A Penitent’s Reflection on Halloween

all_saints_day

Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy faithful people may ever rejoice in honoring all Thy Saints, and may be defended by their unceasing prayers (post-communion prayer, Solemnity of All Saints).

After Holy Communion has been received during the Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints, the priest asks Almighty God that the prayers of the saints be a defense to all the faithful.  All the saints are our elder brothers and sisters who have been victorious over sin and death through Christ’s death and resurrection.  These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (cf. Ap 7:14).  They have passed through the fire and have come out the other side unscathed (cf. Dn 3:26).  Now they are present to us in the Holy Spirit as our defenders and protectors.

But we must want to be protected.  He who loves danger will perish in it (Eccl. 3:27).  And danger is everywhere.  We have a real enemy who is bent upon our destruction and all of sacred history is a chronicle of this endless war. Our enemy is our constant foe and our better in the art of war.  For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (Eph 6:12).  We are not strong enough to resist this enemy, unless we want to be protected by one who is stronger.

So the Lord walks with us in the midst of our peril:

His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night.  Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday devil (Ps 91:5-6).

Thus the Solemnity of All Saints is a feast in which we rejoice in the victory of the saints and in their protection.  It is also a yearly occasion when we see played out before us the great conflict of the ages between light and darkness.  The cosmic battle raging in our hearts is characterized by a particular violence because the opposing forces of history have, in our time, crossed the last river and met for one final wreck on the field of Armageddon.  This is no prophecy of the last days, only the recognition of the signs of our times.  This is the age of Satan unchained.  It is the hour of darkness.  But a voice pierces that darkness and it says:  Who is like God.  Only the saints can teach us to place ourselves under the protection of humility.

Thus in our own day, we celebrate the victory of the saints every year and even while thus celebrating we are engaged in the struggle between light and darkness.  Halloween means “Holy Evening.”  The name is not derived, as sometimes asserted, from the druid feast of Samhain.  The name belongs to the light and we should reclaim it from the darkness.

It is a night that belongs to the saints.  And yet it has been claimed by the Prince of this World and very often even those who profess to be the friends of God follow the spirit-piper into the abyss of the pagan festival of darkness.

Over a decade ago at our friary in Griswold, Connecticut we resolved to fight on the side of the Saints and reclaim October 31 for the light.  We celebrated a triduum of Masses from October 29-31, culminating in the celebration of the vigil of All Saints on the very night when the darkness seemed to hold sway.  We offered our Communions in reparation for the sins committed against Almighty God around the world during Halloween and we encouraged our children place themselves in the shoes, tunics, habits and armor of the saints:  to do more than play make-believe, but to make their costumes into “sacramentals,” so to speak, so as to invoke the presence of the saints and imbibe their virtues.

Over the years, unfortunately, the ideas of reparation for sin and real spiritual combat have taken second place to the opportunity of providing clean and wholesome family fun as an alternative to the usual compromises with the spirit of this world.  And in the process of thus providing we have been sucked in by the spirit of unreality.  Myths can point upward, but they can also lead astray, become a distraction from the real work needed to be done and from the very real danger at hand.  I have to offer my mea culpa for leading the way in this.  I apologize.

We live in very dangerous times, in which not only the godless serve the Prince of this World, albeit knowingly and willingly, but in which also the pious and religious use all kinds of holy pretexts for acting in self-serving and worldly ways.  We sometimes sacrifice our interior lives on the altar of conformity and groupthink, substituting the external forms of religion for a deep and uncompromising conversion.

In some ways Halloween at the friary has become like so many other things, a way to separate ourselves from those who do otherwise and create our own little culture of isolation.  And in the end our evening is really not as different from the worldly ways of Halloween.  That is not to say that the children should not have an opportunity for fun, but that we should all have a greater sense of our opportunity to find holiness and conversion; to find light and the generosity to sacrifice ourselves for the lost souls of the world, among whom we should place ourselves as members of the same family, because in fact we are.  Who is to say how lost anyone is compared to anyone else, except Him whose searing judgment we should all fear?

And so Halloween remains a yearly enactment of the cosmic war between light and darkness, and even among the hosts of God, we are not sure always if we are completely on the side of light.  The enemy inserts his influence wherever he finds an opening, and we are generally lackadaisical in regard to protecting ourselves from his influence.

