Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween

The Eve of All Saints Day, All Hallows Even, Hallowe'en, is now, and always has been a Catholic popular observance. Whereas November 1st, All Saints Day, commemorates the souls in Heaven, and All Souls Day, November 2nd, commemorates the departed undergoing purification, October 31st is, in part, the unofficial holiday of remembrance of the souls of the damned in Hell, and how they got there.

Just because the holiday has some elements that derive from the pagan past is not necessarily a problem. This very article, after all, is written in the language derived from the pagan Anglo-Saxons, as is the King James Bible. Our current American Halloween customs started as a mixture of Irish and French Catholic popular customs regarding the dead, and is tied specifically to the celebration of All Saints Day.

"Trick or Treat" is the perhaps the most historically noxious part of Halloween, since it is a kind of extortion. Fortunately, most children don't understand this, and don't retaliate against those who fail to offer treats.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines is a good contemporary document for helping us get to a proper understanding of Halloween, in sections 256-260, The Memorial of the Dead in Popular Piety. For Catholics, this celebration should be closely tied to the liturgy of the season, and must always be done in the light of the Faith. Even for other Christians, an understanding of the historical Catholic patrimony can be used as a guide for the proper understanding of Halloween. In all circumstances, occult practices should be avoided, and this is a central doctrine of nearly all Christians everywhere.

But Halloween also has a universal character, and can powerfully counter the current sanitization of death and denial of evil in our culture. But sadly, Halloween is becoming yet another expensive consumer holiday, and is just another excuse for drunken revelry.

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