HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN

Ghouls, ghosts, and witches, warlocks, and spooks of all kinds. These, along with every sort of Disney princess and comic book hero, seem to be the common theme of the average Halloween celebrations in American culture today. Of course, many rural places add a harvest theme to the celebration, and if you want truly scary stuff, it wouldn’t all that hard in our current culture to find a very active occult world on All Hallows’ Eve.

But for all that, All Hallows’ Eve is exactly what this evening is about, and apparently, always has been. Let me explain: October 31 is the eve of All Hallows’ Day. All Hallows’ Day is known more often as All Saints’ Day. Hallowed is an older word, and most people know it from the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.” It means sanctified, or made holy (and comes from the Greek word, hagiázo). A related version of the word is hagios which is often translated as “saint.” 

So All Saints’ Day is the festival celebrating all the sanctified, or holy ones—those who were set aside by God as His holy children. This is not a reference only to “Saints” as in Saint Augustine of Hippo and all the other saints names that we have on Church calendars, but saints as in all those who have lived the Christian life and gone on to be with God to wait for the final resurrection of the dead. So Halloween actually comes from the Church. All Hallows’ Eve was contracted to Hallowe’en, and eventually, lost the apostrophe, and most now just spell it as Halloween.

Many today believe in pagan underpinnings of Halloween, and the often ghoulish trappings of the celebration—especially the occult activities happening on this night—help to solidify that opinion. In the 19th century, the academic opinion grew that Halloween was rooted in the Celtic Festival of Samhain. In turn, this academic opinion bled into the general public, particularly in America. Ronald Hutton, in his The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, notes that one 19th century English academic’s theory about Samhain being the Celtic New Year “was further popularized by the Cambridge scholar, Sir James Frazer. At times [Frazer] did admit that the evidence for it was inconclusive, but at others he threw this caution overboard and employed it to support an idea of his own: that Samhain had been the pagan Celtic feast of the dead.”

Frazer’s argument for this is a bit sketchy. He argues that November 1 had been dedicated by the medieval Church to be a festival of the dead, and therefore it could be surmised that this had “been a Christianization of a pre-existing festival.” Hutton notes that Frazer “…admitted, by implication, that there was in fact no actual record of such a festival”(1). In fact, we know very, very little about the Celtic Samhain.

We are more certain, however, that the Celtic peoples of the British Isles were Christianized by the 600s. Of course St. Patrick converted the Irish in the 400s. St. Ninian was the first missionary to Scotland in the middle 400s and converted the southern part of the land. St. Columba worked among the people of northern Scotland in the 500s.

All Saints’ as a Feast Day celebration was well established in the Eastern and Western Church by 400AD.  St. Chrysostom (d. 407) assigns it a definite day, the First Sunday after Pentecost (which is fifty days after Easter), and it is still observed on that day in the East.  In the West, the Feast day did not become firmly established until about 610. “From then on an annual commemoration of ‘All Saints’ was made on 13 May”(2).  The date was changed across the Western Church by order of Pope Gregory IV in the 800s.

The idea that the Bishop of Rome changed the date for the Feast of All Saints’, for all of the Western church, so that the very small Celtic part of the Church (furthest away from Rome, in fact) could take dominion of the Celtic Festival of Samhain, when that Festival or whatever elements of it were left to a culture that had been Christian for 200-400 years had never caused one complaint from Church officials(that we have record of), seems to be a very far stretch. 

Without getting into the extra evidence that Hutton points out, let me quote his conclusion: “This [evidence] makes nonsense of Frazer’s notion that the November date was chosen because of ‘Celtic’ influence: rather, both ‘Celtic’ Europe and Rome followed a Germanic idea….” Cambridge Historian Mary Beard writes that “a large proportion of [Frazer’s] The Golden Bough  is inadequate, as well as irrelevant…”(3). Essentially, Frazer’s arguments have been dismissed for a long time in the academic world, but are still the backbone of popular belief in the culture of our day, so that many Christians fear that Halloween is really pagan and that Christians should not be involved at all, or involved guiltily at best.  Many non-Christians are convinced that Halloween has nothing to do with the Church, and neo-paganism is pressing this point, often veering into the truly frightening world of the occult.

The simple truth is that the Church should reclaim her heritage, and own the truth with beauty and goodness, and should celebrate Halloween as the Church has always celebrated, with the liturgies and prayers and devotions associated with the festival.  How much and what kind of parties are up to the discretion of the Church and her people.  How many of the pagan traditions from the old world that still cling to All Saints should be used is also to be chosen wisely.  But really, who wants to ban apple-bobbing because it has folkloric roots in predicting future love, finding a husband, and likely in being a female fertility rite?

