The Drama of Hallowmas | Sally Thomas | First Things

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“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween…”

Source: The Drama of Hallowmas | Sally Thomas | First Things

A very interesting “take” on Halloween, and the larger Hallowmas season (Eve of All Hallows, All Hallows / All Saints Day, and All Souls Day) of which it is a part. Sally Thomas writes, in this “web exclusive” for the excellent journal First Things,

“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air — all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart.

“To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone—or some thing—other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think. This narrative disturbs a lot of people, as the proliferation of church-sponsored ‘autumn festivals’ and ‘trunk-or-treat’ parties suggests. To some of those who worry about it, Halloween is either a thoroughly secular or a thoroughly pagan observance, to be avoided by serious Christians…

“Halloween’s emphasis on darkness makes many Christians squeamish, but, to my mind, what my friend observed about the medieval feel of Halloween is more on the money. There is a drama to be played out, like a mystery play in three scenes, and it makes sense only if you observe all three days of Hallowmas — not only Halloween but All Saints’ and All Souls’ days as well. In this context, the very secularity and even the roots-level paganism of Halloween become crucial elements in a larger Christian story.”

She adds,

“What their costumes are is less important than the fact that, for a night, my children will be people other than themselves: each of them will be someone who, regardless of real-life fears about the dark, is not afraid to step out into the night. Armored inside their personae, they can laugh at the shadows, as well they should. On the one hand, the powers of darkness are no joke; on the other hand, although Christians have no traffic with these powers, we do not fear them.”

This is an important lesson to learn, and one of the reasons I get a bit impatient at those Christians – usually on the Evangelical / Fundamentalist Protestant side of the Christian spectrum – who get into conniptions over Halloween, and often refuse to celebrate it at all. They are missing the point. They are also surrendering to the demonic far too much power: as Ms Thomas points out, we have no traffic with these powers, but neither need we fear them: Christ has already won the victory over them.

[These are some of the same folks – doubtless good and well-meaning people – who act as if, even if they may not formally believe, that the Devil is God’s “opposite number,” so to speak. In fact, the counterpart to Satan (Lucifer, the fallen “angel of light,” who became the demon of darkness) is St. Michael the Archangel (see Revelation 12:7–10): God is utterly supreme, omnipotent and ineffable, and has no opponent! That the Devil thinks he is anything close to equivalent with God is but a conceit on his part (hubris: overweening pride), and a heretical error to any human who believes it.]

Halloween is (or should be; admittedly, there are some who use it to celebrate darkness to a psychologically and spiritually unhealthy degree, but Christians should know better) about mocking the forces of darkness, not embracing them. It is, in a sense, a victory parade for the battle that was won for us on the Cross of Calvary – a celebration in which some may choose to wear the uniforms of the defeated enemy.

Pyramid of captured German helmets, New York, 1918 (2)
Pyramid of pickelhauben (captured WW I German helmets), Grand Central Terminal, New York, 1919. While I do not necessarily applaud this sort of display, it does speak to the point of emphasizing the defeat of one’s enemy by displaying his “stuff.”

And it is also, of course, a harvest festival, celebrating the turning-point between the season of warmth and light, and that of cold and dark… between, that is to say, the seasons of life and of death, or seeming death. And this, too, is a Christian mystery!

For just as the myths of the “dying gods” recorded by Frasier in The Golden Bough, and others, were reflections of the seeming “death” (actually dormancy) of the natural world in the Winter, only to be “reborn” in the Spring, so that very seasonal cycle is a reminder of what C.S. Lewis called the “true myth” of Christ’s death and resurrection:

“Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant.’

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference — that it really happened.”

Thanks be to God! Just don’t forget that All Saints and All Souls are yet to come – the drama is not yet complete:

“On All Saints’ Day, our parish holds a children’s festival, hugely attended, at which children and adults alike dress as their favorite saints… The party is such fun that we could almost dispense with Halloween, whose festivities, as we observe them, are minimal by comparison. But the cumulative iconography of being, first, a secular character confronting darkness, and then a saint in light, is imaginatively powerful and valuable.

“As our Hallowmas ends, the pageantry and excitement of Halloween and All Saints’ Day give way to the comparative quiet of the feast of All Souls. This final solemnity is a day without costumes. Having been denizens of the night and citizens of the household of God, the children step back into themselves to contemplate their own mortality and pray for our beloved dead. In three days they have enacted the story of their own eternal lives: from darkness to the hope of heaven and the joy of the saints who await them in glory. From mystery to mystery, it’s a drama I would not have them miss.”

Amen, and amen!

