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The best counter to the Halloween juggernaut? Purgatory

The trashy ‘festivity’ of Halloween has risen to prominence because we are unable to face the idea of the “Church Suffering’

By on Monday, 31 October 2011

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.

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong with a little harmless fun at Hallowe’en?

    ..and I’m sorry but there’s a lot of revisionism going on which implies the majority of this is an adoption of a solely American activity…

    Not the case: Certainly the consumerism and the hype and the over-merchandising; but kids have been knocking on doors in costumes for generations here

    Why not be a little Chestertonian about it?

    We revert for a short while to an age of folk and fairy tales and a cultural tradition where there’s a little more to reality than the dawkinsite nihilism of nothing but utility bills, copulation, reality tv and health scares…

    …and sure there’s little if no reference to it being the eve of All Saints day – but that’s our fault! When have we ever as a culture promoted it? When other nations have parades where the kids dressed as saints etc – it may be an aside but it is quite ludicrous that we have Catholic schoolkids who all celebrate Diwali – but when it comes to Candlemas we do nothing?!!

    Reclaim all Saints day!

    BUT – remember that timeless truth of which Chesterton reminds us.

    tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know
    that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.If anyone gets scared by the notion of the powers of darkness – maybe there’s hope that they’ll acknowledge the powers of light in the process?

  • ms Catholic state

    Don’t forget to put a Prayer Card and/or Rosary into the bags of treats for Trick or Treaters that call to your door….in the spirit of Pope Benedict’s New Evangelisation.

  • Anonymous

    “Catholic schoolkids who all celebrate Diwali”

    Well, that’s because the Catholic educational system in this country is in no sense truly Catholic any longer. We really ought to close most of these schools, the ones which have sold out or become “multi-cultural”. We’re paying for the upkeep and for what? The ones worth keeping, the ones still with a Catholic ethos, should be kept, but outside the state sector, if state part-funding means adoption of the state’s ethos, interfaithism, multiculturalism, corruption of the curriculum, and connexions contraception/abortion advisers given their own offices on our very property.

  • ms Catholic state

    Before we attempt to shut down the Catholic schools….we must attempt to reCatholicise them.  They are a wonderful tool…if rightly used.  At present they seem to focus more on producing good citizens and good secularists than good Catholics.

    But since the Pope is calling for the reChristianisation of society….we should start with our schools and use them as the fantastic evangelising tools they should be.  It’s really up to the bishops and I’m sure under the clear leadership of the Pope they will reboot our Catholic schools (if that is the correct term) and make them fit for mission.

  • Inquisator

    Might be a bit of a distraction, but can anyone logically and rationally explain to me the concept behind saying prayers or undertaking certain actions which gain so many years or days indulgence from purgatory.  Are we seriously saying that outside of the experience of human life, ie in death, there is time and matter. Furthermore, that we can dare to claim to have any influence upon these dead people by by-passing God and determining the future eternal life orientation of those who have died and for whom we do these prayer or action activities? Bit arrogant is it not? If not, total nonsense.

  • ms Catholic state

    Yes we can dare to say it…..as Jesus Christ told us so.  And He rose from the dead!  You don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to…..but as Christ said….Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.  So true.

  • Honeybadger

    Harmless fun? An egg was thrown at my window this evening, in spite of the fact that a polite notice was put up to say ‘No trick or treat – please respect our wishes’.

    So much for education, education, education for these young things if they have no idea what’s involved in considering other people’s feelings or – um – they can’t flipping read!

  • Anonymous

    I am not sure that Jesus ever spoke of souls in purgatory.  It does seem strange that we can determine who goes to heaven – and this is the logical conclusion of indulgences.  Sometimes people who question some of these beliefs are shot down in flames by others who say that they should trust in the Church etc.  I feel that it is quite the opposite – we cannot dictate to God.  Our prayer should not be ‘I want’ or ‘please do this or that’ but rather should be ‘here I am Lord, I trust you and your will, I put myself in your hands’.  Same with purgatory do the same actions, the same prayers and then trust in God’s infinite goodness.

