Friday, October 30, 2009


Let’s try to ignore the nonsense that suggests Halloween is an invention of the Catholic Church to promote demon worship. Let’s consider instead respect for those “who have gone before us, marked with the sign of Faith…” (as Eucharistic Prayer #1 puts it).

An ancient custom of respect for the dead can be seen in the practice of the Roman refrigerium. It was a banquet held on the anniversary of the day of departure of the deceased, and it was one to which the deceased was invited and thought to participate. One way of their taking part was by means of a tube from ground-level to that of the coffin—in this pipe was poured a libation of wine. Prayers were then offered and a meal was enjoyed.

Can you see the small step from this custom to that of honoring the martyrs at their tombs on the anniversaries of their ‘birth into eternal life’? Can you see how the annual refrigerium could easily have led to a commemorative celebration of Eucharist for a martyr (and in times of persecution fortunately be mistaken for a refrigerium? Can you see how needing to celebrate at/on the tomb of the martyr would lead to the placing of a relic in all altars where the Eucharist would be celebrated?

A famous Latin epitaph declares: Quod fuimus, estis; quod sumus, vos eritis [“What we were, you now are; what we are, you will be.”] It’s a reminder of our own mortality. And insofar as we believe the passage from physical to eternal life parallels that from pre-natal existence to birth, then we can salute those who have gone before us and ask them, if possible, to ‘pave the way’ for us.

For myself, my family in Chicago never celebrated Nov. 2 in a special way: once my brother, only 6 months old, died, every Sunday after Mass we made a visit to the cemetery, to place flowers, to trim up a bit, and to offer prayers, always concluding (with our conviction that as an innocent he was in eternal bliss)—“Little Paulie, pray for us.” My own “Day of the Dead” takes place in the summer when I’m able to get back up to Chicago to perform the same rituals of love at the graves of my grandparents, my parents, and my baby brother.

They are gone on a journey, and we here know nothing (in the empirical sense) about it. Our Faith tells us what the destination is, but we still know nothing of the voyage. And so we remember. And we celebrate. And we pray, as we do again in Eucharistic Prayer #1, that they will be in locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis [in a place of refreshment/refrigerium, light and peace].

If some folks want to call this voodoo, pagan or demon-worship, so be it. But I don’t think it is. And I don’t think you, either…

No comments:

Post a Comment