Monthly Archives: October 2023

On Halloween 2023 – and a Sheol “rabbit trail…”

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An image of Sheol, from the Old Testament. Is this just another word for Netherworld?

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October 29, 2023 – Halloween isn’t just day. (This year coming this Tuesday.) It’s actually one of “three days of Hallowe’en.” More precisely, October 31 is the first of the Halloween Triduum. It’s also called Allhallowtide, and Triduum is just a fancy Latin word for “three days.”

Jack-o'-Lantern 2003-10-31.jpg

According to Wikipedia, this triduum is a time to remember the “dear departed.” And not just martyrs and saints, but all faithful departed Christians. The main day of the three is November 1, now called “All Saints Day.” It used to be called Hallowmas, and was established some time between 731 and 741 – over 1,300 years ago – “perhaps by Pope Gregory III.” Hallowe’en – literally the “Eve of All Hallow’s” – started with an old-time idea that evil spirits were strongest during the long nights of winter. And that the “barriers between our world and the spirit world” were at their most permeable – the barrier was lowest – on the night of October 31. And by the way, the term “Hallowe’en” developed from the Old English word for “saint,” halig.

Which brings up the masks and costumes that are a big part of Halloween. In the old days – when people thought the barrier between this world and the next was at its lowest – people wore masks or costumes to disguise their identities. The idea was to keep the ghosts or spirits – coming from the netherworld world – “from recognizing live people in this ‘material world.’”

The same is true of bonfires. Literally bonefires, fires where bones were burned. One idea behind that? Evil spirits could be driven away with noise and fire. Also, old-timers thought the fires brought comfort to “souls in purgatory and people prayed for them as they held burning straw up high.” And in Merry Old England there were three types of bonfire:

…one with only clean bones (“bonys”) and no wood called a “bonnefyre”, one with clean wood and no bones called a “wakefyre”, and the third with both bones and wood, called “Saynt Ionys Fyre”. Apparently the original [custom] fell into “lechery and gluttony”, so the church deemed it instead as a fast.

Of course there are other types of bonfire as well, not falling into lechery and gluttony. For example, garden bonfires which – if done right – are a “useful source of potash and may be beneficial in improving the soil structure of some soils.” (While “managed with safety in mind.”)

The day after Halloween, November 1, is All Saints Day. It honors “all the saints and martyrs, both known and unknown.” A saint is defined as one “having an exceptional degree of holiness,” while a martyr is someone “killed because of their testimony of Jesus.” But actually, we should distinguish “Saints,” with a capital “s” from those with a lower-case “s.” Briefly, all living Christians are called to be saints, with a small “s.” A Saint with a capital “s” is usually one who has passed on. (But that too is “another whole can of worms.*)

Be that as it may, November 2 – All Souls’ Day – honors “all faithful Christians … unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.’” Observant Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day, and – in many churches – the service on the following Sunday includes a memorial for all who died in the past year.

With all that in mind: “Have a Happy Halloween Triduum!”

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A prayer for All Souls Day, this year on Thursday, November 2…

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The upper image is courtesy of Sheol: The Grave or so Much More? – The Israel Bible. An interesting article, citing (for example) Psalm 89:49, or 89:48 in the Bible Hub translation. In the ESV, “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” Or in the NLT, “No one can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.” (You get the point.) I was looking for an image I’ve never used before to put in this latest Halloween post, and found the Sheol article. Good, but it opens up a whole new can of worms: Described as the opposite of heaven, Sheol is “a place to reluctantly pass time after dying,” and where the person has “no memory of his life nor the ability to praise God.” Sounds like Hell to me, but like I said, “a whole new can of worms.” (Meaning I’ll have to address the question – Is this just another word for Netherworld?in a future post.) “Which [also] brings up the topic of rabbit trails.” See the lower part of the text in On Eastertide – and “artistic license,” from 2016. All this stuff on Sheol was definitely a “rabbit trail.”

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

I based this post on past posts including: The Halloween Triduum – 2019, On Halloween 2020 – “Scariest ever,” On the Hallowe’en “Triduum” – 2021, On Halloween 2022 – and a “Samaritan” update, and Between Halloween and Thanksgiving – 2022.

On “Saints” versus “saints.” See What are Christian saints according to the Bible: “All Christians are considered saints. All Christians are saints – and at the same time are called to be saints.” Also Saints, big and small – U.S. Catholic, and Saints with a Capital S – Covenant. See also the note above on rabbit trails and “whole new cans of worms.”

