By CUF Staff | November 29, 2012
The November/December issue of Lay Witness magazine explores the theme of Catholic culture. Undoubtedly there are remarkable signs of hope and renewal in our culture at large, and within the Church, due in part to the encouragement of Pope Benedict, much of the same can be said.
In the discipline of Sacred Music, one need look no further than to James Macmillan, the Scottish composer responsible for creating a new Mass setting for the Holy Father’s pastoral visit to England in 2010. Today Catholic World Report spotlights Macmillan is this in-depth article. And, with Advent just around the corner, Macmillan’s stunning piece “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” is highly recommended. Purchase this and other selections from Macmillan at iTunes and other music providers.
And for more information on subscribing to the award-winning Lay Witness magazine, visit our website.
By CUF Staff | November 26, 2012
Getting to know the Church Fathers means getting to know our own roots. It means knowing more deeply who we are as we learn more and more about who they are. The early Christians are our ancestors, our common genealogy, our family.
When we look to our roots, what do we see? That’s what beloved author and apologist Mike Aquilina shows you in his latest book, Faith of Our Fathers: Why the Early Christians Still Matter and Always Will.
The Fathers managed to pull off an amazing achievement. They converted the pagan world in a mere two and a half centuries. They did it without any resources, without any social or political power. They did it with the most primitive communications media. Yet their Church sustained a steady growth rate of 40 percent per decade over the course of those centuries. Maybe there’s something we can learn from them. This book is a journey into that world, a tour where your guides are the Fathers.
By CUF Staff | November 20, 2012
Covering all the ins and outs of spiritual direction (What is it? Who needs it? How do I find a spiritual director?), Navigating the Interior Life is a comprehensive tool for strengthening your relationship with Christ.
The book is available through the ERP website as well as Catholic bookstores.
By CUF Staff | November 15, 2012
On the feast of St. Albert the Great, bishop on Church Doctor, from the Lay Witness archives:
To understand the life of a busy man of the Middle Ages like St. Albert the Great, it is important to remember that at the high point of Catholic culture, Europe was a great deal more of a single piece than it is now. We may fly from Paris to Cologne in an hour; it would take St. Albert a lot longer, but when he got to the university in the new city he could teach and communicate in the same Latin language he spoke in the last.
Born in 1206 in Lauingen in Swabia and entering the Dominican Order at Padua in 1223, St. Albert made Germany the center of the whirlwind of teaching, preaching, and administration that took him back and forth between Cologne, Paris, and Rome. He was bishop of Ratisbon for a while and preached a crusade in Bohemia. Where he ever found time to complete his voluminous writings or to acquire his immense learning in all fields is anybody’s guess. Ulrich of Strasbourg called him the marvel of his age.
Like many saints, and particularly like his most famous pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (Albert predicted that the bellowing of that “dumb ox” would one day fill the world!), Albert was always at the center of controversy. The struggle to include the method of philosophical disputation (dialectic) as a legitimate and necessary part of theology had been practically won (over the opposition of some other great saints!), but Albert was taking it further. Not only did he want to recognize philosophy itself as a discipline distinct from theology (“Distinguish to unite,” says Jacques Maritain), but he meant to do it by way of the writings of Aristotle. As a result, he had to work very hard to convince people, from Pope down, that a sober assimilation of the truths understood and taught by Aristotle would not lead to the heresies of some contemporary Aristotelians, who denied the immorality of the soul and the freedom of the will. Albert worked untiringly to claim Aristotle’s truth for the Catholic faith to which he was so unreservedly committed.
Bold commitment to the truth is the key to St. Albert’s special sanctity. Truth comes in different forms, he taught: some of it is specially revealed by God and is to be accepted by faith; some of it is there for human reason to see and demonstrate through its own God-given light (philosophy—the existence of God and the immorality of the soul are in this category, he taught); and some truth can be achieved only through much experience and patient observation (natural sciences). Against many who were suspicious of science, Albert showed that all truth is God’s truth; truth about the migration of animals, the color spectrum of rainbows, or the coats of animals is precious because it speaks of God’s creation. St. Albert rolled up his sleeves and got into all with a breadth of interest astounding to us in this age of specialization.
We can only speculate on what this patron of the natural sciences would be doing were he in the body in the twenty-first century, but we must try to hear his voice within the communion of saints. It is perhaps not overly fanciful to image him urging us to avoid the idle spinning of the “theologians” who would unravel the whole cloth of the faith, prodding us to pursue theology and philosophy according to the mind of St. Thomas, and, waiving a copy of Chaos or A Brief History of Time, directing us to a renewed and robust, though critical and philosophically informed, appreciation of the wonders of creation in dialogue with our contemporaries. What is certain is that he would tell us to love the truth with all our hearts.