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Percy Dearmer on the Prayer Book system

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Percy (Percival) Dearmer (1867-1936) was an English priest and liturgist who was and is best known as the author of The Parson’s Handbook, a liturgical manual for clergy of the Church of England. His appointments included:

• Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, 1901-1915
• Professor of Ecclesiastical Art, King’s College, London, 1919-1936
• Canon of Westminster Abbey, 1931-1936

Although on the Anglo-Catholic side of the Anglican liturgical spectrum, he was decidedly not an ultramontanist (Romanist), favoring, rather, ritual forms drawn from the pre-Reformation “English Use.” Wikipedia notes that he also had a strong influence on the music of the church and, with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw, is credited with the revival and spread of traditional and medieval English musical forms.

As the title of “The Parson’s Handbook” indicates, he had a strong concern for the parochial; that is, the ordinary, day-to-day spiritual and religious life of ordinary Christians, and found (as many have, both before and after him) the classical Prayer Book pattern – the core of Anglican tradition – to be an excellent model and aid for growth in holiness.

He was also a prolific writer. The following excerpt is from one of his tracts, entitled “A Christian’s Life According to the Prayer Book,” and is rather shamelessly cribbed from the blog of St. Bede’s Productions, which notes that the whole tract is available on Project Canterbury, but this is the heart of it.”

[As I prepare to post this, it occurs to me that I may have posted it, or parts of it, earlier; but if so, no matter! If I have, it’s been a while, and this is the sort of thing that one needs to revisit from time to time, if one is even the least bit serious about what Martin Thornton called “Christian Proficiency.” I hope some may find it helpful!]


A CHRISTIAN’S LIFE ACCORDING TO THE
PRAYER BOOK

Let us see, then, what the Prayer Book system will be when we have come back into the habit of carrying it out. Continue reading “Percy Dearmer on the Prayer Book system”

What the New Pagans and Christians Have in Common | Intellectual Takeout

What the New Pagans and Christians Have in Common

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three major principles that traditional Christianity and paganism, broadly speaking, share in common…

Source: What the New Pagans and Christians Have in Common | Intellectual Takeout

A very interesting article / essay, which raises (in my opinion) some very good points. Inter alia:

“It has become commonplace among many Christians to quickly denounce these neo-pagan rituals and the people who participate in them. They see the increasing visibility of paganism as a fruit of secularism and a sign that the West is descending further into cultural darkness.

“But sometimes I wonder if this paganism — in some of its manifestations — has more in common with ancient Christianity than with many the whittled-down and demythologized versions of Christianity that are known as ‘mainstream.'”

He goes on to list three points of commonality (please read the article for further explication of these points): 1) recognition of the importance of ritual, 2) a holistic view of life, and 3) a reverence for creation.

I agree; in fact, I have made similar arguments, repeatedly and in a variety of fora, for literally decades.

The failure of what post author Daniel Lattier accurately describes as “whittled-down and demythologized versions of Christianity” – I would add, overly-intellectualized and, indeed, quasi-Gnostic versions of Christianity – to embrace these principles is, I firmly believe, one of the reasons why it is losing ground both to secularism and to other forms of spirituality which do.

Please note that we are not talking about syncretism, here; we are not talking about blending doctrine, or paganizing Christianity. We are talking about basic, underlying principles that are common to both, because they stem from the human religious impulse itself: an impulse which is one of God’s gifts to us, as humans.

In this context, I very much liked one of the comments that followed on Facebook, where I found the link to this post:

Any assertion that changing seasons, folk rituals, astrological observance, herbal remedies, local festivals &c were “pagan” would have been met with bemusement in the Middle Ages.

“Such things were not pagan but human. Who doesn’t notice the seasons and stars? Who doesn’t have local legends and traditions? Only the deracinated postmodern man.”

Just so. And I am quite sure that the likes of Tolkien and Lewis would concur!


 

N.B. “Deracinated” is not a word in common parlance today. Here is its definition:

  1. to pull up by the roots; uproot; extirpate; eradicate.
  2. to isolate or alienate (a person) from a native or customary culture or environment. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/deracinate

An apt term, I think, for the context!

Pope Francis: the Great Accuser is trying to uncover sins to cause scandal – with a response from the Order of Lepanto

“In these times, it seems like the Great Accuser has been unchained and is attacking bishops,” the Pope said.

Source: Pope Francis: the Great Accuser is trying to uncover sins to cause scandal | CatholicHerald.co.uk

I have said little about the sexual assault scandals that continue to rock the Mother Church of Western Christendom – that is, the Church of Rome – because I do not like to draw attention to scandals in other branches of Christendom. It rarely does any good, and frequently tends to result in more heat than light being generated.

It is also likely to cause additional scandal, in that it can lead some to judge the Roman Church as a whole in a bad light, when in fact the majority of its people, its clergy, and undoubtedly its bishops are (while being human like the rest of us, and so prone to faults, foibles, and failings) basically godly Christian folk, trying to do the best they can.

But when none other than Il Papa himself – the Holy Father, Pontifex Maximus, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope – goes so far as to all but defend scandal, as he does in this piece, or attempt to explain it away, appearing to care more for the reputations of bishops than the trauma to the victims, it becomes hard to completely ignore it.

