Today, the American Church faces new challenges to universalize the Church in the particular, the local parish. The parish supports not just a program of religious education; it has also become the nerve center for the religious education of the family. In John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, “Catechesi Tradendae,” catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life. Nothing in life escapes the Church’s concern. In all that is human, it has a pastoral concern: from global affairs to social justice, from science to the arts, to sports and care of the environment, to the media. Moral questions about human sexuality and that of marriage and the family call for concentrated attention. The Church is committed to strengthening the family, and where public morality has broken down, the parish assumes virtually all aspects of Christian formation. Comprehensive religious education begins with externals, from clean and well-cared churches to attractive bulletins to the care with which the sacraments are celebrated to concern for our children and the most vulnerable.
The Catholic School
Catholic schools, and not just in grades 1-8, afford a splendid opportunity to celebrate the liturgical year. Both the temporal and sanctoral cycles bring with them many ways in which our students can joyfully celebrate the liturgical feasts. These will remain as unforgettable memories as children mature. From school, they can bring the practices into their homes where perhaps their parents are not familiar with liturgical customs.
October, the Beautiful
The quiet month of October is resplendent with its welcome of fall iridescent colors. For years, October claimed center stage from which to primp her changing foliage before our very eyes. Freshly-harvested hay bales, fall vegetables like corn, squash and pumpkins still recall grateful harvesting by our first colonists in Massachusetts. Garlands and wreaths of fall colors are still proudly displayed on many a doorpost. It’s a glorious time of the year—October, when man and woman seek communion with the earth and give thanks for its good things.
Halloween, the Creepy; Hallowe’en, the Christian
Sadly, over the years, the culture has steadily pushed aside the pageantry of spectacular fall colors for black and orange worn by witches, devils, dry bones, and oversized cats. More about this below.
October 31st: the Christian Celebration of All Hallows’ Eve
The story of All Hallows’ Eve is filled with twists and turns. Hundreds of years before Christ, the pagan Druids of Celtic lands, prompted by the long nights and early dark of winter months, made mischief by heckling others with mean tricks and scaring them into offering fruits and sweets. In contrast, Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and gardens, was celebrated on November 1st. In the Roman Empire, the custom of eating or giving away fruits, and especially apples, became popular.
From the seventh or eighth century, October 31st was marked on the Church calendar as a Christian feast, All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day, the feast of all those unnamed men and women who had joined the heavenly Blessed. It resembled other “Eves,” Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. By the eleventh century, the day after All Saints was dedicated to the commemoration of all the departed faithful, All Souls Day. All Hallows’ Eve was then linked to the two feast days. In Ireland and Great Britain, the end of October marked the end of the fall harvest and the beginning of the barren winter; the faithful were reminded of the call to sainthood as well as the reality of death and Purgatory.
Depending on where one lived, All Hallows Eve was celebrated by praying that one would attain sainthood like all the saints and, at the same time, by praying for the dead whose prayers they sought. In her book, The Year and Our Children, 270-78, Mary Reed Newland writes: “Late in the evening in the country parishes, after supper was over, the housewives would spread a clean cloth on the table, set out pancakes and curds, and cider. And after the fire was banked and chairs set round the table for the returning loved ones, the family would recite Psalm 129, the De Profundis, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” and then go to bed.’”
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If hot cross buns are traditionally associated with Lent, and pretzels with prayer, the soul cake gave rise to a new development and ingenious variation: the doughnut. To remind people that life on earth was but a transitory reality, a hole was carved out of the middle of the cake so that those who ate the cake were reminded of eternity. Later on, charades, pantomime, and mini-dramas were developed on the reality of life after death and the means of attaining salvation. With the remembrance of a saintly life came images of evil, ancient symbols of the devil, goblins, witches, and cats. Still, the familiar and seasonal harvest fruits such as apples, cornstalks and pumpkins were given out to beggars. Pagan and Christian symbols existed side by side. Wouldn’t Dunkin’ Doughnuts love to have this piece of trivia!
Knocking on Doors
The English custom of knocking on doors began by begging for a “soul cake” in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. The refrain sung at the door varied. It could be as short as: “A soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake” to a later version:
“Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven’t an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.”
In 1955, All Hallows’ Eve was stricken from the Church calendar, and the pagan celebration stood alone on central stage. Today, Halloween, with its element of vandalism and violence, is fast losing its innocent fun.