We need to want to be protected.  Sometimes the prophetic voice of conscience is not a welcome sound.  Sometimes we ignore the voice that God sends us, or discount its seriousness and its power.  Sometimes we don’t want to listen because we really do not want to be challenged or are afraid to leave our comfort zone.   When “sometimes” becomes too many times our spiritual hearing is stifled by another voice, a voice of complacency, pride, self-interest and deception.  It is then we loose our desire to be protected.

We cannot afford to loose the protection that God offers us.  The Solemnity of All Saints is our opportunity to pray for protection as we do in the prayer from the Mass.  We need to turn to the saints, our friends, and show them our gratitude by spitting into the darkness and turning our back on it forever.  We need to be grateful to the voice of light and kiss the feet of God’s messenger: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings (Is 52:7).  We need to want to be protected and make decisions that are in accord with that desire.

The Solemnity of All Saints originated in 609 when the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the Roman temple, the Pantheon, to Pope Boniface IV, who, “after the pagan filth was removed,” consecrated it to Holy Mary of the Martyrs.  Pope Gregory III transferred the celebration of this event and extended its significance to All the Saints in the 8th century.  It just so happened that the celebration corresponded more or less to the time of the druid harvest festival of Samhain, which was also a festival of the dead.

This history is a parable of life.  The emperor paid his dues to God and the Church honored the Blessed Mother and the Martyrs.  And God protected his people.  But the enemy is always right around the corner, looking to wedge himself through any open crack and claim God’s territory for himself.

On Halloween we need to do more to repent of our own sins and make good on the promises we have made to God to serve Him with all our hearts and to be instruments of forgiveness and mercy for souls lost in the darkness.  We are to bear the torch of God’s holiness to others, but we cannot do this unless we guard our hearts and beg the Blessed Mother, Queen of Martyrs, and all the saints to protect us.

Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen: and do penance and do the first works. Or else I come to thee and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance (Ap 2:5).

It would be a grace to go back to our old triduum and the simple spirit of reparation with which we began our celebration of Halloween.  Try to spend some quiet time, if possible, at the friary before the Blessed Sacrament, on the night of the celebration.  Make a visit to Jesus, and in his Holy Name ask for the grace to do penance and to make reparation for the sins of the night of darkness.  Ask for the grace to want to be protected and give thanks for the godly voice that calls us back to our first love.

Update:  Interesting Halloween facts.

9 thoughts on “A Penitent’s Reflection on Halloween

  1. As always, we’ve been given much spiritual food in which to sink our teeth! (No Halloween Dracula pun intended.) I find myself, as usual these days, trying to find a healthy balance in all of this. Because I can be guilty of going to extremes for things, I must always work at stepping back and seeing the fruit to which those extremes might (or might not) bring to others, as well as to myself. I find that most extremes turn others AWAY from Christ instead of TOWARDS Christ. This is serious. Very serious.

    I believe the early Church knew the seriousness of this and thus chose to find ways in which to incorporate the peoples’ much loved Pagan practices into the Christian Faith. Is it necessary to celebrate these practices? I don’t believe so. We are only required to follow the Catholic teachings. For years now, I have had Evangelical friends who do not do the ‘trick or treating’ thing … nor do they celebrate Christmas (for it most likely came from the Pagan Solstice celebration) nor Easter (which came from the Feast of Ishtar and fertility god/dess worship or whatever) tell me that the Catholic Church has compromised the true Faith by giving in to these practices. Hmmm.

    So, what about Halloween? Father Angelo says, “It is a night that belongs to the saints. And yet it has been claimed by the Prince of this World and very often even those who profess to be the friends of God follow the spirit-piper into the abyss of the pagan festival of darkness.” Perhaps I have allowed my family to follow this spirit-piper into the abyss. However, I cannot help but to see it similarly as the other holidays. Father mentioned having no trouble with allowing a child to have fun with his/her imagination at Christmas with stories of the Jolly Red-suited man. Perhaps the big gigantic rabbit in the Spring isn’t much different. But, of course, we are NOT to compromise on the solemnity of the holy day.

