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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Is it okay for Catholics to celebrate Halloween? An exorcist explains

Is it okay for Catholics to celebrate Halloween? An exorcist explains

Mary Rezac 

For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

Is it okay for a Catholic to celebrate Halloween? Is it okay for a Catholic to celebrate Halloween?

Denver, CO (Catholic Online) - "It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing," Cunningham told CNA. "People were just out talking while kids were trick or treating, and it had been really nice up until that point."

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character "Freddy Krueger," a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

Cunningham's youngest at that point was a year and a half, "and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger."

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn't alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

"We knew would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected," Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas - what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a "baptized" form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter - the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from  life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast - All Hallow's Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus "baptize", the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist's perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it's important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

"Ultimately I don't think there's anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that's all good clean fun," Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

Is Halloween safe for trick-or-treating?Is Halloween safe for trick-or-treating (abejorro34/Flickr)?

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it's just for entertainment. 

"In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like," he said, "because it's a violation of a church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God."

"And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil."

It's also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

"It's because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they're celebrating that day, they're actually inviting more evil into our lives," he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said. (8-**$?6);5

"A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we're not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do."

Trick-or-treating Catholics

 Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she's found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

"Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?" she said.

"Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It's just so different from when we were little."

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

"We let them know that we're having a party because it's celebrating the saints in heaven, we're celebrating them, so when they're trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it's because it's a party for all the saints."

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it's important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

"I think as Christians we're so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us," she said. "But then we lose the history of it, and we think, 'Oh well this is the devil's day,' just because some people say it is."

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they're not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

"I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we'll talk about different saints," Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

"As Catholics it's important that we don't become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith," she said. "If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don't even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture."

Catholics and Ghosts

   Our brother, Fr. Dominic McManus, OP, discusses why Ghosts and Ghost Stories are important for Catholicism


There are loads of legitimate questions about whether or not good Christian folk can celebrate Halloween any longer, and if so just how. But it seems to me that most of these conversations are not especially helpful. The questions usually boil down to ordinary, everyday morality and good common sense. If you shouldn’t get drunk on Halloween then it’s not because it’s Halloween, but because you shouldn’t get drunk. The same goes for tacky and immodest getups, gorging on candy, and anything having to do with the occult. But that’s not all that Halloween is and has to be, and there’s more than one way to reclaim our holiday. Saint Parades and Bobbing for Biblical Apples in the parish basement are all fine, but they’ll only appeal to those already converted. For Halloween to do its job, it’s got to make saints, and that means doing what the saints did, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

Which is why ghost stories are so important. Every culture has them. Some still told today go back literally thousands of years. But it took Christianity to make them anything more than a psychological exercise in coping with our own collective fear of death. Christians ought to tell the best of ghost stories, because our stories are true. We’ve got the metaphysical framework to make sense of what’s happening, and we’ve got the philosophical and theological anthropology to situate these stories in context. Most importantly, we’ve got the Faith which, exercised rightly, has always ensured that the saints would adopt what is best about a particular culture and transform the rest in light of Christ. Ghost stories, then, can move from simply being psychosocial attempts to deal with death, into living testimonies of faith in the resurrection.

The most fundamental claim against the existence of ghosts and therefore the telling of ghost stories is that it is somehow contrary to the faith. After all, when we die we are judged and thereby destined eternally for heaven or for hell. Both Catholic and Orthodox theology allow for a period of purification, but neither the Catholic doctrine of purgatory nor the Orthodox teaching on toll-booths seem to envision the souls of the dead hanging out in their old houses. So ghost stories, especially of the sort with which most of us are most familiar, seen incompatible with Christian faith.

Historically, however, this is a very strange position to take. Some of the finest art, literature, and drama that make up Western Christian tradition depend heavily on ghosts. What’s more, even Doctors of the Church have taken up ghostly encounters as evidence to be considered in their own theological investigations.

Just think, for a moment, about some of the ghost stories we know best, but don’t think of as ghost stories at all. Hamlet is a ghost story; it begins with the ghost of the king and, in much the same way as many modern horror stories, almost everyone dies at the end. Dante’s journey to Hell and Back Again is chaperoned by the spirits of the dead, some of whom obviously occupy different “places” after death. Even Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a ghost story at heart, for even if the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come are really “angels” by our reckoning, Jacob Marley is clearly the disembodied soul of a person Scrooge knew in life. Remember what he says?

