Halloween: A Catholic journey

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Today is All Hallows Eve — Halloween. That means tomorrow, November 1st, is All Saint’s Day, a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic calendar! Woe be to the sinner who doesn’t attend Mass on Sunday. That’s when we celebrate and honor all those Christians who have died in a state of Grace. Not just the ones who have been canonized, the people who haven’t are included as well.

“Well, what’s the difference,” you may ask? Canonization is a long process that requires the person that’s to be a named a Saint be dead for a certain amount of years. And they have to have led a Holy life, like Mother Theresa in recent times. Then the bishop of the person’s diocese must do an investigation into the person’s life — and the person must be a Catholic — and then that bishop sends his recommendation to the Pope.

But that isn’t the end of it. The Pope and the Vatican conduct an investigation and if the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (made up of Cardinals) gives the okay, the Pope declares the person “venerable.”

Then, after all that, as if living a holy life and dying in the Grace of God isn’t enough, the saint-to-be has to perform not one, but two verifiable miracles!

“How the fu …. err, heck … does a dead person do that?” Easy! Another — living — Good Catholic prays to the saint-to-be and asks that person to intercede in some earthly matter. If that happens — twice — voila! Saint Timothy! So, it’s really a long and difficult process to become a saint. If you’re harboring ambitions of becoming a saint, I would suggest starting now.

  • Listen, my parents sent me to a seminary for an orientation in hopes of me becoming a priest, so the idea of me becoming a saint isn’t so far out of the realm of possibilities …

This might blow your mind, but Newt Gingrich has a shot. He converted to Catholicism to marry his third (and current) wife. Let that sink in for a bit: Saint Newt. Let’s say that he gets elected president. That would qualify as one miracle! Ask any political pundit.

Back to All Saints Day. As a child I was scared shitless over missing Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. Not because of the possible penalties from God. Hell no. Our parents were very devout Catholics and there would be Hell to pay if we didn’t attend Mass. And the veracity of one’s story could be checked since Catholic communities tend to be tight. All Mom had to do was get on the phone with her fellow Christian Mothers and ask around. “Hello Betty? You went to the nine o’clock Mass this morning … Did you see my Timothy there?”

Seriously, they did. What we did then was to make sure we picked up a bulletin every time we went to Mass. There’s a funny story about that. Well, not about that directly, but I won’t share it here, mostly because of its licentious nature and to honor the bounds of anonymity.

Of course, on Ash Wednesday we didn’t need a bulletin if we had the ashes on our foreheads. Some years ago The Daily Show was doing one of their bits and it was about … I forget, but it featured Vice President Joe Biden, himself a devout Catholic. Well, the bit had clips of the vice president going about his business with ashes smeared on his forehead. I took umbrage with it, but it was a funny bit.

But, here’s another criticism of Catholicism. As mentioned earlier, part of becoming a saint requires living souls to pray to saints-to-be. Well, some people consider it un-Christian to pray to anyone but God, Jesus Christ, which is one of the reasons really radical members of other Christian sects don’t consider Catholics to be Christians. Even though every Good Catholic believes Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior.

There are other reasons, but that’s the one that plays into this little dialogue.

  • Actually, I don’t think every Good Catholic believes that anymore … but that’s a topic for another day.

So, on November 1st we all shuffle down to our parish and attend Mass to honor all the saints, beatified and otherwise. But the night before, All Hallows Eve, Good Lord!

Now, according to the Catholic Catechism, Halloween isn’t about running around in costumes and collecting candy — or Jello shots if you’re dressed as a hot nurse or sexy cop.

  • Wouldn’t it be cool if adults went door-to-door dressed in their Halloween finery, trick-or-treating for Jello shots? Just asking.

What Good Catholics do is prayerfully prepare for the feast that is to follow on All Saint’s Day. This idea of running around in costumes and doing unspeakable things entered our culture through the “demon lore of the ancient Druids.”

Okay, when the earliest Christians were out bringing the Pagans and Heathens into the fold, they would allow certain customs to be incorporated, either officially or informally. And from different regions and countries come different customs. In Latin America, for instance, they celebrate the Day of the Dead. No, it isn’t a Wes Craven production, it’s an actual holiday celebrated on November 1st.

But the custom of costumes for Halloween has at least some origin in the Day of the Dead celebrations. Latin Americans especially like to create skeletons and dress up like skeletons to celebrate. And they make and hand out all sorts of sweet treats. Amidst the merriment they honor those who have gone on before us.

So, here we are on Halloween, a most secular “holiday,” a weekend filled with Halloween parties.

You know all sorts of wickedness will take place this weekend. Sort of like a second Mardi Gras; four days of debauchery, complete with outlandish and sinful costumes and over the top displays of gluttony, drunkenness and lust. Everything a person could want in a holiday weekend.

The author in a digitally enhanced Halloween portrait. (Tim Forkes)
The author in a digitally enhanced Halloween portrait. (Tim Forkes)

A few years ago on an episode of Real Time With Bill Maher his “New Rules” ended with his diatribe against prescription mood drugs for children, exhorting parents to put LSD in their children’s candy. Now, that sounds crazy, even criminal, but if you watched the segment you would have gotten his point — or not.

Apparently people are worried their kids will get drug-laced candy when they go trick-or-treating, which is allegedly worse than getting Ritalin, Ativan and other drugs. I don’t really agree with him, but it was funny — and informative!

Hope everyone survives this weekend intact. If you’re going out tonight, have fun and drive safe. If you’re taking your young’uns trick-or-treating: good luck and have fun.

Happy Halloween!