    To me, these holidays (in their secular forms) can surely ALL lead people to Satan. High levels of materialism is the most serious danger to these holidays, IMHO … allowing people to worship the almighty dollar instead of the Almighty God. Yet, for the most part, they really are an excuse for innocent fun … a fun that doesn’t last long in a child’s life. We have the choice to participate to a level of sinfulness or to keep it light and celebrate the Catholic side to it when perhaps most do not. I guess it falls under the “clean and wholesome family fun” piece that was mentioned. One Evangelical friend of mine said, “It’s not all about kids in cute costumes collecting candy, you know.” I thought long and hard about that. Yes, there are some who choose pretty evil or grotesque costumes and take things to a very evil level. But, for 90% of the culture, it IS about cute little costumes and kids collecting candy. It’s just that people avoid the entire holiness that is truly connected to this day .. .just as they do for Christmas, New Year’s and Easter.

    I don’t want to be part of an isolation … I find it, perhaps, a more serious sin than most of the pagan elements of these holidays. I don’t think any of my Evangelical friends who have handed out their tracts to others have converted anyone to Christ. Instead, most people run like the Dickens in the opposite direction. They cannot RELATE to these people. They become more frightening to the average person than the little Dracula at the door … with chocolate smudged all over his face. 😉

  2. Jen,

    I appreciate your comment. I have always struggled to find balance. But I know the friars grace was to make reparation and restore, to be clearly on the side of light. But at the same time, I never wanted another narrow group. Our spirit of reparation needs to be open-hearted.

  3. Wow … honestly, this is the FIRST time I have ever found a note from the Vatican about Halloween. I have researched this whole Halloween thing for almost 15 yrs now and wind up finding articles by Mark Shea and, I believe, Jimmy Akin who really don’t find the secular celebration to be that big of a deal.

    I will have to prayerfully rethink all of this AGAIN. My older three are basically done with most of this but my youngest son will be devastated not to be able to walk around with all of his friends dressed up as who-knows-what. (Eating candy.) If the Vatican has truly made these remarks, than I am obliged to listen carefully and obey.

    Thanks for pointing that link out … my son will NOT thank you, however. sigh.

  4. In the interests of exactitude, the contention that the Vatican has made a pronouncement on Halloween is a bit misleading. To call L’Osservatore Romano the “official” newspaper of the Vatican is not precise. The newspaper has an unusual “semi-official” status relative to the Vatican, but it also includes a significant amount of editorial content. So, for example the paper has heaped much praise on the Harry Potter books and movies. Neither the statement on Halloween nor those on Harry Potter are “official” vatican pronouncements.

    Be that as it may, when it comes to toying with the realm and tools of darkness, even for fun and even with precautions, I have learned that the risks are not worth the entertainment procured. In other words, I agree with the newspaper’s assessment of Halloween.

    We really do need to close and bar the doors agains our enemy.

    Good men are free to disagree about how as Catholics they are going to handle the particulars of this question, but I would think erring on the side of caution in this matter is the more reasonable course.

  5. A couple more interesting links on the topic for those who are interested:

    http://catholickey.blogspot.com/2009/10/pope-condemns-halloween-hoax.html

    http://viewdomesticchurch.blogspot.com/2009/10/is-halloween-pagan-holiday.html

    (I’m not trying to condemn anyone who thinks differently on the topic. Truly I am not. I am happy to agree to disagree on things .. it doesn’t ruffle my feathers in the least. But, I do think it’s edifying and healthy to understand other viewpoints to every issue. The older I get, the more I realize that until we enter the gates of heaven, God willing, there will be much ‘murky water’ in which to wallow!)

  6. Dear Fr. Angelo, I’m going to venture to say that most of us struggle for balance.

    I can’t imagine that the group in attendance at this year’s friary All Saint’s celebration could be considered “narrow”. It was one of the largest groups in attendance with SO MANY new faces. Once again (our 2nd year in a row), we sang the “litany to the saints” after each child (7 & under) presented himself to Fr. Ignatius – a little less than 50 this year. We handed out at least 150 holy cards to all the costumed children in attendance. Fra. Isaac gave us a really treat with an incredible juggling show. I don’t remember a time when that much laughter was heard at the friary. It was truly a joy-filled event that left a very positive impression of the friary on all who attended.

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