In this case, I am aided by this very excellent response from a “trad” (traditional, orthodox) Catholic organization, The Order of Lepanto. I do not have to critique the Holy See, because some of its own people have done a better job of that than I could have – and it is far more appropriate coming from them than me, anyway.

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Posting on Facebook, the Order writes,

“We had been hopeful with yesterday’s reports of answers coming from the Vatican on the abuse/cover-up scandal. However, the Pope’s homily today was an exercise in counter-attack and not one of pastoral care: “It seems like the Great Accuser has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins so they are visible in order to scandalize the people.”

Let’s look at the errors with this line of thinking –

1. Thinking that Satan wants to expose criminals to justice instead of continuing to hide them and destroy more young lives.
2. Punishing bishops who are
guilty of crimes is not the work of Satan – it is the virtue of Justice and the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. Saying “we bishops are all sinners” falsely compares the smaller sins we all commit with truly heinous sins like rape, sacrilege, etc. which deserve severe punishment.
4. Uncovering sins is
not the biggest scandal we face as a Church. It’s the scandal of the coverup, of being lied to by our shepherds.

It is unfortunate to receive the message from Pope Francis that he thinks his job is to “cover” the sins of the bishops so they don’t “scandalize” the laity.

We will continue to pray for the Pope and for the victims, but we also need to have full disclosure. Nothing else will suffice to begin the healing process.

As I say, I could not possibly have said it better – or even as well – and so I will let that stand without further comment. May God bless us all. Pray for me, a sinner.


Nota Bene – On the Order of Lepanto: “The Order of Lepanto is a lay apostolate dedicated to outreach to Catholic men through a unique combination of martial arts and faith” (from the website). The Order

“seeks to tap the masculine spirit that God has endowed men with, giving them a masculine activity to engage in together – learning the fighting styles of the Knights of the Medieval and Renaissance time periods. In much the same way as Asian martial arts tend to dovetail well into Eastern spirituality, these skills (Western Martial Arts or WMA) were honed by people who were committed Catholic or Christian men, which caused this fighting style to fit well with Catholic theology and practice.”

Definitely interesting! Sadly, they are (almost) exclusively in Texas, and I am in Maryland… also, I don’t know how they’d feel about an Anglican! But a most interesting and, I think, admirable project.

Life with blood and sap in it!

This, from Timothy Jones at his “Old World Swine” blog:

Life in Christ means *real* life… with what C.S. Lewis called “some blood and sap in it.” Not the negation of desire (as the Buddha proclaimed), but the fulfillment of every true and eternal desire of the human spirit.

Every false desire is simply one of these true desires twisted back on itself. The Gospel does not kill desire, but untwists our desires to make them straight and true again (“true” in this sense like a well-planed board, or the path of a well-crafted arrow), so that we may follow them to their source… the creator God, One in Three.

Amen, and amen!

Saint Mary the Virgin | For All the Saints

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In the person of the Virgin Mary, the Church has seen an image of itself, the representative of the community of the faithful, a model of what each Christian ought to be.

Source: Saint Mary the Virgin | For All the Saints

I have been rather remiss in posting saints’ day recently, for which I offer my humble apologies. Here is a rather important one, for many Christians, although it does not appear in either the 1662 or 1928 Book of Common Prayer: the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.

While those coming from a more Protestant / Reformed tradition tend to look with suspicion at the Virgin Mary, or at least de-emphasize her and her role, in reaction to the extremely (one could argue, excessively) high pinnacle on which she is set by the Roman Catholic Church, the fact remains that she is the Theotokos (“God-bearer,” as the Eastern Orthodox tradition calls her), and that without her humble response, “behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy will,” the Incarnation could not have happened – or at least, not the way it did!

It is appropriate, then, that we recognize, celebrate, and even venerate the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary, even as we are cautious to avoid placing her on the level with God. As this essay points out,

“In the person of the Virgin Mary, the Church has seen an image of itself, the representative of the community of the faithful, a model of what each Christian ought to be: prayerful, humble, joyfully submissive to the will and word of God, devoted to her Son and loyal to him even when she did not understand him.”

Amen, and amen.

Glories of the West: Music Of Cathedrals and Monasteries – Plainsong & Gregorian Chant

Three hours of what is to my mind the most glorious and holy form of sacred music ever composed: the Gregorian chant, other forms of plainsong, and medieval motets of the Age of Faith, when European Christendom was at its height, and maintained an essential unity which transcended the often bitter and violent bickering of rival kingdoms. The “Peace of God” in musical form!


If three hours of this celestial music is not enough for you, here is another excellent assortment, by the Tudor Consort:

Note that many of these are not in fact Gregorian chants, but polyphony. They are, nonetheless, both beautiful and holy – although not, to my mind, possessed of the simple and profound purity of true plainsong, particularly in the Gregorian mode.