Supermarkets in Australia have been full of Hallowe’en décor since early September. One could join in the laments about how Christmas decorations appear unseasonably early in October, hot cross buns are available in the middle of Lent, plus Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the great Apostles to the Slavs, keep being so impolitely overlooked in the annual St. Valentine’s Day mêlée (I can just imagine them sending prank soppy cards to St. Valentine in Glagolitic, the precursor of Cyrillic).
Sixty years of advertising broke two millenia of Christian practice. Halloween has now become the closest thing we have to an Advent season. Advent is now a four-week long Christmas season, and Christmas season is now Purgatory.
—Steve Kellmeyer, “Nailing Christ to the Cross”
However, one could also contemplate how ingrained Christianity is in Western culture, although deformed by marketing and Mammon. Just as you can never lose the indelible mark of baptism on your soul, configuring you to Christ, and how Gollum still had the nature of a hobbit, albeit a horrendously deformed one, Western civilisation can never lose its intrinsically Christian character.
If you join the Taliban, you will merely be regarded as a bad Catholic.
So, what exactly is Hallowe’en all about? Why do we dress up in strange costumes and go trick-or-treating? As a Yahoo Answers questioner asked, “Why is Halloween a thing?”
It is the eve of All Saints’ Day, when vigil Masses were celebrated in honor of the feast.
Hurrah! History to the Rescue!
Here are some historical facts to give out with your Hallowe’en treats next year – of course, it all began with blood and gore:
In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407)… The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself.
—“All Saints’ Day”, New Advent
The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since.
The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”, with the day moved to November 1.
—“All Saints’ Day”, Wikipedia
In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in Southern France, added a celebration on Nov. 2. This was a day of prayer for “the souls of all the faithful departed.” This feast, called All Souls’ Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.
That took care of Heaven and Purgatory. The Irish, being the Irish, thought it unfair to leave the souls in Hell out. So on Hallowe’en they would bang pots and pans to let the souls in Hell know they were not forgotten. However, the Feast of All Damned never caught on, for fairly obvious theological reasons. The Irish, however, had another day for partying.
After the Black Death, All Souls Day became more important, and a popular motif was the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death). It usually showed the devil “leading a daisy chain of people — popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc. — into the tomb.” Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls’ Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various walks of life.
“But the French dressed up on All Souls, not Hallowe’en; and the Irish, who had Hallowe’en, did not dress up.” During the 1700s the Irish and French Catholics began to bump into one another in British North America and the two traditions mingled. The Irish focus on hell gave the French masquerades an even more macabre twist.
—Mike Flynn, “A Miscellany of Saints”, The Auld Blogge
Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, or the Hallowmas season, is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a “time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians.”
On the trick-or-treating point, stay tuned for tomorrow’s article on Soulmas.
What Does it Mean to be a Saint?
Ok, now we’ve got that sorted, what is a saint? What does it mean to be holy? Do I have to change into someone I’m not? Will I have to give up all my human predilections, my favourite hobbies? Aren’t pious people boring? What an unnatural way to live! Why do they never shut up about this Jesus dude?
FIRST, some autobiographical insight. When I was in law school, it just about killed my soul. Spending hours sifting through cases and legislation was not my thing. It felt meaningless to me, a treadmill of paperwork going nowhere.
I spent my entire final semester in early 2012 obsessing about becoming a nun and dedicating my life in a completely meaningful way, bringing the kingdom of God to birth. Between final exams and graduation in Brisbane, I snuck off to Perth for a heavenly nine days in a convent.
On the fifth day of working in a Singaporean law firm, I quit, booked a one-way ticket to Perth, and ran away to join the Franciscans of the Immaculate (my mother, being a lawyer, was dead set on me becoming a lawyer). Yes, yes, I know, just like St. Clare, sans wedding gown. I spent a few days saying goodbye to my friends forever, and on the Feast of St. Mary of the Angels, I left Singapore for good, or so I thought.
Two weeks in, I was in trouble.
Firstly, I missed books. Yes, there was plenty of splendid spiritual reading to be had, and I took copious notes which I’ve carried around to this day. But my favourite genres are fantasy, adventure, and mystery. I love fiction, and without it, I felt that I was missing an important chunk of humanity.
Secondly, I missed non-Catholics. I had the blessing of studying in great authentically Catholic schools from kindergarten to junior college, plus the tremendous grace of a vibrant Latin Mass community in Brisbane during my university days, but many of my best friends were not Catholic. In the convent, I received four letters – two were from Anglicans, and one was from a Presbyterian. (Mother Superior had to read the mail before giving it to me – I don’t think so many Protestants had written before!)
Thirdly, I missed male companionship. I have only one sibling, a big brother, and I am close to my father. Several of my closest friends are male. Although I had been to all-girls’ schools for a decade of my life, and my junior college class had only three males in it (Arts class, what do you expect?), I really missed that dimension of human interaction.
My fellow aspirant reflected that Our Lady sometimes calls people to the convent or friary for a lifetime, and other times she calls us for a particular time of formation, which we are then able to use in later life to help form other people. My time in the convent was a marvellous grace, not just for what I received, but also for what I didn’t receive.
It was devastating giving up that dream, but in the convent, I remembered that two years before, I had wanted to transfer to a liberal arts college after reading its prospectus, because its courses looked right up my alley! Now that my mother understood my deep aversion to law, she agreed that I could pursue the liberal arts, even though she was afraid it wouldn’t help me land a good job.
Enough of that – back to saints! So, what is being a saint? It is being yourself, the best possible version of your true self.
If you wish to be a saint, do not imitate past saints in their uniqueness. Rather, imitate them in their commitment. Francis was nothing more than Francis. Augustine was only Augustine. Therese, Therese and Aquinas, Aquinas. All they ever did was play the part assigned to them extremely well.
