Monthly Archives: October 2015

Hallowtide Triduum: Hallowe’en is Not the Devil’s Birthday

Evelyn_De_Morgan_-_Angel_of_DeathHallowtide is right around the corner, commencing with Hallowe’en on Saturday, All Saints’ Day on Sunday, and All Souls’ Day on Monday! As such, let’s take a look at the Hallowmas Triduum, beginning with the ever popular (and rather spooky) Hallowe’en.

Nowadays, many Christians (mainly of the fundamentalist/evangelical variety) view Hallowe’en as a satanic or pagan holiday, and encourage “Real True Christians” to avoid it altogether. And while it’s true that many of the secular customs associated with the holiday are rooted in European pagan and folk traditions, the truth is that Hallowe’en is just as firmly rooted in pious Christian tradition as any other holy day.

Hallowe’en” of course comes from “All Hallows’ Even” or “Eve”, which eventually got shortened to Hallow E’en. It is the eve of All Hallows’ Day, commencing at Vespers on the evening of October 31st. “Hallow” is an archaic English word meaning “holy” or “saint”, therefore it may also be called All Saints’ Eve. According to tradition, a day actually begins at sunset prior to the day we would recognize on the calendar. Major Holy Days (and Sundays) are assigned two Vespers offices — so, for example, Vespers I for Assumption Day would be prayed around sunset on August 14th, and Vespers II would be prayed at sunset on the 15th: both beginning and concluding the Holy Day. In the case of Hallowe’en, Christians would gather to pray in honor of the Saints, particularly for those who were not known or publically venerated by the Church with their own individual feast day. Prayers and Masses would continue into the next day, and even today, the Catholic Church recognizes the Solemnity of All Saints as a Holy Day of Obligation.

You might ask, how did All Saints’ Day end up on November 1? It was originally celebrated in honor of all the holy martyrs, known and unknown, on May 13. On this day, in 609 or 610 AD, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon of Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs, and ordered an anniversary of the dedication. All Saints Day was eventually moved to November 1 during the reign of Pope Gregory III (731-741) to celebrate the foundation of the an oratory of St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs, confessors, or all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”, and the May 13th date feast suppressed.

This happened to fall on the Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), which had a similar theme to the Roman festival of Lemuria (when restless spirits were propitiated and the dead were honored), but the Celtic holiday was also a harvest festival. Even after conversion to Christianity, the Celtic customs remained popular. The belief that the dead could return on this night to haunt the living lead to the practice of carving jack-o-lanterns (originally out of turnips) and wearing costumes to trick the spirits into leaving the living alone. But the practice of praying still continued, both in Church and in the streets, and this is where the origin of trick-or-treating originated.

Christians would bake soul cakes in honor of the dead in Britain and Ireland throughout the Middle Ages, usually filled with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, raisins, or currants. Before baking, these were marked with the sign of the cross to signify that they were alms. Children, widows, and beggars would go out “soulling”, that is ritually begging for cakes door to door, and reciting prayers for the dead. Each cake given represented a prayer.

All these traditions were brought over to America by Irish immigrants, and thus Hallowe’en became a popular holiday in the U.S.

In traditions that do not recognize the Saints, All Saints’ Day is generally ignored. If it is celebrated, it often celebrates all Christians — the living and the dead. These traditions also generally do not believe the praying for the dead is efficaceous, and therefore the following Holy Day dedicated to All Souls gets tossed out.

While All Saints’ Day and its Eve are dedicated to all the saints, both known and unknown, All Souls’ Day on November 2nd is focused on praying for the departed. We pray for the repose of our loved ones: the friends, family, mentors, and clergy who have passed on but are never forgotten. We also pray for those forgotten souls who have no one to pray for them. We visit cemeteries, leaving flowers and candles; and, hopefully, we remember our own mortality so that we can make the best of our lives here on earth.

Yes, I personally love all things spooky, and it’s fun to dress up for Hallowe’en. But for me, and many Christians Gnostic or otherwise, this three-day period is an important triduum in which we the Church Militant have the opportunity to pray with and for the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. As I always like to say, prayer is not limited by space and time, and the prayers we say today may be assisting a martyr as they’re lead to their death centuries in the past, or aiding someone on their death bed who has no one to be with them as they depart from this world and on to the next. We may not know how God chooses to apply our prayers, but we can be confident that through His mercy, our prayers are always effacaceous!

At this Hallowmas Triduum, I’d ask you to do four things: honor your patron saint or saints; honor in particular all the unknown saints; pray for your departed loved ones; and most importantly, say a prayer for all the forgotten souls who have no one to pray for them. You may use the following prayer, or improvise your own:

O merciful God, take pity on those souls who have no particular friends and intercessors to recommend them to Thee, who, either through negligence or through length of time are forgotten by their friends and by all. Remember them, O Lord, and remember Thine own mercy, when others forget to appeal to it. Let not one soul ever be parted from Thee; may they find repose in the Eternal Fullness, and may light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.

(The artwork is “The Angel of Death” by Evelyn De Morgan)


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The Eucharist is Jesus

Eucharistic-BreadI’ve found that it is often surprising to our more mainstream brothers and sisters in Christ that Gnostics would celebrate the Eucharist, much less that we would recognize the Real Presence of Christ in this most glorious Sacrament. After all, Gnostics reject matter as evil, right?

