The cult of the celebrity is almost like a trans fat. It’s in everything, and it’s everywhere. Magazines, television and social networking groups are saturated with it. Every time a personality breathes, the camera flashes, and it’s tweeted around the world. Fans love it, they crave it, they worship it.
Ask these same fervid fans why Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day, and they might reply with puzzlement on their faces, “What day?”
The relevance of this feast day stands hidden like some obsolete furniture in an attic. Yet, like antique collectors scouring for gems within forgotten antiquities, there’s a small, but growing, number of Catholics trying to reconnect the faithful on earth to the faithful in heaven. All Saints’ Day for them is a way to teach the young about true heroes and heroines while solidifying their faith.
Saints marching in
For East Lake Academy, a Catholic school in Lake Forrest, Ill., All Saints’ wouldn’t be complete without their annual saints’ parade, says Allison Walsh, a mother who has her three children at the school.
The children dress as their favorite saint, then march in a parade while singing, “When the Saints Come Marching In.” After the parade, children give speeches to their guests about their saint.
In Waukesha, Wis., teenagers organize an All Saints’ Day party for younger children held on the grounds of a Schoenstatt convent. Maureen Tousignant, a mother of five, helps the primarily home-schooled youth coordinate the event.
The party begins with confession and Mass, then launches into carnival-like games given new names such as Halo Ring Toss, Saints’ Jeopardy or Saints Guessing Game.
|Know the Difference|
This year Americans are expected to spend $6.86 billion on Halloween. But many Catholic kids don’t know much about the two Catholic feasts immediately afterward. Do you?
Halloween, Oct. 31
A traditional secular celebration dating back to pre-Christian Celtic autumn observances, customs and superstitions. Brought to the United States in the 19th century by Irish immigrants, its name is derived from the day on which it is celebrated, All Hallows Eve, the vigil to All Saints’ Day.
All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1
A holy day of obligation, commemorating all the blessed in heaven.
In the fourth century, groups of martyrs, and later other saints, were honored on a common day in various places. In 609 or 610, the Pantheon, a pagan temple in Rome that is still standing, was consecrated as a Christian church in honor of Mary and the martyrs and, later, all the saints.
In 835, Pope Gregory IV fixed Nov. 1 as the date of the observance.
All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2
The annual commemoration of all the faithful departed.
The dead were prayed for from the earliest days of the Church. By the sixth century, Benedictine monasteries customarily held commemorations for departed members at Pentecost. In 998, St. Odilio of the Abbey of Cluny fixed the day after All Saints’ Day as the common commemoration of all the faithful departed. It was approved and recommended by Pope Sylvester II five years later and gradually spread throughout the Christian world, with associated customs and pious traditions.
At All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, Va., third-graders participate in a parade of saints for the religious education program. These children are then invited to come dressed as their saints for the All Saints’ Day Mass, said Jennifer Gregory-Miller, mother of two.
Laura Geis, from Spring City, a suburb of Philadelphia, had her children dress as saints for Halloween. She would then share with trick-or-treaters the meaning behind All Hallows Eve. Geis would include a religious tract with the candy.
“We were trying to use the springboard of a holiday in American culture to recall the original reason for dressing up.”
For some these practices may seem reactionary and perhaps a little old fashioned. For these families, and many others, it’s a way to combat secularization with a positive message.
“I don’t want to be intimidated by the culture,” said Gregory-Miller. “We can have good family fun without retreating into a hole.”
Blood and guts
These groups even recognize there’s a little blood and guts behind the cult of the saints. Many saint images are imbued with the method of their torture or death. St. Lucy, for example, carries eyeballs on a plate because her torturers plucked out her eyes.
Though her family tries to shy away from the gore, Geis doesn’t deny that element of the faith. Her family receives a somewhat scary Halloween card every year from an elderly Catholic friend.
“He is hearkening to a time that you could end up in purgatory,” Geis told OSV. “Shoot, I’ve been to Montreal where St. Andre Bessette’s heart is in a reliquary. It’s a little weird. It’s a longtime tradition of the Church to reverence the bodies of saints.”
Sometimes, when the children are doing research, they are fascinated with the executions or torture of saints. It doesn’t have to be a negative, said Tousignant.
“It can be a jump-off point to ask why did this happen? Not just that he was killed with arrows, but why?”
Getting the children to dress as saints, “gets your foot in the door to learn more about your Church, its history,” added Gregory-Miller, who encourages other Catholics to promote the cult of the saints in their parishes, schools and homes.
She just cautions that if you have an idea, be prepared to execute the plan because many “parishes are overworked.” If the parish doesn’t jump on the All Saints’ bandwagon, don’t give up, said Tousignant.
There may never be a reality show featuring the heroic antics of the saints, but for some Catholics, venerating the saints is a valuable reality in their lives.
“These people (the saints) have already done it,” Gregory-Miller told OSV. “We can turn to them and ask for their intercession. They should be our heroes, or the people that we imitate. It’s important that we remember the saints.”
Carol Paur writes from Wisconsin.