—“On Sainthood“, The Stained Glass Buffalo
Did a Magdalene, a Paul, a Constantine, an Augustine become mountains of ice after their conversion? Quite the contrary. We should never have had these prodigies of conversion and marvellous holiness if they had not changed the flames of human passion into volcanoes of immense love of God.
—St. Frances Cabrini
There are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners, and sinners, who think they are saints.
We might even say that the one thing which separates a saint from ordinary men is his readiness to be one with ordinary men.
—G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas
The saying goes that the hypocrite looks upon the sinner and thanks God that he is not like them. The saint looks upon the sinner and thanks God because he is like them. The saint knows that without grace, sin would be his lot. No amount of effort, no amount of hard work can keep us from sin. Try as we may, without grace, sin and its consequences would be all we know. An unearned gift, grace is that help for which, too often in our pride, we do not ask. No amount of effort, no matter how well intentioned, can restore that which is lost through sin. Only God can do that. And here is the crazy thing, He has.
—Pat Archbold, “Graceland“, National Catholic Register
Sanctity is holiness, authentic wholeness. We have been born into a broken world marred by sin; the Good News is that in spite of all the pain, loss and evil in the world, we can still become whole, we can be truly fulfilled. My favourite Bible verse is John 10:10, where Jesus tells us, “I have come to bring life, and life to the full.” (emphasis mine)
Gloria Dei est vivens homo; vita hominis visio Dei:
The glory of God is man fully alive; the life of man is the vision of God.
—St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, Book 4 Ch. 20
How are we fulfilled as humans? By Love. What is Love? It is God. God alone is all-holy, perfect, unchanging, life-giving. The scandal of the Cross is that our transcendent God lowered Himself to be corrupted by the sins of mankind. The triumph of the Cross is that sin and death did not have the last word, because God destroyed them by taking them into Himself. Great story, huh? Yes. It is the greatest and truest Story ever told. And that story is meant to be lived out in my life, in your life, in every human life. That is sainthood. This is why we celebrate the saints – because they are living icons of Christ.
It is good to venerate the crucifix. But even better than images of wood or stone are living images, souls formed in the image of Christ.
—Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
We should imitate the virtues of the saints just as they imitated Christ, for in their virtues there shines forth under different aspects the splendor of Jesus Christ.
—Pope Pius XII
If the friendship of saints living in this world fills us with love for God, how much more then shall we gain by considering the Saints in glory, by invoking them, and taking them for our protectors!
—St. John Vianney
Clearly, if we venerate [the memory of the saints], it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning. Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company.
Why Do We Pray to Saints?
To prevent this article from extending to an insane length, please refer to this note, in particular the article “Catholic Devotion to the Saints, in the light of Jewish Scripture and Tradition”.
I shall leave you with more quotes from the communion of saints on Earth and in Heaven. Blessed Allhallowmas Day!
To call someone a saint is to describe the fullness of the presence of Christ within the soul of that individual. So to honor a saint really isn’t to glorify the saintly individual but rather Christ within them, and any soul so closely bound to the Lord is glorified by the glory of God of which they are vessels of and which we ourselves should seek to be vessels of.
—C. Martin, Catholic Splash
Those in the Catholic Church, whom some rebuke for praying to Saints and going on pilgrimages, do not seek any Saint as their saviour. Instead, they seek Saints as those whom their Saviour loves, and whose intercession and prayer for the seeker He will be content to hear. For His Own sake, He would have those He loves honoured. And when they are thus honoured for His sake, then the honour that is given them for His sake overflows especially to Himself.
—St. Thomas More
You say you see no reason why we should pray to the Saints since God can hear us and help us just as well, and will do so gladly, as any Saint in Heaven. Well, then, what need, I ask, do you have to ask any physician to help your fever, or to ask and pay any surgeon to heal your sore leg? For God can both hear you and help you as well as the best of doctors. He loves you more than they do, and He can help you sooner. Besides — His poultices are cheaper and He will give you more for your words alone than they will for your money!
—St. Thomas More
Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of His way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine His light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free.
—Pope Benedict XVI, Greeting to Young People, St Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, 19 April 2008
Believe me, don’t wait until tomorrow to begin becoming a saint.
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux
O God, I not only want to be all Yours, I wish to be a Saint. Since I do not know whether my life will be long or short, I tell You that I want to be a Saint soon.
—St. John Bosco
It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Real Christian holiness is about entering into God’s life, giving over one’s life to God, becoming like God, loving as God loves in one’s daily life. And, of course, “becoming like God” and “loving as God loves,” as the example of Jesus shows us, means self-giving, self-offering and self-less service of others, modeled after the example of Jesus. Christian holiness, then, always stands under the Cross, as the great pattern of pouring out our lives in love and in service of others. In many ways, there is nothing more “this-worldly” than true holiness.
—Fr. Mark O’Keefe, OSB
All the saints will have their own brightness, different in each case, yet equal. Christ’s judgment will not advance one at the expense of another’s deserving merit. All will have Christ as their kingdom, light, life, and crown. Note how the teachers of the Old and New Testaments differ in their deeds but are paired in glory, for the one Wisdom issued twin Laws in the two Testaments, so equal distinction gives the same weight to differing powers. Peter did not divide the sea with a rod, but then Moses did not walk on the waters. However, both have the same bright glory, for the one Creator inspired both the cleavage of the waters with a rod and the treading of the waves underfoot. The God of the saints of old is also the God of the new.
—St. Paulinus of Nola
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.
When the Church keeps the memorials of martyrs and other saints during the annual cycle, she proclaims the Paschal mystery in those “who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God’s favors.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Images: Fra Angelico; The Culture Project Australia