To profess the Catholic Faith requires public witness. It may be the case with other religions, even other forms of Christian faith, that their profession of faith is merely a private matter, but not so with the Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is a public reality that requires public witness.
To profess and practice the Catholic Faith as if it is meant to be a secret contradicts the very essence of the Catholic Faith itself.
Precisely how to best give public witness to the Faith entails multiple strategies. There is no singular way of giving witness to the Faith of the Church.
However, one of the overt ways the Church has proclaimed its Faith is through public festivity. These festivals are meant to surround the solemn liturgical celebrations of the Church, for example Christmas and Easter, but also, at least in former days, Halloween.
The popular culture celebrates Halloween with gusto- the Church less so. The popular culture considers the Halloween festivities to be a holdover from pagan times, an association that is used to justify the grim and sensual excess. The Catholic associations with Halloween have been muted and repressed in favor of a demonic reverie.
What has happened to Catholic Halloween?
For example, the practice of masquerade has little to do with honoring demonic influences, but is instead a form of play, that pokes fun at fallen spiritual powers and the excesses of human desire- showing these things to be, not so much frightening, but silly. The distribution of treats originate in the sharing of resources at times of festivity, an act of charity through which private stores of resources were given over to public use on festival days so that all could enjoy the party. The association of Halloween with the dead has to do with the liturgical celebrations of All Saints and All Souls Days. All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) is the festival that begins two great days of solemn, Christian celebration.
No reference to paganism, ancient or modern, is needed to explain any of these customs. All of it wells up from the great reservoir of the Church’s public witness through public festivity.
A witness that has become more and more muted as far too many Christians have domesticated their religious practice, retreated from public life and sequestered the Church’s belief and practice behind closed and often locked doors. Within that closed space we celebrate ourselves, but that party is by invitation only and the guest list is quite exclusive.
Halloween is at its root a Catholic event meant to commemorate in fun, feasting and foolishness the great truth of the Communion of Saints and lead the culture to peer into the life of the Church- it was meant as an invitation to cross a threshold from the world into Church and see the holy mysteries the Church commemorates in the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.
We Christians have surrendered that festival to the culture and they have made of it their own kind of celebration. We have lost Halloween in much the same way that we have lost Christmas and Easter. The public face of the Church in its evangelical, festival outreach of feasts and holy days has largely receded. As strategies of assimilation and accommodation have been employed in attempts to make the Church more palatable to the culture’s tastes, almost all of the character and charm of Catholic culture has disappeared. A holy day means 45 minutes in Church and then back to work- if even that!
The lack of bold public festivity, intimately attached to the feasts and seasons of the Church’s worship, has left the impression that the Church is in retreat and unsure of itself and that all it has to offer the culture is an argument and a stern “No”.
A wise man once observed that wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there is music, food and good red wine.
It’s time for that Catholic sun of public festivity to rise again and cast the divine light of joyous life in Christ on a culture desperate for his warmth and light.