The lower image is courtesy of All Souls Day Image – Image Results.

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On St. Luke’s day – 2023

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A sentiment especially appropriate in these days of polarization and open warfare…

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Wednesday, October 18, is the Feast Day for St. Luke. He wrote the third-of-four Gospels, and also wrote the book Acts of the Apostles. (The “fifth book of the New Testament.”) And some scholars have called Luke’s Gospel the most beautiful book that ever was.”

Luke wrote the longest of the Gospels, and so – with Acts – his two books make up a full quarter of the New Testament. (According to Garry Wills in his What the Gospels Meant. He added that Luke’s two books are longer than all 13 of Paul’s letters.) And Luke’s Gospel is considered the most humane of four gospels. Dante said that Luke was the “scribe of Christ’s gentleness.”

Which we could use a lot more of these days.

Isaac Asimov said Luke wrote his Gospel “for the ears of Gentiles who are sympathetic to Christianity and are considering conversion.” (Something to consider in this age of shrinking church membership.) Then too Luke treated Roman authorities “more gently than in the first two gospels, and Jesus Himself is portrayed as far more sympathetic to Gentiles” than in Matthew or Mark. And speaking of polarization, we could use a lot less of that these days. (Polarization that is.) You may be Conservative and think Liberals are “the ungodly,” or vice-versa. But the “ungodly” are just the people Jesus died for.

(That’s Romans 5:6, “Christ died for the ungodly,” in case you missed it.) So if Jesus died for the Ungodly, and since “There is none who is righteous, no, not one,” where do we get off being polarized? And Luke includes some distinct accounts showing Jesus loving just those “ungodly:”

Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God’s mercy… Reading Luke’s gospel gives a good idea of his character as one who loved the poor, who wanted the door to God’s kingdom opened to all, who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.

And besides all that Luke was a historian OF THE FIRST ORDER. That’s according to scholars like archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, who said in his accounts Luke accurately described towns, cities and islands, “as well as correctly naming various official titles.” Accordingly (he said), Luke is a “historian of the first rank [and] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Then there’s E.M. Blaiklock, Professor of Classics at Auckland University:

“For accuracy of detail, and for evocation of atmosphere, Luke stands, in fact, with Thucydides. The Acts of the Apostles is not shoddy product of pious imagining, but a trustworthy record… it was the spadework of archaeology which first revealed the truth.”  

But Luke wasn’t just a writer and historian, he also painted: “Christian tradition states that he was the first icon painter,” and that he “painted pictures of the Virgin Mary and Child.” He is said to have painted some 600 icons, including the “Black Madonna of Częstochowa and Our Lady of Vladimir. He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to illustrate a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.“ So here’s to the multi-talented Luke the Evangelist, and Apostle, and historian of the highest order, artist and premier “scribe of Christ’s gentleness.”

We could use his example and his prayers over the upcoming weeks and months.

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Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child, by Maarten van Heemskerck

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The upper image is courtesy of St. Luke Apostle Image – Image Results. It goes with a page, “Catholic Prayers.” Also, in writing this post I borrowed from these past posts: From 2014, On St. Luke – physician, historian, artist, On St. Luke – 2015, 2018’s On Luke and the “rich young man,” and from 2022, On Luke, James the Just and Halloween. (Which included notes “for a later post” on topics like how to read the parable of the Good Samaritan, and welcoming “aliens.”) Also, from 2019, On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal, which I posted after hiking the Portuguese Camino, from Porto back up to Santiago.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

Luke as “scribe of Christ’s gentleness.” See also St. Luke: The Scribe of Christ’s Gentleness | Loyola Press, which added that he “was the only Gentile to write books of the Bible.”

The Asimov quotes are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 912-15.

Re: “None who is righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:10, citing Psalms 14:1, Psalm 53:1, and 143:2.

Luke as a historian: New Testament scholar Colin Hemer also attested to the historical nature and accuracy of Luke’s writings.

The lower image is courtesy of File: Maarten van Heemskerck – St Luke Painting the Virgin, and/or “Wikimedia.”  See also Maarten van Heemskerck – Wikipedia, which noted that the artist (1498-1574) was a “Dutch portrait and religious painter, who spent most of his career in Haarlem,” and did the painting above in or about 1532.

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