  • Anonymous

    I am not quite sure what you were saying here.  I do not consider Halloween as a bit of harmless fun, rather I see it as rather a sad reflection on society.  Man has need of a ‘god’, and today people have turned away from God and found their god in most distractions that the modern world offers.  It is sad that the whole country will enthusiastically embrace Hallow’een but not consider going to church on The Hallow’day, ie All Saints Day.  Of course most people have no idea of the meaning of the word Hallow’een.

    How can you think that it is harmless fun?  Yet another sacred festival has been hijacked by commercialism, and even if its origins are not American certainly the crass commercialism is.

  • Poppy Tupper

    I think I’d be tempted to throw an egg at a window displaying a sign like that too. Why draw attention to yourself?

  • Anonymous

    hi – I’m saying that society is in such a real mess that we end up having to clutch at any residual straws which retain even the remotest trace of something beyond the positivist and mundane – a trace of noetic consciousness even if those embers only glow when something like this isn’t completely dismissed as an irrelevance. Most of the people who watch the exorcist or the rite or the omen at times like this haven’t a religious sentiment in their body and consider it all hokum – but it might stir echoes?

    ..and when it comes to kids?
    I reiterate what Chesterton said in his two wonderful essays

    Kids need hope! This nihilist world is doom-laden – they’re terrified by school indoctrination about global warming and overpopulation and hiv/AIDs and the cult of celebrity proves that shallowness matters and the only thing left is luck – and 99.999% aren’t lucky…

    Let Harry Potter defeat Voldemort, let Bruce Willis always beat the baddies at the end of every Die Hard movie, and let every sunlight or stake defeat the vampire and silver bullet the werewolf…

    Modern life has thrust a dagger into the heart of wonder…
    It wreaks despair – look how it depicts ‘true-to-life’? which means swearing, indiscriminate violence and sex and an evaporation of any intrinsic morality…

    Give the kids hope!
    That there’s more to life than this…
    if they can believe this..there’s a chink in their armour through which God may enter…

  • Anonymous

    Eamonn you’re ignoring the words of Christ Himself in how to pray – and that intercession DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Do you require a long list of Gospel references – or is the Our Father enough for you?

    Secondly Christ reassured us that sins could be forgiven after death…

    Thirdly Peter was commanded to bind or loose within Christ’s Church and they would be bound or loosened in Heaven accordingly. Christ never declared ‘Trust the Pope’ or ‘Trust the Church’ – He declared “Trust me”!!
    He guaranteed the enemy would never prevail against it!

    Contradicting God isn’t a good start to any argument

  • Anonymous

    What’s total nonsense ‘Inquisator’ is giving your wild self-contradicting notions any credence.

    Primarily you misunderstand the notion of the diachronicity of grace and its intervention on space-time – your platonic pneumocentrism is most certainly not Christian – unless you’re a Docetist or Sabellian? ; then you fail to recognise that we are holistic entities – an embodied soul which will resurrect in spiritual bodily form – a Body resembling that which Our Lord and Saviour also possesses and which we consume [sorry by we I meant all those who belong to the real Churches whose sacraments are valid] in the Blessed Sacrament.

    When it comes to arrogance? No protestant has ANY right to ever speak of arrogance when they abandon Christ’s Church to go off and form their own navel-worshipping cult.

    Burying the Dead is a corporal work of mercy which includes praying for their repose and for the forgiveness of their sins – but we do not merely pray ; we also perform acts of reparation on their behalf.

    Now you mock regarding the traditional reference to certain amounts of ‘days’ reduction in Purgatory etc – these were merely utilised to emphasise the worth and dignity of each act towards the souls in purgatory – we have no idea what Purgatory is except what we have been told..how anything happens there is open to metaphysical and theological speculation [as his Holiness did most admirably in Spe Salvi] but nevertheless when it comes to the actions of the faithful – we can afford each and every act with a designated dignity and worth as we see fit..how God translates the actions, declarations and ministrations of HIS Church is up to Him…

    Maybe you think the very notion of Purgatory is ludicrous?