From the November 1988 issue of Lay Witness, by Roger B. Duncan
By CUF Staff | November 12, 2012
“Our Father, who art in Heaven: give us, we pray You, the courage and the strength to stamp out the threat of paganism and slavery that hangs over the world today.
Be merciful to all those who have died in the service of our country.
Console those who have lost their loved ones in the struggle.
Help our fighting men to be always clean of heart and therefore unafraid.
Soothe the wounded in battle.
Sustain the courage of those who suffer persecution for conscience’ sake.
Have pity on all those who have been insulted, robbed, tortured, defiled, ensalved by their conquerors.
Grant wisdom to our leaders, civil and military, that they may most effectively direct our efforts, at home and abroad.
Teach us all to walk humbly with You, so that we may be worthy to conquer, and having conquered may build a peace with justice, based on the Brotherhood of Man, under the Fatherhood of God.”– Archbishop Fulton Sheen
(Courtesy of Aggie Catholics.)
By CUF Staff | November 9, 2012
Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington has an informative summary of the newest booklet from Emmaus Road Publishing, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue (available through our website).
In his post, Msgr. Pope gets to the heart of the debate over same-sex “marriage”:
…the problem with most understandings of marriage today is that they are adult-centric. That is to say, they focus only on the rights and happiness of the adults involved. Most people have little concept of marriage today as anything other than two adults being happy for as long as they please. And if they do have any children it isn’t because that is what marriage is about, it’s only because that makes the adults happy. Or so the thinking goes. And thus, because adults have a right to be happy, they have a right to get married, and if they are unhappy, they have a right to divorce. Basically, the modern concept of marriage is that it’s all about the adults.
Now, to be clear, this “all about the adults” mentality has been a problem in the heterosexual community long before the homosexual community stepped forward to demand recognition of their unions, as a “marriage.” And that is why it is so hard for heterosexuals to answer the demands of the homosexual community, and why so many heterosexuals are themselves confused. After all, what, really, is one to say to the homosexual community if all that marriage is, is two adults being happy for as long as they please?
Getting the Marriage Conversation Right is now available. Check out the Emmaus Road website for bulk rates.
By CUF Staff | November 8, 2012
Discussing the broad issue of Catholic Culture, this issue tackles both the general question of “What is Catholic Culture?” and specific manifestations of Catholic contributions to culture at large. Weighing in from their respective disciplines, authors James Gaston, David Clayton, Anthony Esolen, James Papandrea, Michael D. O’Brien, Barbara Nicolosi and more make this one of our best issues of Lay Witness yet.
By CUF Staff | November 5, 2012
Missionary Intention: Pilgrim Church. That the pilgrim Church on earth may shine as a light to the nations.
By CUF Staff | October 31, 2012
Is the celebration of Halloween a pagan feast? May a Catholic celebrate Halloween in good conscience? What is the history of this popular American holiday?
We celebrate Halloween on the evening before All Saints Day. The word itself is a shortened form of “All Hallows’ Eve,” which quite literally means “the eve of All Saints.” From the earliest days of the Feast of All Saints (mid 700s A.D.), Catholics observed October 31 as the vigil of this November 1 celebration. This feast commemorates the lives of Christians who lived exemplary lives of faith. Pope Sixtus IV introduced an octave to the feast day in the 1400s, which was celebrated until 1955.
In the United States, the secular celebration of Halloween combines the diverse holidays and cultural practices of the immigrants who settled here. The Church has not issued any prohibitions on celebrating Halloween, so Catholics remain free to participate in accord with their conscience. Naturally, such participation must not conflict with the faith or Christian charity.
As noted above, “Halloween” is a shortened term for the English title “All Hallow’s Eve.” A title given to the vigil celebration of the Catholic feast, All Saints Day. The secular practices in the United States associated with this night represent a mixture of practices taken from the various cultures represented in the United States. Christianity itself, Catholicism included, has contributed to these practices.
An Initial Caution
Some hold the opinion that Halloween represents an occult holiday. Catholics and other reasonable Christians should take these accusations with a grain of salt. Many pamphlets, tracts, and books written against Halloween are written by anti-Catholic writers whose purpose is to discredit the Catholic Church! They assume that Catholicism itself is (at least partially) pagan and demonic, especially regarding the veneration of God’s saints. Because Catholics hold vigil on the feast of All Saints, such writers believe our practice to be evil. Other writers attribute the practices of Halloween to the Druids. However, the commemoration of Christian martyrs predates Christian contact with Druids, and celebrating the vigil of All Saints, All Saints Day itself and All Souls Day (a feast on November 2 which commemorates all the faithful departed) is certainly not “pagan.” Finally, anti-Catholic writings are notorious for their historical inaccuracies. Be cautious about giving quick credence to such writings.