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard. I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys life before me!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

Does Marley’s monologue sound familiar? It should. It is patterned on the one ghost story Our Lord Himself told.          

 "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"or I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"  (Luke 16:27-31)

The conclusion is, of course, a reference to Jesus’ resurrection, but notice that Jesus uses the contact, already familiar, of post-mortem visitations to prove an important point about Himself and His life and ministry.
Nor is this the only time that Jesus uses the New Testament concept of a ghost or Φάντασμά to prove a point. When he came walking to them across the water (Mark 6:45-52; Matt 14:22-33;) the disciples are afraid that he is a ghost. Jesus’ response, however is not, “Silly Disciples, there’s  no such thing as ghosts!” Nor is it, “What you say is a metaphysical impossibility.” Rather, he simply uses the occasion to buoy up their courage and show that He commands even the story seas, and is therefore greater even than a ghost. He does the same thing in Luke’s account of the resurrection appearances when he invites his disciples to touch him, "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

So the notion of ghosts is, at the very least, not foreign to the New Testament imagination. But it’s far from a wholesale endorsement. Further, it doesn’t explain the very real fear people have about the occult and demonic involvement in such events. For that, we’ll have to look back even further.

 The most famous ghost in the Bible is, of course, that of the  prophet Samuel, summoned by the Witch of Endor who, despite  her name, is not an Ewok. The event is recorded in 1 Samuel 28,  and records how King Saul, desperate in the last throes of his  kingship, visits the medium in disguise and asks for a reading. As  far as the text is concerned, she successfully summons up the  spirit of Samuel from the Underworld,

'Samuel then said to Saul, “Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?” Saul replied: “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has turned away from me. Since God no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called upon you to tell me what I should do.” To this Samuel said: “But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you for your neighbor? The LORD has done to you what he declared through me: he has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David.' (1 Samuel 28: 15-17)

Some have pointed to this passage later as evidence that those purporting to be “spirits of the dead” are really demons in disguise. But the text doesn’t seem to bear this reading out. First of all, the apparition tells the truth about both what has happened and what will happen, correctly prophesying Saul’s fate. What’s more, he abjures Saul in the name of the Lord, something a demon would seem not to be able to do.

 The episode is important, though, inasmuch as it highlights  theological concerns Christians still have against ghosts. The spirit  world is complex, and the prohibitions against sorcery,  necromancy, and divination (which Saul himself had promulgated  and here broke), all seem to bother both the living and the dead.  The Witch is trying to control something over which she has no  rightful control. At the same time, the spirit of Samuel seems to be  somehow disadvantaged himself, “Why do you disturb me,” he  says. How can he be disturbed? The text seems to suggest that the prohibition here is twofold: first, you don’t summon the dead so as to open yourself to entities beyond your control; and second, there is a kind of “preferential option for the metaphysically poor”. Souls are not supposed to be running around without their bodies, and so they shouldn’t be disturbed until they’ve had their bodies restored to them.

Loads of theologians have speculated about ghosts, both from the “data” of reported ghostly experiences, but also while considering the fate of the soul separated from the body. As is often the case, St. Augustine has something important to say. In Book XXII of the City of God, he recounts an experience with a haunted house. Now the source of this disturbance seems to be demoniacal, but he includes the story because the exorcism of those spirits serves to support the faith of the reader. Elsewhere, however, he is emphatic that he does not believe in ghosts, though he admits the possibility of the apparitions of saints. Even still, he tells a lot of ghost stories.

                                                                                                                                                   Gregory the Great also tells us a ghost story. In his Dialogues he recounts the story of a priest who, on regularly visiting the baths was moved by the diligence of one of the attendants. Eventually he brought two loaves of good bread as a tip, but the man would not receive them, explaining that he was once the owner of the bathhouse, but because of his sins has been sent back as a servant. He then asks the priest to offer the bread for him at Mass and then disappears. The priest does so and the man is, presumably, liberated.

