I have been reading various negative comments about the new kind of Halloween foisted upon us – from America apparently – in newspaper columns. And of course, you can’t shop in our local Tesco in town without being aware of the huge piles of plastic devilry on display, as well as shelf stackers dressed up as wizards. But the whole ghoulish circus had not really impinged on me until this morning, when I went to our village shop to buy cigarettes for my mother.
There was our cheerful, middle-aged, buxom counter assistant squeezed into an odd assemblage of black drapes with a skull face mask hanging around her neck. She apologised for her appearance and told me she was meant to be a skeleton. The other assistant, a small thin lady of venerable years, was got up as a witch: pointed hat, long straggly hair and more black drapes. There were piles of broomsticks and tridents by the door. Then it came home to me: if a small, friendly Co-op in an undistinguished little village in the Chilterns is making its respectable female staff wear this ridiculous gear, then the country really has sold out to the cheap Americanisation of our culture.
It’s a pity about Tesco too; but having read that the company is now a keen supporter of Gay Pride, I am not surprised that it wants to make money out of any passing “festive” fancy such as Halloween. But our local village shop: what is the Co-op thinking of? Profits, I guess. A local Catholic parish has tried to counter this pagan dumb show in recent years by organising a fancy dress parade for junior parishioners at All Saints – all dressed as their favourite saint. The idea is to challenge the gaudy fancy dress with real theology: to make friends with these heroic people who lived such exemplary lives, so that when we die we hope to join them in heaven.
The best way to counter the Halloween juggernaut is to take the two great Feasts associated with it with proper seriousness: All Saints and All Souls. I am not sure why the old phrase “the Church Suffering”, to denote those holy souls still in Purgatory, has been changed to “the Church Expectant”; perhaps because the word ‘Suffering’ sounds too harsh and gets confused with the permanent suffering of Hell. But “Expectant” leaves out the idea of “suffering” altogether – when the testimony of the saints has always been that the suffering of Purgatory is greater than anything we can experience on earth. That is a scary thought, though not as scary as knowing that the Evil One still wanders the world for the ruin of souls.
A recent news item from Rome Reports news agency relates that an Italian priest, Fr Marcello Stanzione, has written a book with the title (translated): “365 Days with the Souls in Purgatory”. It is a collection of the thoughts of saints such as St Catherine of Genoa and St Faustina Kowalska, reflections of the popes and traditional Catholic devotions, that can be read daily throughout the year. Obviously it’s going to be Silvio Berlusconi’s bedtime reading.