There are several influences, independent of each other, that contribute to the current practices celebrating Halloween in the United States.
Because they considered the beginning and end of seasons important, the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles at the time of the harvest. The feast recognized God’s blessings and recalled His promise to care for them in need (Lev. 23:39; Dt. 17:7). Furthermore, as an agricultural community, certain laws and practices of the Israelites involved the use of the land and animals under their care (cf. Lev. 25). Similarly, the ancient Celts of Britain and Ireland did have a festival on November 1. This date was the “beginning of a new year” and “the end of summer.” According to the mythology of these agriculturally minded Celts, the beginning of winter was also the time when the dead of the year were taken to the underworld, and awareness of mortality became acute because the coming winter season was dangerous. The cultural recognition of the beginning and end of seasons is found in virtually every agricultural society. American Thanksgiving represents such a “feast.” It is no wonder that Christians have kept such important symbols, especially given the Jewish recognition of seasonal events.
Unrelated to the Celtic festival, Pope Gregory III dedicated an oratory on November 1 that commemorated all the saints (circa 731-41). This date became popularly adopted as “All Saints Day” in Ireland and Britain. Within a century, Gregory IV extended the November 1 celebration of All Saints Day throughout the Western churches. Christians have long commemorated vigils of special feasts, e.g., Christmas Eve Mass and the Easter Vigil, a tradition rooted in the Jewish practice that a day begins at dusk, not midnight. The October 31 vigil of All Saints Day was recognized from the earliest days of the feast.
Contrary to what some writers say regarding Halloween, historians are unable to substantiate a simple importation of “pagan” customs when the Irish and the Scots (who had been Christian for centuries) immigrated in great numbers to the United States during the 1800s. The American holiday has roots which have no connections with the long past Druids.
Masquerading and wearing costumes associated with death began in the 14th and 15th centuries. During that time, the bubonic plague broke out repeatedly in Europe. This incurable disease that severely decimated the population caused a keen awareness of human mortality. Men return to dust (Gen. 3:19), and the things of this world and the works of men are fleeting (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Pet. 3:8). Although we have hope of resurrection in Christ Who has destroyed death (1 Cor. 15:54-55), it is good to be aware of man’s mortality to keep priorities straight. For this reason, art often depicts monks and hermits with skulls—”memento mori”—reminders of death. The mortality of man was popularly illustrated during this period through the “Danse Macabre” or “the Dance of Death.” These songs, poems, prints, and paintings depicted men of every age and social state being led by a skeleton into the grave. The Danse Macabre was a Christian allegorical theme warning that all men, young and old, wise and foolish, rich and poor, honored and shunned, die sooner or later (Eccles. 2:16, 5:15, 7:2). Over time these illustrations became “living.” People started to act out the Danse Macabre by dressing up—as men of all kinds in every stage of life, and even stages after death—on All Souls Day. The New Catholic Encyclopedia notes the survival of the Danse Macabre theme in Halloween customs of the United States. Danse Macabre themes can also be seen in the Spanish and Hispanic decorations for “Los Dias de los Muertes,” (“the days of the dead,” November 1 and 2). Mexican crafts for those days include skeleton brides, grooms, nuns, priests, etc.
Trick or Treat
Asking for treats door-to-door is probably derived from the English practice of celebrating Guy Fawkes Day on November 5. Between the 16th and 18th centuries in England, Catholics had no legal rights. Sometimes Catholics resisted the oppression. One extreme example of resistance was the failed “Gunpowder Plot” that backfired, so to speak, on November 5, 1605. As a commemoration of this event, which became a national holiday, English Protestant revelers would wear masks and go from one Catholic home to the next in the middle of the night, demanding beer and cakes for celebration. The revelers frequently carried lanterns made of turnips, carved to mimic the heads of the beheaded conspirators. Over time more customs were added, including pranks by children the night before. To this day, children wearing masks beg for pennies and treats door-to-door on Guy Fawkes Day and people celebrate the king’s preservation with fireworks, bonfires, and burning effigies of the treasonous conspirators.