    Maybe you require some scripture to justify a belief in Purgatory?

    Matt. 5:26,18:34; Luke 12:58-59 – Jesus teaches us, “Come to terms with your
    opponent or you will be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison. You
    will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” The word “opponent”
    (antidiko) is likely a reference to the devil (see the same word for devil in 1
    Pet. 5:8) who is an accuser against man (c.f. Job 1.6-12; Zech. 3.1; Rev.
    12.10), and God is the judge. If we have not adequately dealt with satan and
    sin in this life, we will be held in a temporary state called a prison, and we
    won’t get out until we have satisfied our entire debt to God. This “prison” is
    purgatory where we will not get out until the last penny is paid.

    Matt. 5:48 – Jesus says, “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
    We are only made perfect through purification, and in Catholic teaching, this
    purification, if not completed on earth, is continued in a transitional state
    we call purgatory.

    Matt. 12:32 – Jesus says, “And anyone who says a word against the Son of man
    will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be
    forgiven either in this world or in the next.” Jesus thus clearly provides that
    there is forgiveness after death. The phrase “in the next” (from the Greek “en
    to mellonti”) generally refers to the afterlife (see, for example, Mark 10.30;
    Luke 18.30; 20.34-35; Eph. 1.21 for similar language). Forgiveness is not
    necessary in heaven, and there is no forgiveness in hell. This proves that
    there is another state after death, and the Church for 2,000 years has called
    this state purgatory.

    Luke 12:47-48 – when the Master comes (at the end of time), some will receive
    light or heavy beatings but will live. This state is not heaven or hell,
    because in heaven there are no beatings, and in hell we will no longer live
    with the Master.

    Luke 16:19-31 – in this story, we see that the dead rich man is suffering but
    still feels compassion for his brothers and wants to warn them of his place of
    suffering. But there is no suffering in heaven or compassion in hell because
    compassion is a grace from God and those in hell are deprived from God’s graces
    for all eternity. So where is the rich man? He is in purgatory.

    1 Cor. 15:29-30 – Paul mentions people being baptized on behalf of the dead, in
    the context of atoning for their sins (people are baptized on the dead’s behalf
    so the dead can be raised). These people cannot be in heaven because they are
    still with sin, but they also cannot be in hell because their sins can no
    longer be atoned for. They are in purgatory. These verses directly correspond
    to 2 Macc. 12:44-45 which also shows specific prayers for the dead, so that
    they may be forgiven of their sin.

    Phil. 2:10 – every knee bends to Jesus, in heaven, on earth, and “under the
    earth” which is the realm of the righteous dead, or purgatory.

    2 Tim. 1:16-18 – Onesiphorus is dead but Paul asks for mercy on him “on that
    day.” Paul’s use of “that day” demonstrates its eschatological usage (see, for
    example, Rom. 2.5,16; 1 Cor. 1.8; 3.13; 5.5; 2 Cor. 1.14; Phil. 1.6,10; 2.16; 1
    Thess. 5.2,4,5,8; 2 Thess. 2.2,3; 2 Tim. 4.8). Of course, there is no need for
    mercy in heaven, and there is no mercy given in hell. Where is Onesiphorus? He
    is in purgatory.

    Heb. 12:14 – without holiness no one will see the Lord. We need final
    sanctification to attain true holiness before God, and this process occurs
    during our lives and, if not completed during our lives, in the transitional
    state of purgatory.

    Heb. 12:23 – the spirits of just men who died in godliness are “made” perfect.
    They do not necessarily arrive perfect. They are made perfect after their
    death. But those in heaven are already perfect, and those in hell can no longer
    be made perfect. These spirits are in purgatory.

    1 Peter 3:19; 4:6 – Jesus preached to the spirits in the “prison.” These are
    the righteous souls being purified for the beatific vision.

    Rev. 21:4 – God shall wipe away their tears, and there will be no mourning or
    pain, but only after the coming of the new heaven and the passing away of the
    current heaven and earth. Note the elimination of tears and pain only occurs at
    the end of time. But there is no morning or pain in heaven, and God will not
    wipe away their tears in hell. These are the souls experiencing purgatory.