____________________

Endnotes:

1 Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996, ch. 34.

2 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 42.

3 Beard, Mary. “Frazer, Leach, and Virgil: The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of The Golden Bough.” Modes of Comparison: Theory & Practice. Ed. Aram A. Yengoyan. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 2006. 161-87.

HOLY WEEK

HOLY WEEK

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem!” With these Gospel words on Quinquagesima Sunday, the Church declares the Season of Lent to be a journey toward Jerusalem, toward the passion of Christ.  Holy Week is certainly the climax of that journey, beginning on Palm Sunday when we arrive at Jerusalem with Christ. Together with Resurrection Day, these eight days of Holy Week and Easter take us through the entire scope and sequence of the Gospel of God. “Death does its worst but Christ is victorious.”

In order that we might understand the intent of this holiest of weeks, the Book of Common Prayer offers an extraordinary series of feast days and propers. These propers call us to remember and to celebrate Christ’s suffering on every day of the week. The sequence of Gospel readings found in these propers provides the most complete and perfect representation of the Gospel found anywhere in the Prayer Book. 

Beginning Palm Sunday and continuing through Maundy Thursday, the whole church reads together the account of Christ’s Passion from each Gospel in order, beginning with St. Matthew and ending with St. John. But the Collect appointed to be read every day of Holy Week keeps our minds focused on that which lies through and beyond the Passion: “Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection.” This play of Collects and Gospel readings calls us to be patient as Christ suffers, that we may be joyful partakers of Resurrection.

It should come as no surprise that this week of feasts—so full of joy, sorrow, glory, pain, faith, denial, triumph and crucifixion—should build up great and rich traditions that go beyond the pages of the Prayer Book. Many of those traditions are worthy companions of Anglican Prayer Book Catholicism.

Palm Sunday, as the name implies, rightly begins with the Blessing of Palms, complete with a reading of the Triumphal Entry, followed by a procession into the Church with shouts of Hosanna. This glorious procession emphasizes the true character of this Feast Day by its shocking contrast with the Palm Sunday Eucharistic Gospel. Traditionally, after that glorious entry, when the Crucifixion account is read, the deacon and all the people fall to their knees in stunned silence at the announcement of the death of Jesus.  Only after a lengthy period of silence and with great effort does the deacon arise and resume the Gospel. As St. Bernard says, “Who ought now to put his hope in the inconstancy of temporal glory, when even in the Author of time and the Creator of the universe he beholds so great a humiliation after so great an exaltation? For in the same city, in the same week, Christ was one day received with a glorious procession and divine honours, and on another subject to insult and torture….”

Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are rightly celebrated as solemn Eucharists, the emphasis being upon the remembrance of the Passion of each Gospel narrative. St. Mark’s Gospel is read over two days, emphasizing Christ’s physical sufferings more than his actual death. We will dwell on his death later, but now we remember that his suffering is propitious. “By thine agony and bloody sweat,…” as the Prayer Book says.  And there is no substitute for patience on these days. We are called to be like St. John who, in great love and faith, followed Jesus every step of the way toward the cross.

Maundy Thursday is simply stunning. The Feast is a celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  It begins with a simple ceremony of Foot Washing, following the mandate of Jesus. The celebration ends with the betrayal of Christ into the hands of the enemies, marked by the Stripping of the Altar. In this powerful ceremony everything of beauty and value—including linens, banners, crucifixes, artwork, and candles—is removed from the sanctuary. What cannot be removed is covered over with black material. The altar is washed in preparation for Good Friday. Finally, a large, rough hewn wooden cross is placed at the entrance to the Sanctuary. It is time to offer the sacrifice. The priest and the entire congregation leaves in silence and unease, many stopping to kiss the foot of the cross as they exit.

Good Friday is the most sober celebration in human history. On this day we are called upon to contemplate the grotesque suffering and death of our Savior and to find joy and gratitude. This is, after all, why we call the day Good Friday. Although the Prayer Book provides Eucharistic readings for the day, it is not common to celebrate the Eucharist this day, unless in some parishes, with the reserved Sacrament from Holy Thursday. Instead, most parishes gather for either a series of meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ or the Stations of the Cross, or the very traditional service of the Litany followed by the Ante-Communion, often followed by the Reproaches.  Many parishes set up prayer vigils or round the clock reading of the Scriptures which continue until the announcements of Easter morning. But the emphasis of this day and of Holy Saturday is quiet contemplation of the death and burial of Jesus Christ. That quietness is only broken with the joyful sounds which begin to rumble at sundown on Holy Saturday, when Holy Week ends and Easter begins.

