Hallow Even

Philippe de Champaigne, Still-Life with a Skull, vanitas painting.

Philippe de Champaigne, Still-Life with a Skull, vanitas painting.

In America we know Hallowe’en is often a day for pagans to get smashed and flaunt their sexuality. Whether we wish to mark this day or not, it is certain that Christians are called not to indulge in such carousing, but in holiness to redeem the time. It is immaterial to me what people allege about the connexion between Hallowe’en and pagan festivals: even if such associations were not an invention of post-Christian pagans who also like to play Wicca, the day’s significance for me would be that it was the eve of All Saints’ Day, or Hallowmas. Therefore what I did on that day would depend largely on the intended observance of All Saints.

For all feasts of the Church, the night before is a vigil (though sometimes these vigils are moved to resolve time conflicts with other observances). The same can be done with All Saints: the night before can be a vigil of prayer and fasting. Let the pagans drink, and the Christians can spend the same time devoting their hearts to God. Let the darkness fall, and the Christians can remember the light of Christ. For what are false gods to us? The claims of the Lord are what matter.

But it is not possible, nor is it responsible, to make believe that nothing is going on outside the Church. The Feast of All Saints commemorates the saints who have gone before us, whose lives have borne witness of the gospel, and through their witness we know that Christ has given the same Holy Spirit to all believers which he has given to those whose sanctity we remember. If All Saints is a festival of the witnesses, its eve should be a vigil of witness. Our light is not for ourselves only, to hide under a bushel: the Lord commands that it be set on a stand, that all may see it. Not in bitterness or in hiding, but in purity and witness, the Church should hallow the day according to the Lord’s holy Name, that all who see may fear God. For the Lord, when he came, did not keep his disciples safely away from evil spirits; but he gave them the Holy Spirit to cast out those evil spirits in his Name.

The pagans become ghouls and harlots; let the Christians become saints. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we can go about in the figures of those who cast out the spirits and called harlots to know the chastity of Christ. The festival of the pagans is a bacchanal of death; but those who believe in the resurrection of Christ both trust that this resurrection glorifies the death of the righteous and remember, as the pagans frivolously celebrate death (even as they deny death), that in the midst of life we are in death. Walking through the streets, we can take the end of harvest and the pagans’ sickness unto death as a memento mori. Other men are nihilists, but Christians can remember death as God would have us understand it. The saints – among them Patrick Hamilton, William Tyndale, and Thomas Cranmer – can hold hourglasses, plaster skulls, ticking clocks, as if to say, Thou must die. For much did the piety of our forefathers hold death in their remembrance: not only John Donne but also Jeremy Taylor wrote about death and dying well, because in the promise of Christ they had the courage to look at death, serious death, death that is real and not feigned. This power the pagans do not have, but the Church militant can have it. Therefore we can speak of death in deadly earnest. A friend, a Mr Overton, has suggested that trick-or-treaters can sing this song from house to house:

Youth, like the spring, will soon be gone,
By fleeting time or conqu’ring death;
Your morning sun may set at noon,
And leave you ever in the dark.
Your sparkling eyes and blooming cheeks
Must wither like the blasted rose;
The coffin, earth, and winding sheet
Will soon your active limbs enclose.

Or this:

Remember, sinful youth, you must die, you must die,
Remember, sinful youth, you must die;
Remember, sinful youth, who hate the way of truth,
And in your pleasures boast, you must die, you must die;
And in your pleasures boast, you must die.

(He suggests that the second may be sung to the tune of ‘Wondrous Love’.)

And then, the next day, after Holy Communion, each Christian family may go up to the family graves to pray and give thanks. Ask not for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee! But the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and the trumpet shall sound.

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