November 1st is All Saints’ Day, a solemnly observed tradition in Roman Catholic nations. I have readers in Poland, Austria, Ireland, and other Catholic countries and they may be very familiar with the customs.
There is often a morning mass at the parish cemetery, following which families walk around, lay flowers, and light candles on the graves of their relative’ and friends. Later the cold, dark November evening comes alive with light.
Yesterday was Halloween, as lively and playful as All Saints’ Day is solemn. Children do what they do best on that day — play. Adults also find their inner kid… just look at any Facebook page. I am sympathetic with the arguments, which come out every year around this time, lamenting that the one-evening’s trick-or-treat custom of a few decades back has grown in significance. But in this case I am happy to say “party on.”
Joy is for the living. Solemnity is for the dead. But the two are not opposite concepts. They are a continuity of the same thing. The departed once lived and partied too, and those of us who light candles today reach across the worlds to speak with them.
What do we say to them? Do they understand that they lived in a different country, one in which eleven-year-olds did not dress up like hookers to their single mothers’ delight? Do our ancestors understand that the German government just informed the mayor of Sumte, a village of 102 residents and no police station, that it is going to get 750 African and Middle Eastern refuges dumped there?
The answer is, our ancestors would be horrified by our problems. But our grandparents had their own problems, and they did what they could. On All Saints’ Day, we can clarify to each other that the wolf is always near. The beast takes different forms but it always seeks the same thing: our destruction, first moral and then physical. And we have to do what we can.
Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. I hope you will say a prayer for your faithful departed. When you pray for those who had passed, you are praying for yourself.