PREPARATION: THE PRACTICAL SIDE

PREPARATION: THE PRACTICAL SIDE

This Lenten Season, it is my hope that I will learn and grow in spiritual disciplines; that my family will learn and grow in the same; and also, of course, that my students and parishioners will be sanctified in the practice of those disciplines which the Church, through the wisdom and guidance of God, has placed before us for our edification.

I hope that the Lenten articles published on Earth & Altar this season have or will stimulate your thinking, challenge your living, and encourage your spiritual life with discussion regarding those disciplines and practices used for years in Christ’s Church.

I would like to take a small space here to remind you of the practical considerations of Lent.  Please remember that all the spiritual preparedness in the world to meet our God on a Sunday morning will not mean a thing if we don’t actually get up early enough, groom and take care of ourselves and our children (if we are so blessed), get in the car, and actually arrive to participate in the worship of Almighty God.

Similarly, if we do not prepare for the high holy days of the Church year, we will not be ready.  Remember that much of that preparation is practical.

There are really only two seasons of the year which become difficult to participate in if we do not adequately prepare: Christmas and Easter both have back to back days of obligation.  Instead of looking at those seasons with trepidation when it comes to realizing the practical necessities involved, please consider looking forward to them with joy because of your good preparation.

When I started serving my first parish, Christmastide was for years a season of exhaustion and sickness.  Of course, being the Vicar, I didn’t have a choice to decide not to attend service Christmas morning. I actually was always glad and thankful to be in God’s house worshipping Him during that busy time despite being sick. My lack of preparation, however,  took its toll on my health and contentment.

To solve my problem, I used common sense and started preparing better in a practical sense.  That’s not to say I’ve figured it all out.  Christmas and Easter are still especially busy seasons and I am usually very tired, but I am, of late, quite a bit more healthy and able to enjoy God’s blessings more fully.

All this to encourage you to prepare for Holy Week and Easter not just spiritually, but practically.  Of course, it is really all part of the same life—there is no division between our physical reality and our spiritual reality.  Yet, please take the time to think through the practical end of Holy Week.  After all, there is a service every day.

How are you going to make sure the daily things of life don’t get in the way of your worship?  I have to take care with my schedule that week, not trying to do too much so that I might focus on the worship of God Almighty.  I encourage you to the same.

Holy Week worship is beautiful and amazing—please don’t miss a day of it because you’re not prepared!

A WORD ABOUT COLORS

A WORD ABOUT COLORS

When traditional Anglicans think of Lent, they usually see it in purple. Certainly, purple is commendable and was long a nearly universal practice. However, the Anglican cleric Percy Dearmer records rich traditions and ancient practices which can inform the church and help Anglicans recover a fuller Anglican practice. Two of Dearmer’s insights concern Lent and Holy Week.

According to Dearmer, ancient practice in England was to use a Lenten Array throughout the season. This collection of vestments and paraments was made of unbleached linens of simple design and limited adornment. This natural material and simplicity emphasized the austerity of the season. In recognition of this ancient practice, many suppliers of church goods have begun displaying Lenten Arrays for purchase. As it turns out, these newfangled Lenten Arrays may have more historical precedence in Anglican churches than does purple.

Concerning Holy Week, Dearmer records that the ancient practice was to use “scarlet” as the liturgical color. This may be related to the fact that in ancient times, what they called purple we would call scarlet or magenta. In other words, ancient purple tended to red (think of your bishop’s magenta shirt which we all call purple) while modern purple tends to blue. At any rate, many Anglican parishes around the world have recovered the use of “scarlet” during Holy Week as reflected by Ordo Calendars which show red as the color for Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday. (Some places use white on Maundy Thursday to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.) Black is the color of Good Friday and until sundown on Holy Saturday.

Dearmer also points out the diversity in use of liturgical colors. Although liturgical colors have been utilized since the most ancient times, which colors were used and when each color was applied was always very fluid and locally appointed. Uniformity in use of liturgical colors is a relatively recent standard.  According to Dearmer, uniformity didn’t arise until after the Reformation, and perhaps not until after the Oxford Movement of the mid 1800s.

So while purple may be the “traditional” color of Lent, there may be even older traditional options yet to be discovered by hard-working Altar Guilds.

