As we approach the annual celebration of the cult of death, better known as Halloween, it’s a good time to remember what the real holiday symbolizes.
Halloween with its Celtic, pagan roots in the festival of Samhain which is a festival dedicated to the harvest and the dead combined with the Christian Day of the Dead or All Souls Day, is a throw back to an important Irish harvest festival and it has, for too long dominated in the hearts, interest and imagination of young people all over the world. It has also secularized and tended to despoil the memory of our departed loved ones leaving for our future generations a really twisted attitude toward death, their ancestry and the spiritual idea of the permanence of the soul.
The Catholic Church at one time was more imposing and dignified in its commemoration of all the faithful departed on November 2, (if this fell on a Sunday, however, it was celebrated on November 3) and the Office of the Dead must be recited by the clergy during all the Masses.. The theological basis for the feast is “the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, alms deeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.”
In the early days of European Christianity especially the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members. In Spain there was such a day on the Saturday before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany there existed a time-honored ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church. St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) ordered the commemoration of all the faithful departed to be held annually in the monasteries of his congregation. From there it spread among the other congregations of the Benedictines and among other monastic orders.
In our world today very little of the commemoration and the prayer for the Dead has survived the onslaught of slick marketing and commercialization of the desecration of this sacred holy day. It is no wonder that many of the municipal cemeteries and burial places are beginning to take on such a shabby appearance and are increasingly administered by persons who have small or no regard for the sanctity of our burial places or for our dead Silver Roll Workers.
The burial grounds have become for them a place of business, like any other, to make as much money as they can on such things as the trading in bones, body parts, the recycling of burial plots by exhuming the recently buried, by disposing of the deceased ashes in some dumpster or trash heap after exacting high fees from the families of the deceased; all in the name of raising money for the Municipality.
Lately there are all too many reports of vandals visiting the cemeteries and spreading destruction and horror for the surviving families, of grave robbers defiling the tombs for whatever item of value they can get. Is it any wonder that the younger generation show less respect for their elders or for the knowledge they have to share? After all, what can they expect in life or in death if they see this kind of attitude toward the memory of the dead gaining ground?
It is time to rethink our attitude toward “The Dead” and search ourselves for ways of truly commemorating our “faithfully departed,” even if we had issues with the deceased or flat out didn’t get along with them. Maybe we are, as was once believed, here to pray for those souls in Purgatory or “Puckatery” (as our Silver ancestors would put it), in the realm of penance so that they may be brought into the light of Love and not hate, virtue and not evil and do as St. Augustine did when he tacked up a scroll on the wall of his room in big letters that said, “Here we do not speak evil of anyone.”
I recommend to everyone to start studying the exemplary lives of the Saints of the Catholic Church who proved to be truly “faithful departed.” Start with a very interesting book by a dedicated student of Black Studies, James Wesly Smith, who wrote Black Saints, Mystics and Holy Folk: The Ancient African Liturgical Church- Vol I. He lists for us the thousands of Black and African Saints who have contributed greatly to Christianizing and civilizing our planet throughout history. He says that
“this tome’s lists of 57,000 plus saints–Black and African friends of God– shows our involvement from the beginning in the Universal Church, Oriental– Latin Rite, Orthodox, and Coptic.”
Covered in the book are all of my favorites: St. Augustine, Saint Josephine Bakhita, St. Martin of Porres, Peru, and many others. By the way, St. Martin’s Feast Day is on November 3, the same day dedicated to the Day of the Dead when it falls on a Sunday and also the Day on which Panama celebrates its Independence and Día de la Patria. Coincidentally St. Martin’s mother was of Panamanian birth, born in the town of La Chorrera.
By studying the lives of people who have struggled to reach salvation it might start us on the habit of changing our attitude toward “The Dead” and celebrate this Halloween and The Day of the Dead on a totally different note, a note of joy and appreciation for our past relationships with all those who have touched our country and our lives.
This story continues.