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Hidden piety in Halloween pranksters

Hidden piety in Halloween pranksters

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2008 10:04 pm
By: Larry McGehee

 One consequence of our children being grown and gone and of our living in a neighborhood of retirees with no small children to “trick or treat” us is a diminishing celebration of Halloween. Halloween all around us has grown into the second most commercialized holiday, next to Christmas, but for us it is hardly a twinkle in a Jack-O-Lantern’s eye. We can’t even enjoy the left-over candy any more. Halloween (originally, All Hallow’s Even) somewhat gone, we can turn our attention to the two holidays (Holy-Days) it was supposed to usher in: All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. All Saints Day (originally All Hallows Day) honors the memory of all saints, both those who have days of their own (such as St. Patrick) and those that don’t. Saints in the Catholic Church are those martyrs and others canonized over the centuries. There are 10,000 saints in Catholic martyrology. Canonization was instituted in 993 A. D. Some sources trace All Saints’ Day back to St. John Chrysostrom, who referred to it in a homily in Constantinople around 407 A. D. Others find it mentioned in 373 A. D. by St. Ephrem the Syrian and in 397 A. D. by St. Basil of Caesarea. Some say it began with the consecration of the Pantheon in Rome as a Christian shrine in 607 A. D. Other sources say it was instituted in 835 A. D. by Pope Gregory IV. Michelangelo’s fresco of Creation and the Last Judgment was unveiled in the Sistine Chapel on All Saints’ Day in 1541. Protestants, and many Catholics, have extended the definition of saints to include all deceased people who led good lives. The 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer prays: “Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee”. Most denominations share similar lectionary scriptures for All Saints’ Day. Hebrews 12:1 tells us of “a great cloud of witnesses” who teach by example how we should “run with patience the race that is set before us”. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 bless as saints, without calling them such, the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Now there’s a Halloween-season lesson for us! Wendy Dakson, a licensed lay preacher in Delaware tells of a young boy awed by a long row of stained glass windows honoring martyrs, bishops, nuns, artists, poets, and even politicians. His mother explained to him that these were saints. The boy replied, “Oh, I get it. Saints are people that the sun shines through.” The day after All Saints’ Day is All Souls’ Day. It honors recently deceased people, especially family and friends. Perhaps the most fitting scripture for both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day comes from Ecclesiastes 44: “Let us now praise famous men (and women), and our fathers (and mothers) that begat us”…those who “left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some…which have no memorial.” Charles Spurgeon wrote a lovely line about All Saints’ Day: “Come, my soul, here is a grand feast to begin a dull month with. There may be fogs without, but there should be sunshine within.” With so much celebration of the dead on All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, it is little wonder that Halloween dotes upon ghost and skeletons and goblins as well. Halloween, of course, mostly for its commercial appeal, does indeed dominate the three consecutive religious dates that end October and begin November. Just try to remember this October 31st that, It is a forecaster of the two days that follow, and a celebration of e lives now over through whom light shone when they were alive. Perhaps thinking ahead to November 1st and 2nd will bring back some of the religious meaning of the Eve that announce their coming. Perhaps, too, it will transform our little costumed greedy rascals into saints-in-waiting. Larry McGehee, professor-emeritus at Wofford College, may be reached by e-mail at mcgeheelt@wofford.edu Published in The Messenger 10.20.08

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