RISEN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN FILM BELOW THE MARK

RISEN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN FILM BELOW THE MARK

By Jared Tomlinson

Gregorian chant. Byzantine iconography. Gothic architecture. Renaissance polyphony. The Inklings. For most of the past two millennia, Christians have been at the forefront of the world’s aesthetic life. And then the twentieth century arrived.

During the twentieth century, especially its latter half, Christians traded their leading role for cheap imitation of the rest of the world’s artistic output. The results speak for themselves. We had Johann Sebastian Bach, now we have Hillsong. We had C. S. Lewis. Now we have Frank Peretti. And we have Christian movies. God, forgive us for Christian movies.

The latest is a flick called Risen. It tells the story of a Roman tribune ordered by Pontius Pilate to investigate the disappearance of the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The most disappointing thing about Risen is not that it’s a particularly bad film—it’s certainly better than most of the faith-based fare on offer. No, the most disappointing thing about Risen is that it could have been a pretty good one.

Really, it should have been a pretty good one. It was written and directed by Kevin Reynolds, who made an excellent adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo in 2002. It boasts considerable acting talent in its leading man, the formidable Joseph Fiennes. But, it’s not. And here’s why.

Risen cops out. Midway through, it abandons the promise of its premise to pander to its target audience. Clavius, the aforementioned Roman tribune, spends the first half of the movie playing the detective. He tracks down disciples. He interrogates. He is determined to find the truth, and the body of Jesus, before it has decayed beyond recognition. But the more he follows the evidence, the less sense the whole thing makes to him.

Throughout this part of the film, Risen largely succeeds. It places before its audience a confounding mystery and beckons them to join Clavius in solving it. Then, all of a sudden, it spoon-feeds him the answer to the mystery (and with him, the audience)! Following Mary Magdalene, he finds himself in the upper room with the disciples, in the company of the resurrected Christ.

Clavius spends the latter half of the movie as a sort of thirteenth apostle, present for the majority of Christ’s post-resurrection ministry, even witnessing his ascension. The film invites its target evangelical audience to participate with him in this exciting time, seemingly for the purpose of provoking the reaction, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool to have been there!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Christian. I believe that following the evidence leads to a resurrected Christ. But this is just bad storytelling. What good mystery solves itself halfway through? By copping out, Risen doesn’t just fail to tell a good story, it fails to be a thought-provoking film, content with leaving the Christian viewer feeling good about his faith, and the non-Christian thinking, “Maybe something strange did happen two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. But, I’ll never know. I’ll never burst into the upper room like Clavius and see him myself.”

So, I stand by my initial reaction: Sorry Christian friends, Risen was not a good film. If you’re interested in art that challenges and doesn’t simply pander and try to make you feel good about being a Christian to get to your wallet, try Calvary, Tree of Life, or To The Wonder.

PRAYER, FASTING, ALMS: IMPORTANT DISCIPLINES

PRAYER, FASTING, ALMS: IMPORTANT DISCIPLINES

By the Rev’d Dr. Daniel McGrath

This year during Lent the topics of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving will be featured in many sermons, written about in many parish newsletters, and thought about in detail by most practicing Churchmen around the country.  These three disciplines were commended by our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount and have been practiced in the Church since the time of the Apostles.  Let us bear in mind from the outset of this article two important points: first that these disciplines are not only to observed during Lent, but they are good for the whole Church Year and are to be re-discovered and implemented with greater attention during Lent; second, having disciplines such as these does not make Christianity into a religion of “works.”  Salvation is offered freely by God through Jesus Christ to those who believe, and we are given an opportunity to receive this gift by faith.  However, as members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and as his disciples, we wish to grow in maturity and to profit from these disciplines in the course of our development.

Let us begin with the topic prayer.  No Christian can survive long without prayer, for it strengthens our bond to God, opens us to His grace and keeps Him within our line of sight.  God soon fades out of the vision of those who do not pray.  How should we approach God in prayer?  Unfortunately, many people have the mistaken idea that prayer consists of merely asking God for things, as though he were the cosmic Room Service of our hotel!  Then, sinking to the lowest level of bad taste, people grumble when God does not respond in the exact way they hoped, and they even neglect to give Him the tip!  Let us remember that prayer is communion with God—it is not just asking Him for things. 

