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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

At a Loss: Who knew there was a Halloween Triduum and other opportunities for grace?

By:   Barbara Cleary
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At a Loss: Who knew there was a Halloween Triduum and other opportunities for grace?

It all began as I was digging around for information to include in our chapel’s November bulletin, which comes out monthly. In previous years I focused the November reflection on the Holy Souls in Purgatory and ways to pray for them. The most popular and in some instances, the easiest to do is to visit a cemetery sometime within the first week (Nov. 1–8) and offer some prayers for the departed souls. The Church teaches that the graces from this act of charity as well as spiritual work of mercy can be applied to the souls in Purgatory and nowhere else.

Down the rabbit hole, as usual

There are many other prayers we can say and good works we can do throughout the month to help these souls in the Church Suffering, but what pulled my attention from all of it was some information I found regarding the Hallowtide Triduum.

What? I am a cradle Catholic who grew up through the 1960s, and I had never heard of it. The Pascal Triduum, yes. Ember Days, yes. But there are days set aside during Halloween for grace? Had to be a joke.

Apparently not. There has been in the Western Church a centuries-old mini-season” if you will, known by various names: Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, and the Hallowmas Season…at least until 1955 when the Church decided to remove it from the Liturgical calendar (in much the same way that She removed the feast of St. Barbara in 1968, but I am not bitter).

The Halloween Triduum is comprised of All Hallows Eve (Oct 31), All Saints’ Day (Nov 1), and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2). It is a beautiful three days of grace for Masses, prayers, and good works to benefit what throughout the rest of the year can be an overlooked part of the Communion of Saints — the Church Suffering.

I say this because it is easy for us to recall those souls whom the Church recognizes to have everlasting life in heaven — the Church Triumphant. We celebrate their feasts every day throughout the year (well, some are, but again, I am not bitter). Churches are named in their honor. Colleges and universities are named for them as well. In some cases, there are even festivals held to honor and celebrate the life, holiness, and blessings received through their intercession. The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are not only honored with a month (or months) dedicated to them, but they also have a day of the week dedicated to their honor.

Those of us in the Church Militant call on these heavenly intercessors when we are in need of temporal or spiritual assistance.

Then I began to wonder if there has been anything else the Church has set aside in these modern times that has closed off opportunities for grace, penance, and ways to honor God.

The loss is great indeed

As it turns out, the Church has dumped quite a bit from Its reservoir of grace, mercy, and opportunities for doing good works. Consider the following:

Rogation Days.The word rogation” comes from the Latin word rogare,which means to supplicate.

The Church incorporated these days at various times in the Liturgical year in order to ask God for mercy, turn away his anger, and especially ask for his blessings on the earth for a bountiful harvest as well as for protection from natural disasters.

Rogation Days fall into four categories, Major Rogation, which falls on April 25 in honor of the start of St. Peter’s Papal reign; and three Minor Rogations on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday ahead of Ascension Thursday.

These are days of fasting and abstinence, an outdoor procession around the church, and recitation of the Litany of the Saints. (See how the Church Militant calls on the Church Triumphant for help)? The joyous parts of the Mass — the Gloria and the Alleluia verse — are not said, and the Mass Propers take on a penitential theme.

Rogation Days are no longer part of the ordinary form of the Latin Rite, but that said, they may still be allowed as part of a local custom. For a richer dive into the history of Rogation Days, see the blog at St. Mark’s Church in Rydal, PA, from which I found this image:

Barbara Rogation

Ember Days. Ah yes, I recall Ember Days from my early childhood. Corresponding with the start of each of the four seasons, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were set aside as days of fasting and abstinence for the purpose of giving thanks for the blessings we have received, praying for priests, and giving alms.

The practice of Ember Days has Biblical origins. The Book of Zacharia describes the Jewish practice of fasting four times a year (Zach. 8:19–22), and the Church continued this observance until AD 1969 when it was dropped from the Liturgical calendar. Note: The Code of Canon Law commends the practice of fasting and abstinence on Ember Days but it, as with Rogation Days practice is not required.

