Monday, November 2, 2015

There's a Prayer in a Song

Lost in all the trick or treating and costuming and who-knows-what is that Halloween started out as All Hallows Eve (Vigil of the Solemnity of All Saints), a reference to yesterday's Feast of All Saints (which in these commercialized times, you may be surprised to know is NOT a value meal package offered by McDonald's restaurants in New Orleans).

As a grade schooler who found himself the victim beneficiary of the Sisters of Charity (not that many of us saw much) at Saint Peter School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, we knew All Saint's Day was a holy day of obligation.

This was the Catholic Church as Vatican II was just beginning so things like you could eat meat on Fridays in Lent, the English language Mass and hitting church on Saturday afternoon to cover your Sunday obligation simply did not exist. (I've always suspected there are millions of Catholics in Hell hoping that no meat on Lenten Fridays thing might be made retroactive, but I'm thinking not so much).

Today, however, was the scariest of all the dates on the liturgical calendar, more frightening to me at least than the Passion and Death of Christ (because as a kid in short pants I knew how that story ended), All Souls Day.

Considering what a hash I have made of the faith into which I was born and baptized, I will not be amazed if I got this part  wrong as well but my memories are that we have Three Churches: The Church Triumphant (those who had died and gone to heaven), The Church Militant (those of us still on earth) and The Church Suffering (those who had died in a state of grace but who still had penance to do for their sins and so they were in Purgatory).

Those were the people we always prayed for in Catholic school and the part I used to find especially scary was the notion that there was no fixed amount of time a soul stayed in Purgatory. So you could be praying, I thought, as a pragmatic child of eight or nine, for someone who had long since made it to Heaven. Seemed to me you could have switched to glide and that would have been fine. Except....

The part I never got was what happened to the souls in Purgatory when everyone they had known while on earth had died, too, and they now had no one left who remembered them and who could pray for them. Being abandoned for all eternity terrified me, and it still does. That we always had All Souls Day just as daylight saving time was ending and darkness fell everywhere and earlier made it all that much more frightening.

I've long since lost my faith and abandoned the search for it but on this one day of each year, and I'm not sure I'm helping anyone with any of the prayers I offer, considering the source, I say one anyway, just in case.
-bill kenny

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