers." After Kyrie and the Gloria (both sung, like much of the Mass), the Collect invoked the grace of God, "who has knit together thy elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Thy Son," so that "we may come to know the ineffable joys" of heaven.

The saints were in the songs, both those sung by the congregation and those performed by the choir: "These are they which came out of great tribulation/ and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." And at one point, Noble asked the Sunday-school children to come forward bearing saints' statues, show them to the congregation, and say something about them. Up they came: Thomas, Therese, Peter, Paul, Anthony of Padua... A little girl bore a white porcelain statue of Mary about half as big as she was. "The angel told her she was going to have a baby." "And who was the baby?" asked Noble. "Jesus."

Archdeacon Lowman began his sermon by quoting the demons in Cardinal Newman's poem "The Dream of Gerontius," set to music by Edward Elgar. "'What's a saint? A bundle of bones which fools adore when life is o'er -- ha ha...'. Though I know the piece quite well, this passage always shocks me. It raises big questions. What's a saint? Well, I've seen various bits of Saint Claire, Saint Francis, Saint Peter. I've seen the heart of Saint Teresa of Avila and her left forearm." Lowman knew from bones. But, he said, "Let's go back to the Scriptures, first of all to Isaiah. There he is in the temple, when he suddenly sees the Lord God in glory. And he cries out, 'Woe is me, for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips.' He's seen the glory and the holiness of God, and he's changed forever.... A bundle of bones which fools adore when life is o'er? No. It is the living Body of Christ, touched by the vision of holiness we have seen in Jesus Christ and received in His gospel teaching." And as a model for saintly sanctity, he offered the Beatitudes listed in the Gospel, reading, "revolutionary words which have turned the world and its values upside-down."

Before the final prayers, Noble invited the congregation to return that evening "for evensong and Benediction. We only do this once a year, and today's the day." He noted the new tabernacle and new monstrance, both blessed earlier that morning, and invited the congregation to come up and admire them after Mass. "By tradition, the tabernacle is covered...to symbolize the presence of Christ in the sacrament.... I deliberately left it off this morning." Then he said, "What a day to honor Mary as the queen of all saints. Let's stand and say the Angelus." All rose and turned to face a statue of the Virgin. "The angel of the Lord brought the tidings to Mary. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost. Hail Mary, full of grace..."

What happens when we die?

"I hope that I shall go to heaven," says Lowman.

All Saints' Episcopal Church Hillcrest

625 Pennsylvania Avenue, Hillcrest

Denomination: Episcopal

Founded locally: 1897

Senior pastor: Tony Noble

Congregation size: 175

Staff size: four priests, seven lay (including school)

Sunday school enrollment: 14

Annual budget: about $350,000

Weekly giving: about $4400

Singles program: no

Dress: a shade toward formal, but varied

Diversity: very diverse, though majority


Sunday worship: 8 a.m. Low Mass; 10 a.m. Solemn Mass

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Website: allsaintschurch.org

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