Anglicans learn from their Book of Common Prayer that there are different components to a life of prayer.  Adoration is the contemplation, enjoyment and worship of God; Thanksgiving is the acknowledgment of God’s good gifts to us; in Confession we repent of our sins and seek God’s forgiveness; we Petition God to supply our daily needs; and we offer Intercession for the needs of others.  Of course we learn how to pray from our Lord himself in his Sermon on the Mount, in which he offered the model that we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  He also encouraged his disciples to pray discretely, and “not as the hypocrites” who pray openly so that they can be seen by men.  He taught his disciples to pray simply, not with vain repetitions “as the heathen,” for God knows what we need and he hears even the most simple prayer.  Christ taught his disciples to pray in safety, by which I mean the safety of God’s will:  “Thy will be done.”  God has left himself the power of discretion in the manner and timing of his response to our prayers.  Otherwise, prayer would be far too dangerous an activity for man if we could just ask for anything our flesh desired.

Let us come now to the topic of Fasting.  In general terms, to fast is to eat sparingly or to abstain from all or certain foods.  Usually it is intended as a spiritual exercise.  Christians should fast because our Lord taught us to do so, both by his own example and by his instructions.  He said not, “if ye fast,” but rather “when ye fast.” Fasting was clearly practiced by the Apostles, especially when seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost.  St. Paul fasted “oft.”  Fasting was practiced quite rigorously by some in the early Church, when it was considered to be a total abstinence from food, for all or part of the fast day.  In more recent times, fasting has come to mean merely a restricted diet, or a lessening in quantity on those days.

In the Anglican Church, fasting is expected, as one can see from the Table of Fast [Day]s in the front of the Prayer Book (page li).  This is a table of fast days on which “the Church requires such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion.”  The Forty Days of Lent are included in this Table. 

What is the value of fasting?  Fasting is a useful aid to repentance, as we see with the people of Nineveh.  Fasting is useful as an aid to devotion, for it helps us prepare mentally and physically to approach God in worship without distractions.  Fasting is useful as a preparation for ministry, as when Our Lord fasted in the wilderness.  Fasting is an aid to increasing our spiritual focus.  When our Lord’s disciples failed in their attempts to help a demon-possessed boy, he commented that this could have happened only “by prayer and fasting.” 

When choosing something to fast from, there is room for discretion and ultimately the exact details of your own fast should be between you and God.  Yet our Lord did give a few guidelines in the Sermon on the Mount, and the experience of the Church is instructive, as well. First, we should fast simply.  That is to say, we should not be ostentatious in our fasting so that we are noticed and commended by men, but we should fast for God alone.  We should also fast safely.  The point of fasting is not to endanger our health or impair our ability to work or interact with others, but to engage in a profitable spiritual exercise.  Finally, we should fast appropriately.  Fasting is not merely an opportunity for self-improvement projects such as quitting smoking.  The time to adopt a healthy lifestyle is now, and we should not wait for Lent to do it. 

What then may we fast from? If you are interested in being more traditional, the most common fasts consist fasting until evening of each fast day, or in some traditions, until 3 o’clock, the hour of Christ’s death, or in yet other traditions, two light meals and one full meal each day. These fasts usually mean that you eat meat only once a day and that you abstain from meat on Fridays. We should fast from something which is good, pleasant, pleasurable, comfortable, but not necessary for our health and well-being.  Our fast should be inconspicuous.  For example, who’s going to notice if you choose the less comfortable chair when you walk into a room, or if you leave off your favorite TV program? For more guidance, you may of course ask your parish priest.

Let us conclude with the topic of Almsgiving: what is it? Almsgiving means giving money, goods or time to the special service of God.  “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”  The practice of almsgiving is a recognition on our part of the sovereignty of God.  By making a tangible return of our substance to him, we acknowledge that all we have is really his.  There are different kinds of alms, so let us begin with the most basic, the Tithe.  God commanded the agrarian society of Israel in the Old Testament to give a tenth of their produce to the service of God, and today it is commonly expected that Christians tithe on their income.  Another form of almsgiving is to relieve the poor through donations of money or goods.  This can be done through your parish or through community relief organizations.  The donation of time through volunteer work is a commendable form of Almsgiving, as is time spent in intercessory prayer. 

How do we go about almsgiving?  As with prayer and fasting, we should give alms discretely, and not “as the hypocrites” who do it in order to be noticed by men.  “Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth.”  We should give alms cheerfully and not grudgingly or out of necessity, for “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver.”  We should give alms faithfully.  “To do good and to distribute, forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.”  Let us think of how God provides for us day by day, year by year, and then try to mirror that faithfulness in our service to God and to our neighbor.

May God bless our Lenten observance, to the end that all we do may be for his glory and for our benefit.

by the Rev’d Dr. Daniel McGrath

Fr. Daniel McGrath is serving as a chaplain in the US Navy.  He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He resides in Southern California, with his wife and two children.