November 9 is the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. Fr. Steve Grunow offers his homily on the significance of this day, both within the life of the Church and within our own understanding of what it means to be a dwelling place of Christ.
Today the Church remembers the dedication of the great basilica church of St. John Lateran in Rome.
The Lateran Basilica is the cathedral church of the Holy Father as he is bishop of Rome. The magnificent building stands on land that was given to the bishops of Rome by the Emperor Constantine. Remember, it was during the reign of the Emperor Constantine that the laws restricting the practice of the Church’s faith were removed from Roman Law and the Church went from being an illegal cult, whose profession of faith was considered an act of treason, to being the favored religion of the Roman emperor.
This changed the Church for good and for grief.
One of the most arresting features of the Basilica of St. John Lateran are monumental statues of the twelve apostles that stand as if they are supporting the ceiling of the church. Larger than life and full of dramatic intensity, the sculptures show the Apostles holding the instruments of their martyrdom. The Apostles are represented, not as they were on earth, but how they are in heaven...
On this All Hallows Eve's Eve (that's right), we're putting our Fun-Size Snickers down long enough to learn something pretty profound about Halloween — that it has deep roots in Catholicism. We fired some questions at the walking encyclopedia that is Father Steve Grunow, and this is what he fired back: Everything you ever wanted to know about Catholicism and Halloween, and more.
I always figured that Halloween had pagan roots, but you are telling me they are Catholic. Huh? How so?
The origin and traditional customs associated with Halloween require no other explanation than that they are examples of the kinds of festivity that served as a means of celebrating the various holy days of the Catholic Liturgical Year. This includes everything from masquerades, feasting, and the associations of a given day of the year with supernatural or spiritual truths.
I would draw a distinction between the violent, macabre imagery that characterizes the modern appropriation of Halloween as a kind of secular celebration and the more traditional customs that are characteristic of a Catholic cultural ethos. The descent of Halloween into the madness of an annual fright fest is a relatively recent development, but the true substance of Halloween belongs to the Church. Halloween (or “All Hallows Eve”) is the festive precursor to the celebration of the Church’s public commemoration of All Saints Day.
There has been an appropriation of the festivities of Halloween by modern pagans, but please understand that modern paganism is precisely modern and should be distinguished from the cults of ancient religions. The origins and practices of the modern paganism do not extend farther back than the late nineteenth century. Also, remember, the term “pagan” is a slippery one. What does it mean? The worship of the gods and goddesses from long ago? Those cults have long since passed away with the cultural matrix that once supported the world views that were the conditions for their possibility. You can’t just re-invent those cults without the culture that supported them...