It seems a bit of an oxymoron that the Church should have called on the faithful to fast and abstain as a way of thanking God for his goodness, but if one considers that the Church has also called on us to be temperate or moderate in using the bounty brought forth from the earth, it makes sense. Honoring these gifts by not abusing them goes a long way toward personal sanctification, and we can always give praise and thanks to God for the cardinal virtues of prudence and temperance. As Chesterton was quoted as saying:Barbara Chesterton

Penitential Seasons

The Church has also designated specific seasons in the Liturgical year that bring our attention to penance, mortification, and sanctification. The longest of these is Lent, with its requirements of fasting throughout the week and abstaining from meat on Fridays.

What is lost, I believe, is that Advent is a penitential season as well. The Liturgical Year begins again as always with this penitential season, yet for many of us the penitential aspect of the season becomes lost in the flurry of secular activities that lead up to the wondrous and beautiful birth of Our Lord on Christmas. Sometimes the only reminders we have are the violet vestments and the Advent liturgy which omits the Gloria; while the Propers help us to see and understand the need to prepare our souls for the spiritual birth of Christ in our hearts.

Barbara penaceMissal image, Penitential Season: Almsgiving, Fasting, Abstinence, Mortification

Advent, though, as a penitential season has an interesting history in the Western Church. It is centuries old, dating from before the fourth century, and at one time began on the feast of St. Martin of Tours (Nov. 11). As Dom Prosper Gueranger, in The Liturgical Year puts the season in this perspective:

We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhorations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast of Christmas.

Nothing is set in stone

Dom Gueranger makes clear that this period of fasting and abstinence ahead of Christmas has documentation as far back as about 480, and the Council of Macon (582) set aside the time between St. Martin’s Day and Christmas for days of fasting. The fasting and abstinence requirements were not as strict as those Catholics were bound to follow in Lent: fasting and abstinence were required on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only; however, meat/animal products, dairy, oil, and alcohol were forbidden on these days. This was commonly called St. Martin’s Lent”.

The second Council of Tours (567) bound monks to fast between the beginning of December and Christmas. By the ninth century, this custom gained a foothold throughout the Western Church, and by 1172 the fasting requirement was dropped to a simple abstinence. The Council of Salisbury (1281) expected this practice to be followed by monks. Dom Gueranger continues:

This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban V endeavored to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law.

Efforts by St. Charles Borromeo in Milan and finally Pope Benedict XIV as archbishop of Bologna to encourage the laity to embrace the Advent penance were futile.

Ironically only in the Greek Church does the St. Martin’s Lent still live.

On the cusp of Advent 2023

So here we are some six centuries later and where are we? God’s poor pitiful world is beset again with all the most disgusting and horrific practices the human mind can create. Few, it seems, are courageous enough to speak out. Those who do are not unlike St. John the Baptist (quoting Isaias) — the voice of one crying in the desert” — does anyone hear?

I don’t expect many people will stop filling up their Advent with Yuletide amusements. Christmas trees will be up and decorated before the season begins. Already homes and shopping areas have bright lights burning across their exteriors. Radio stations blast secular Christmas tunes.

Is it really too much to ask Catholics in particular to do some mortification during Advent? Even observing the Ember Days would be a start. That said, though, has the quality of the Catholic spirit decayed so much that it can’t muster some semblance of humility in preparation for the coming of its Savior?

Can we regain some of the lost opportunities for grace by practices of fasting and abstinence during Advent? Sure. Do we need the Church hierarchy to codify it? No, and given the current climate I don’t expect to see that any time soon.

Given all this, I have been following St. Martin’s Lent, but I just noticed that the feast of St. Barbara (Dec. 4) falls on a Monday this year. Might be a challenge for me to hold the fasting and abstinence on that day because, rebel that I am, I think I want to celebrate my patron saint on her day (you see, I am not bitter).

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Last modified on Tuesday, November 21, 2023