Sunday, October 30, 2022

Restoring the Catholic Roots of Halloween

 From The Liturgical Arts Journal:

In my previous articles on the liturgical roots of Halloween, I have examined some of the customs of the Vigil and how they might be adapted to the present day. This year, I thought it might be useful to distill these disparate musings into a convenient list of ways that individuals and families can restore the spiritual and liturgical heart of Halloween. 
1. Reading the Mass and Office for the Vigil of All Saints. As the vigil of All Saints was unfortunately suppressed in 1955, later Missals and Breviaries will not have it. But thanks to the Internet you can easily find the texts online. In 2021, Halloween falls on a Sunday (Christ the King in the traditional Missal), so we will all be honoring the day with Holy Mass. You may want to bring along a pre-1955 Missal or print out the Introit and Collect for private prayer during Mass.

2. Attend or Say First Vespers. First Vespers of All Saints are sung on the evening of Halloween, and this is the only liturgical tradition proper to the day that still survives everywhere. If you are lucky enough to have public Vespers in your area, this would be a great way to reconnect with that ancient liturgical tradition. Otherwise, you can always pray Vespers together with friends or at home.

3. Pray “Black Vespers”: This is a popular name for Vespers of the Dead, said in black vestments. Although it is not officially on the Roman liturgical books for Halloween, it was a popular custom to pray it at the cemetery in Brittany and other places, and it harmonizes well with the idea of freeing souls from Purgatory that is so characteristic of the day.

4. Sing the Hymns. There is indeed sacred music appropriate for Halloween! Most important is the Vespers hymn Christe Redemptor Omnium, conserva tuos famulos (also known as Placare Christe Servulis). This hymn gave rise to English versions like Caswall’s O Christ Thy Guilty people spare and, O Christ, Thy servants deign to spare from the Brébeuf hymnal. Michael Haydn (1737-1806) composed a setting of the gradual of the Halloween Mass, Exsultabunt sancti in Gloria. And generally hymns for both All Saints, like Ye watchers and ye holy ones, and All Souls, like Help Lord the Souls, are very appropriate for the day. There are various recordings of Souling Songs by Peter Paul and Mary and other folk groups; we also greatly enjoy the organ-accompanied rendition by Kristen Lawrence.

5. Fast. Vigils were traditionally fast days, and the Vigil of All Saints was specifically mentioned in the Baltimore Manual of Prayer (1888) as an obligatory day of fasting in the USA. (Read more.)

I think the saints' costumes are lovely and a good idea for children during Hallowtide. But my daughter had fun running down the street on Halloween pretending to be a pirate with a glow-in-the-dark sword. From Crisis:

The value of any tradition lies in its pedagogical power; but that pedagogy must often be consciously or creatively applied in the work of restoring Christian culture. The implication of Halloween is that death precedes the possibility of saintly glory and the redemptive suffering of Purgatory—and it delivers this earthly message with winks, chills, and some candy. Like a good-humored rendition of Dante’s Inferno, Halloween can and should recall the darkness of error as well as the soul’s fulfillment in Christ.

I believe in the Chaucerian principle that part of the process of overcoming evil is to laugh at it—but that means allowing evil to retain its identity for the sake of our exultant ridicule. And that requires a bold Catholic attitude that looks the fearful in the eye fearlessly—and, at Halloween, the fearful take the form of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and witches. Catholics should laugh at these as symbols of overthrown evil and encourage children to enjoy their silly spectacles, even though they may be a little scary. Again, the character (or caricature) of evil should not be lost in calling out its defeat.

For this reason, saints shouldn’t replace spooks on Halloween. There is, I think, something unimaginative in All Saints dress-up parties that miss out on the significance of ghost and goblin in Catholic iconography and festivity. There is a day for the celebration of all the saints on November 1st, but Halloween is for the imps whose overthrow made way for saints to exist. Such pious costume parties are popular as a counterbalance to the often overwhelming and unfortunate horrors and obscenities of the season; and they do, of course, encourage a traditional awareness and attitude by turning the minds and hearts of children toward eternal things. But these celebrations miss out on some of the potential and delight in the Church’s liturgical poetry. (Read more.)


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