Perhaps even we in the Church have not realized how this holds true even for the worst aspects of the modern bastardized holiday—the gluttony, the immodesty, the perverted iconography, and the adoration of death and the demonic. All of these are, in an odd way, as much a part of this liturgical season as the Saints.
Admittedly, the propers of Hallowtide are mostly concerned with the crowns of beatitude rather than the powers of hell. The latter make an appearance—but only in a few select places, and never for very long.
The Communion verse for the All Hallows Eve Mass has a glancing reference:
Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt, et non tanget illos tormentum malitiae—"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of malice shall not touch them"And the Office of Matins for All Souls' Day has the following excerpt from Venerable Bede on the life of the blessed:
There the devil will be no more an object of fear; there no evil spirits lie in wait; there, the dread of hell will be gone.So the Church has not forgotten that there are evil spirits to be saved from. She remembers. She just does not dwell on the powers of hell during this season. We might well ask—why not, when everyone else is?
Because in Hallowtide, the Church is standing in contrast to the world.
She calls attention to what she represents, while the world calls attention to what it represents. She is the light, and it is the darkness. She stands with the angelic hosts, and it stands with the demonic legions. She boasts in the modesty of saints, and it boasts of the profligacy of the damned.
The world's freakish and ghoulish Halloween nightmares furnish us with a crucially important icon for meditation—they put on flagrant display the other half of the lesson that the Roman liturgy is tastefully circumspect about. At the end of October, Almighty God has allowed our enemy, perhaps even forced him unwillingly, to drop his mask and display his ultimate reality for everyone to see.
This world is the princedom of the devil. It is the antechamber to hell. If we ever doubt that, and tend toward daydreaming only of idyllic Arcadian glens and fairies dancing in sun-dappled forests, it will only take a 9-11 or an ISIS to wake us. In a puddle of our own blood.
All around us, right now, men and women are selling their souls to pride, to money, to power, to sex, to hatred, to any or all of the seven deadly sins. Some of them will be saved from that fate by the grace of God. But many...many...will not.
The Middle Ages had a keen sense of horror. Their art proves it. They showed a readiness to use ghoulish images and devices to make a theological point. They made the gate of hell a mouth—which frankly gets far closer to the devouring, insatiable nature of the demonic than an inanimate, static cave which a person can walk in and out of at will.
Yet the medievals were no nihilists. They saw both the transcendent splendor of love and the monstrous corruption of evil. Theirs was not a pastel, soft-focus Christianity but one in bold colors: bright golds, bloody crimsons, and pitch blacks.
We modern Catholics have lost much of their wisdom. We have rashly judged their world too primitive, too coarse, too folklorish to be credible in an age of science. But having lost the sense of the monstrous, the hideous, the hellish, having psychologized and explained away evil to a mere mistaken tendency or uninformed worldview, we have lost the truth of the world. We are in desperate need to behold evil once more as it truly is. As something unspeakably terrible and ugly.
And this is precisely where the world comes in, filling a liturgical mission it didn't even know it had.
During this sacred Triduum, the minions of hell will be crawling from the bowels of the earth to mark their own.
Decadent revelers will blacken their eye sockets, tear their skimpy clothes, and paint festering wounds on their flesh. Devotees of Santa Muerte will offer prayers at the blasphemous altars of Hades and invoke, supplicate, and adore the Negation of Life. Impenitent heretics—no accident the anniversary of their rebellion falls in this period—will exult in their brazen defiance of Christ's Church and train themselves to resist it to the end. Even respectable suburban homeowners will decorate their yards with horrors from Dante's Inferno. Not to warn or teach about the Last Things but purely for "fun"—apparently.
And Catholics? We see the harvest come in, the leaves fall, the nights grow long, and the world turn dark. And through it all we keep our eyes firmly fixed on heaven. We stand with our fellow sinners in repentant tears at the Calvary of the Mass. We invoke the saints for their aid and strive to dress ourselves in their clothes and virtues. We sacrifice and pray for the souls of our dearly departed, putting their needs above our own. And through it all we grow, little by little, in charity toward God and man.
The stark contrast between the Church and the world ought never, and least of all in this time of year, to be confused or muddled. There will be a time for the Church to speak forcefully about hell and the damned, but it is not during Hallowtide. This season is about two paths, and these paths must be laid out clearly and crisply, blazed everywhere along the way with reliable, unmistakable markers of their destinations. So that, in the end, not a single soul can pretend to be surprised at where they have arrived.
God has given us Hallowtide as a three-day window to the Last Judgment in all its bright glory and dark horror. It is an audition for our part in Eternity, a dress rehearsal for that Day of Wrath that lies before us all. The liturgy of the Church versus the revelry of the world.
All of us, whether we are inconstant friends of Christ, avowed enemies of God, or secular revelers seeking nothing more than a bit of amusement—all of us in these three days will be dressing up both literally and metaphorically. And we will all be preparing and training.
Just with very different vestments, and for very different ends.