Finally, as we might expect, St. Thomas takes approaches the issue of ghosts head-on. And he is not afraid to disagree with Augustine:

According to the disposition of Divine Providence, separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men…It is also credible that this may occur sometimes to the dammed, and that for man’s instruction and intimidation they be permitted to appear to the living; or again, in order to seek our suffrages, as to those who are detained in purgatory. (Summa Theologiae, Supp 68, 3)

At the same time, these he clearly distinguishes from demons, whose activity is not limited to the spiritual realm. Here he draws on Augustine who comments on the activity of incubi and succubi in Book XV of City of God. For Thomas, the activities of separated souls are always permitted by a special act of Providence for the good of the living, even if it is also for the benefit of the dead in need of prayers.

“It does not follow, although the dead be able to appear to the living as they will, that they appear as often as when living in the flesh; because when they are separated from the flesh, they are either wholly conformed to the divine will, so that they may do nothing but what they see to be agreeable with the Divine disposition, or else they are so overwhelmed by their punishments that their grief for their unhappiness surpasses their desire to appear to others.” (ST, Supp, 69.3. ad 1.)

This position allows Thomas to do three things. It defends the traditional prohibition on necromancy and sorcery by placing the necessity of such visitations clearly in the realm of Divine Providence. It accounts for the genuine experience of real people which otherwise would seemed to be dismissed. And supports and expresses the overall vision of the human person which Aquinas proposes throughout his work. Also, it helps defend the telling of ghost stories.

In the end, the telling of ghost stories is an exercise in theological and spiritual consistency. It is theologically consistent to tell those stories, especially those which come out of the tradition itself (and found in the lives of the saints), because it articulates a vision of what happens to souls after death and before the resurrection. It is spiritually consistent because we have a moral obligation to care, even and especially for our dead. And it has potential in terms of ecumenical dialogue because Catholics aren’t the only ones who see ghosts, and most Protestant theologies of the last things just can’t adequately account for many people’s experience.

Dr. Eleanor Stump, the delightfully maternal philosopher at Saint Louis University likens the Protestant-Catholic debate on purgatory to a child with a bandage. Some children are “peelers” and others are “yankers”. Yankers tear the band-aid off all at once, whereas peelers take it slowly. When it comes to purification after death, everyone agrees that only that which is perfected enters heaven, and most people acknowledge that most people aren’t perfect when they die. Protestants, she says, are yankers, and Catholics peelers. We conceptualize post-mortem purification temporally—in time—whereas Protestants imagine it spontaneously, simultaneously, all at once.

Ghost stories highlight precisely this tension. Ghosts don’t seem especially time-bound, but we who experience them do. The difficulty in trying to imagine life without a body becomes apparent to every theologian who tries to take it up. Perhaps this is why ghost stories seem to be the better medium.

Most people come to faith, as Chesterton said, “like a twitch on a thread,” slowly, by reading and hearing and watching things produced by Christians, with their worldview in the background, and their values placed throughout. Which is why it’s okay to tell ghost stories this Halloween, and maybe even at Christmas, as in ages past. Because told aright, be believing Christians, every ghost story is filled with the Spirit, and ultimately witnesses to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

History of All Hallows' Eve

The Solemnity of All Saints (Overview - Calendar) is celebrated on November 1. It is a solemnity, a holyday of obligation and the day that the Church honors all of God's saints, even those who have not been canonized by the Church. It is a family day of celebration—we celebrate the memory of those family members (sharing with us in the Mystical Body, the doctrine of the Communion of Saints) now sharing eternal happiness in the presence of God. We rejoice that they have reached their eternal goal and ask their prayers on our behalf so that we, too, may join them in heaven and praise God through all eternity.