    Rev. 21:27 – nothing unclean shall enter heaven. The word “unclean” comes from
    the Greek word “koinon” which refers to a spiritual corruption. Even the
    propensity to sin is spiritually corrupt, or considered unclean, and must be
    purified before entering heaven. It is amazing how many Protestants do not want
    to believe in purgatory. Purgatory exists because of the mercy of God. If there
    were no purgatory, this would also likely mean no salvation for most people.
    God is merciful indeed.

    Luke 23:43 – many Protestants argue that, because Jesus sent the good thief
    right to heaven, there can be no purgatory. There are several rebuttals. First,
    when Jesus uses the word “paradise,” He did not mean heaven. Paradise, from the
    Hebrew “sheol,” meant the realm of the righteous dead. This was the place of
    the dead who were destined for heaven, but who were captive until the Lord’s
    resurrection. Second, since there was no punctuation in the original
    manuscript, Jesus’ statement “I say to you today you will be with me in
    paradise” does not mean there was a comma after the first word “you.” This
    means Jesus could have said, “I say to you today, you will be with me in
    paradise” (meaning, Jesus could have emphasized with exclamation his statement
    was “today” or “now,” and that some time in the future the good thief would go
    to heaven). Third, even if the thief went straight to heaven, this does not
    prove there is no purgatory (those who are fully sanctified in this life –
    perhaps by a bloody and repentant death – could be ready for admission in to

    Gen. 50:10; Num. 20:29; Deut. 34:8 – here are some examples of ritual prayer
    and penitent mourning for the dead for specific periods of time. The Jewish
    understanding of these practices was that the prayers freed the souls from
    their painful state of purification, and expedited their journey to God.

    Baruch 3:4 – Baruch asks the Lord to hear the prayers of the dead of Israel.
    Prayers for the dead are unnecessary in heaven and unnecessary in hell. These
    dead are in purgatory.

    Zech. 9:11 – God, through the blood of His covenant, will set those free from
    the waterless pit, a spiritual abode of suffering which the Church calls

    2 Macc. 12:43-45 – the prayers for the dead help free them from sin and help
    them to the reward of heaven. Those in heaven have no sin, and those in hell
    can no longer be freed from sin. They are in purgatory. Luther was particularly
    troubled with these verses because he rejected the age-old teaching of
    purgatory. As a result, he removed Maccabees from the canon of the Bible.

  • Oconnordamien

    Thanks for the guffaw at the last sentence of the article. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking my tea when I read it, I would have drooled while giggling!

    Anyone can see how it’s hard for a saint to compete with a pirate, princess or superhero but the old saying is true. The devil has the best music. I’m appalled that WAG’s, football players or Jordan are seen as some sort of role-model for kids. Surely one of the main tasks of being a parent is to adapt to these things.

  • Oconnordamien

    Oops…. adapt and overcome these things…..     Sorry

  • Katerina Ambrose

    I hear people all the time talking of Halloween as an Americanism, but remember it is part of Irish culture. I went to Irish Catholic schools in the 70′s and 80′s. We always did Halloween pictures and even got a half day for Halloween and a day off for All Saints…to go to Mass. At school we wrote stories about ‘Oiche Shamhain’… ‘which is the ‘night of Samhain’. We were suppose to do apple bobbing, Mammy would make a ‘breac’ (Irish cake made with tea) it contained a curtain ring, and the lucky person would get it their slice. We dressed up and went Trick or Treating, and usually came home with large quantities of apples  and nuts!
    So it’s Irish not American! The catholic Church in Ireland has had no problem with it, what is all the fuss? Two of my six children went out dressed up last night, my 2yr old went as an Angel and my 9 yr old as an axe muderer! Another went to a party. The rest stayed at home an answered the door to kids all evening.  And my Husband and oldest son helped out at Church for a Baptism! What a night!!