English Protestants carried the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day to the American colonies. These settlers included Anglicans, who also kept the feast of All Saints, and Puritans. Anglicans commonly called the celebration “Powder Plot Day,” while Puritans with more anti-Catholic tendencies preferred “Pope Day.” In these same colonies, Lutherans celebrated “Reformation Day” on October 31. Huguenots, and Presbyterians of other countries probably joined in later. The English colonists kept the customs of Guy Fawkes bonfires, masquerading and door-to-door begging, and general revelry with food, games, and dancing. Some settlers, records show (e.g. New Hampshire), also preserved the playing of pranks on the previous day. In Pennsylvania, the Guy Fawkes customs were adapted by Scottish children, who did their door-to-door masquerading on October 31 and asked “please to help the guisers,” which seems to be a variation of the English children’s plea, “pennies for the Guy.”
The American custom of “play parties” also contributed to the rise of modern Halloween customs. “Play parties” were fall festivals to which everyone would be invited. Some were task oriented and involved chores like paring apples, but many were for singing, dancing, corn popping, taffy pulls, playing “snap apple,” school pageants, and the like.
Other historians trace trick-or-treating to a 9th century practice in which Christians went door-to-door begging for “soul cakes”—square pieces of bread with currants or other fruits. The recipients would, in turn, promise to pray for the repose of the gift givers’ deceased relatives (cf. 2 Mac.12: 38-46). Over time, the begging took the form of songs, which were later parodied by English youths celebrating Guy Fawkes Day.
The mixture of these various immigrant traditions took place in the United States between the 1600s and the 1800s. Both Catholics and Protestants had masquerading and begging traditions associated with this time of year, and nearly all agriculturally oriented people had harvest festivals. It is easy to see how the different popular practices were mixed into one holiday, and they came to be celebrated on the eve of All Saints, the last day before winter according to Irish and British custom. Except in European countries that are under significant modern American influence, there is no holiday in Europe quite like the American holiday of Halloween. If American Halloween customs have any origins in pagan ones, those customs are filtered through centuries of Christian use.
It was the greeting card industry which apparently added witch imagery to Halloween in the 19th century. The witch imagery seems to be a non-scientific attempt by a few folklorists to forge a link between supposed ancient Druid practices and the Halloween of America. The image gained popularity in the American holiday. While some celebrate Halloween with witch imagery and practices, the holiday itself should not be considered synonymous with witchcraft and occult practices. Because these practices oppose the natural order, they oppose not only Christianity, but the very customs upon which Halloween is founded.
There is nothing intrinsically “pagan” or “evil” in celebrating All Saints Day or its vigil, dressing up in costumes, playing games, having parties, carving vegetables, reminders of mortality, or collecting candy from willing neighbors. You are free to do any or all of these things if you wish, because none of them are intrinsically disordered, provided that there are no evil intentions in the act (Mk. 7:18-23). Halloween is not a philosophy or system of belief, good or bad, but a set of American customs and practices derived from European ones. And it should be noted that Christianity has externally borrowed from pagan customs—e.g., wedding rings, bouquets, brides wearing white, Christmas trees, and Easter eggs—but has transformed their interior meaning to conform with Christ. Just as the Church baptizes pagans and makes them into Christians by God’s grace, Christians can give old customs good, new, and richer meaning, e.g., Christmas and Easter replaced pagan feasts associated with winter and spring, respectively. Halloween, given its legitimate Christian connections, can actually be an occasion to help others discover the significance of All Saints and All Souls Days, just as many point out at Christmas that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
On the other hand, we do not want to use our legitimate freedom to alienate or scandalize our Christian brothers, which would be a violation of charity. St. Paul says that even though Christians may eat meat sacrificed to idols (a practice which wasn’t even Christianized) without sinning, they should choose for the sake of charity not to do so in front of those who do not understand this liberty (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 10:23-31). We should not be a stumbling block for others. If your family members or friends choose not to celebrate Halloween, respect their decision and do not do anything in their presence which they would find offensive. If you choose not to celebrate Halloween in the common customs, you might consider replacing it with a celebration of All Saints Day or adapting the common customs to highlight All Saints Day, e.g., handing out holy cards with candy and/or dressing up your children as saints.
Halloween can be legitimate fun, but this kind of fun is not worth causing a brother to stumble. The decision of whether to celebrate Halloween should be made prudently, charitably, and in conformity with the faith. As St. Augustine said, in essential things there must be unity, in matters of opinion there may be diversity, but in all things there must be charity.
By CUF Staff | October 23, 2012
From our CUF archives: various resources to help inform your voting decisions
- A Matter of Reception: Abortion, Holy Communion, and Catholic Politicians. This Faith Fact discusses the broad issue of abortion and the morality of a supporting a candidate who openly advocates abortion.
- The Rosary, Faith, and the Public Square. In this homily Bishop Thomas Olmsted reminds us that our greatest weapon is prayer.
- You Can Make a Difference: Catholics in the Political Arena. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, gives practical advice on getting involved in civic affairs in this helpful article.