The honoring of all Christian martyrs of the Faith was originally celebrated on May 13, the date established by the fourth century. Pope Boniface IV in 615 established it as the "Feast of All Martyrs" commemorating the dedication of the Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple, into a Christian church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. By 741, the feast included not only martyrs, but all the saints in heaven as well, with the title changing to "Feast of All Saints" by 840.
In 844, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st, timing it around the harvests to be able to provide food for the pilgrims. Some scholars believe this was to substitute a feast for the pagan celebrations during that time of year. Pope Sixtus IV in 1484 established November 1 as a holyday of obligation and gave it both a vigil (known today as "All Hallows' Eve" or "Hallowe'en") and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast.
This feast is marked with liturgical observances that have changed over the centuries. By 1955, the octave and vigil of All Saints were abrogated. Instead of a separate vigil on the calendar, the celebration begins the evening before, as mentioned in The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:
Solemnities are counted as the principal days in the calendar and their observance begins with evening prayer of the preceding day. Some also have their own vigil Mass for use when Mass is celebrated in the evening of the preceding day.
In the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, solemnities and Sundays are begin with Evening Prayer I (the evening before) and Evening Prayer II (the evening of the solemnity).
Feastday Customs
In England, saints or holy people are called "hallowed", hence the name "All Hallows’ Day". The evening, or "e'en" before the feast became popularly known as "All Hallows' Eve" or even shorter, "Hallowe'en".
Many recipes and traditions have come down for this evening, "All Hallows’ Eve" (now known as Halloween), such as pancakes, boxty bread and boxty pancakes, barmbrack (Irish fruit bread with hidden charms), colcannon (combination of cabbage and boiled potatoes). This was also known as "Nutcrack Night" in England, where the family gathered around the hearth to enjoy cider and nuts and apples. In England "soul cakes" are another traditional food. People would go begging for a "soul cake" and promise to pray for the donor's departed friends and family in exchange for the treat, an early version of today's "Trick or Treat."
The Church designates November 2 as the Feast of All Souls, a day to pray for all the departed souls in Purgatory. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls fall back-to-back to express the Christian belief of the "Communion of Saints." The Communion of Saints is the union of all the faithful on earth (the Church Militant), the saints in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the Poor Souls in Purgatory (the Church Suffering), with Christ as the Head. They are bound together by a supernatural bond. The Church Militant (those on earth still engaged in the struggle to save their souls) can venerate the Church Triumphant, and the saints can intercede with God for those still on earth. Both the faithful on earth and the saints in heaven can pray for the souls in Purgatory. During these two days we see the Communion of Saints really in action!
On All Souls Day and November 1-8 one can gain plenary indulgences for the Poor Souls. See Praying for the Dead and Gaining Indulgences for more details.

Exploring the Christian Roots of Halloween
We have entered the 21st century. It is getting harder to be "in" the world but not "of" the world. How are we to tread carefully to find balance in a secular holiday? We have an onslaught of Halloween witches, ghosts, goblins, vampires, etc. everywhere we turn. How do we bring a message to our children to say that being a Christian does not mean that we cannot have fun and enjoy some secular practices? How do we convey that that we must not constantly be negative and condemn everything?
To answer this, we must to put on the mind of the Church. All through the centuries the Church has taken secular feasts and tried to "sanctify" or "Christianize" them. This is one of the reasons that December 25 was chosen for Christmas—that was the time of the winter solstice or Saturnalia festival, with many pagan traditions during their celebration. The feast day of All Saints itself came from the dedication of the Pantheon, a pagan temple, into a Christian church, undoubtedly another way of sanctifying the secular and pagan. Missionaries familiarize themselves with the culture and religion of the country before they can convert the native people. The missionaries have to be able find some elements in their culture that can help these people identify and understand Christianity at their level. St. Paul tried it with the Greeks. Seeing their altar to the Unknown God, he saw that through their own pagan altar he might bring them to Christianity.
It is beautiful to remember that we can recognize and enjoy simple earthly pleasures as gifts from God. Many of the practices of Halloween are innocent fun and some deal with healthy reminders of death, sin and the devil. Some parts of Halloween can be extreme. Since the All Saints and All Souls feasts are back-to-back, we can balance some of the focus of Halloween to the Communion of Saints in action. We combine honoring the saints in heaven, remembering our loved ones and then earn graces for our own souls by prayer and actions. Through this approach we see the Mystical Body in action.
There are many writings to help one explore the Christian roots of the Halloween festivities. In the activities section there are ideas for an All Hallows' Eve Party to present a fun atmosphere for children. See also other ideas from Florence Berger's Cooking for Christ and Mary Reed Newland's The Year and Our Children. These ideas help use every opportunity as a moment of grace, and a teaching lesson, not a spirit of avoidance of Halloween. One can use the opportunity to honor the saints, pray for the Poor Souls and prepare oneself spiritually for two great feastdays of the Catholic Church, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
By Jennifer Gregory Miller


REMEMBER, the highest day of sacrifice on the Occult calendar is October 31!  Keep this too in mind, be prayerful....