  • Inquisator

    There’s no point even believing that you have a right to an opinion on this website, populated as it is by some of the most insecure people I have ever heard proffer comments in a blog.  What is really sad is that in their pronouncements, secure and certain behind human dogma and doctrine, there is so much of a lack of empathy or sense of persoal relationship with the Jesus of the Gospels. Only smug self righteousness and an attitude that a Borgia pope would be proud off seems the order of the day.

  • Sergio

    I see nothing harmless about the only Holiday (Holy Day) in which children dress up, and walk the neighborhood receiving sweets from their neighbors, in many cases the only interaction they have with their neighbors.

    They walk around as the things they fear, their heroes, their idols, or better yet as sinners. They come home to the delight of their mother who removes the paint from their face revealing their identity after a long day. They are ready to go celebrate the day of All Saints, the next day. The day of sinners who are now with God.

    Halloween is Catholic, if we just see it. Halloween is the profession that we are all sinners.

    It is better to dress up make-believe monster and sinner than to dress up make-believe saint. I mean which one would you rather have your child believing is fantasy?

  • Honeybadger

    Oh, yeah? I wasn’t drawing attention to myself at all. I was expressing my wish that these misguided individuals go and bother someone else… e.g. a man-mountain who owns a doberman!

    My local police authority has issued these posters of polite notice because of the nuisance caused to elderly and disabled folk having to get up time and time again to answer the goddam door at night to these trick or treat beggars and, if they don’t have these sweets on them, end up having items thrown at their doors and windows regardless.

    These posters work 99.9% of the time. Last night, it’s the illiterate, inconsiderate ignoramus who decided to deliberately disrespected my wish that they go off and bother someone else. I guess you fit in that category, whether you give into temptation or not.

    Are you the sort of person who would go into a pub, resplendant with No Smoking signs on the windows, and light up your ciggie, pipe, cigar or joint because you consider the establishment to be drawing attention to itself and deserves to be disrespected?

    Or the sort of person who would see the lights flash and hear the alarms on a railway level crossing barrier and thinks to yourself ‘Oh, that publicity-hungry company, Network Rail, is at it again. Sod it, I’ll crash through their pesky barrier regardless of their wishes that I could derail an oncoming high-speed train, kill loads of people and myself in the process because they are a pigging nuisance!’

    No sympathy from me, pal – nor for the person who agreed with your comment!

  • Anonymous

    No distraction – on the contrary.

    Of course we can influence them, as they can us, since they, with us, are members of Christ’s Body which is the Church, and since all members of the Church are members one of another. Would your head be arrogant for thinking it was in union with your feet ? The union of the members of Christ in Heaven, Purgatory & earth is as real as – or more real than – that between the parts of our bodies. Since the life of all members of the Church is Christ Himself, and since death cannot separate us (sin separates; and only sin), there is no “by-passing God”, and no separation by death.  Catholicism is an extremely realistic religion, not a vague Deism; the Incarnation & the Resurrection, & the other deeds of Christ, are living Divine facts; not lovely but irrelevant fantasies. The only dead people are those in Hell, because they are decisively & eternally divided from God – to call the Holy Souls in Purgatory, or the Saints in Heaven, “dead”, is a great mistake, for they are more truly alive than anyone on earth.

    Time & matter are “grown out of”, once we leave this world; they are for this earthly life only, which is a preparation for eternity. People decide their life in the next world by what they have made of themselves in this – there is a continuity between this world and the next. Eternal life begins here and now.  

    Any help to you ?

  • maryp

    I teach a First Holy Communion class once a week in a large parish in the USA. Last week I received a rather frantic email from a mother demanding whether we were going to be having a Halloween party (on October 26th!) and were the children allowed to dress up. The child in question (though very bright) can barely make the sign of the cross. I don’t think she was too thrilled to hear that not being an American, I don’t really do Halloween…and don’t intend to start…ever… but do feel free to dress up.

  • maryp

    Inquistor, I take it you’re not a Catholic. We Catholics believe that when we die we go either to heaven, hell or purgatory. We are able to help the souls in purgatory by our prayers and works. When you and I die, please God someone will be praying for our souls to be freed into heaven.