I’ll put aside being an apologist for a moment, and simply say this: No, matter is not evil – but it is imperfect. That’s not to say that there is nothing good about the material world. We know that the world is filled with wonderful things; awe-inspiring beauty that sometimes allows us to see through the veil and catch a glimpse of the Eternal. But as St. Paul says, “Now, we see as through a glass, darkly”. What we see and experience with our physical senses is but a pale reflection compared to the beauty and splendor of the Pleroma.

So what of the Eucharist? If we are, as Gnostics, to try and transcend the limitations of matter, why use physical substances for the Sacraments? For that matter, why have Sacraments at all?

For some insight, let’s consult the Gospel of Philip – a book most likely composed by the Holy Valentinus, and which represents the earliest Sacramental text in Christian history. In this book we read: “The Lord did everything in a Mystery: a Baptism, and Chrism, and a Eucharist, and a Redemption, and a Bride-Chamber. He said, I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in one place.” These Mysteries, all of which likely involved physical substances and ritual actions, serve to break down the barrier which separates us from our divine nature, and draws us closer and closer to our Source and the perfection of the Pleroma.

While the exact form of the Mystery of the Bride-Chamber has been lost to history, and the Mysteries of Baptism and Chrism may only be received once, the Mystery of the Eucharist can and should be received as frequently as possible.

The Gospel of Philip states very clearly: “The Eucharist is Jesus.” No other scripture, biblical or otherwise, puts it so bluntly. The ancient Gnostics, or at least the Valentinian sect, clearly believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is because Christ is present in the Eucharist that this Sacrament helps to strengthen us and the divine spark within, uniting our lower nature more closely to our higher nature, that the Christ within us may be revealed – making the things below like the things above.

As I’ve said, we should frequent the Eucharist. To not take advantage of the great gift would be to scorn the words of Christ: “If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will have no life in you.” But how should we prepare for it?

We prepare to receive the Sacrament through prayer and sincere contrition that purifies us of the stain of our faults, weaknesses, and imperfections. Otherwise, as St. Paul said, we eat and drink our own judgment and condemnation.

I would encourage my readers all to frequent the Holy Eucharist – daily, if possible! If you do not have a Gnostic Church nearby, seek out other Sacramental options. Churches of the Independent Sacramental Movement are excellent options, the Liberal Catholic Church shares much in common with us, and many Gnostics have found themselves comfortable within the Episcopalian and Anglo-Catholic traditions. Even Roman Catholicism may work for some! But wherever you choose to go, seek out Christ in the Eucharist. And to help you prepare, here are some Communion prayers to help you both prepare before receiving the Eucharist, and to give thanks afterward.

O Sacred Banquet

Antiphon. O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

℣. Thou didst give them bread from heaven.
℟. Containing within itself all sweetness.

Let us pray. O God, Who under a wonderful Sacrament hast left us a memorial of Thy great descent into the limitations of matter; grant us, we beseech Thee, so to venerate the Sacred Mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, that we may ever feel within ourselves the fruit of Thy redemption and be brought to the Gnosis of Life, Liberty, Love, and Light. Through Christ our indwelling Lord. Amen.

Prayer Before the Reception of Holy Communion

Almighty and eternal God, behold, I approach the sacrament of Thine alone-begotten Son, Our Lord the Christ. I approach as one who is sick to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of eternal brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore I beseech Thee, of Thine infinite goodness, to heal my sickness, to wash away my filth, to enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords with such reverence and humility, with such contrition and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention, as may conduce to the salvation of my soul. Grant, I beseech Thee, that I may receive not only the sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also the fruit and virtue of this sacrament.

O most High God, grant me so to receive the Body of Thine alone-begotten Son, our Lord the Christ, that I may be found worthy to be incorporated with His mystical body, numbered among His members. O most loving Father, grant that I may at length be brought to a place of refreshment, a blessed tranquility, and the splendor of Thy Gnosis, that I may enter into the eternal peace of the Fullness with Christ, Thy beloved Son, Whom now on my pilgrimage I am about to receive under the sacramental veils; Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer to All the Angels and Saints Before Mass

Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, Princedoms, heavenly Virtues, Powers, Cherubim and Seraphim; all Saints of God, holy men and women, and for you especially my patrons _____: deign to intercede for me that I may be worthy to offer this Sacrifice to almighty God, to the praise and glory of His name, for my own welfare and also that of all His holy Church. Amen.

Psalm 50 (Before Mass)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee: that thou mayest be justified in thy words and mayest overcome when thou art judged. For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me. For behold thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice. Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to thee. Deliver me from blood, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol thy justice. O Lord, thou wilt open my lips: and my mouth shall declare thy praise. For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Deal favorably, O Lord, in thy good will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up. Then shalt thou accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon thy altar.

Prayer After Communion from the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (The Didache)

We thank Thee, Holy Father, for Thy holy Name which Thou hast made to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge, faith, and immortality which Thou hast made known to us through Thy Son, our Lord the Christ; glory to Thee forever.

Thou, O Lord Almighty, hast fashioned and emanated all things for the sake of Thy Name, and hast given food and drink to all for their enjoyment, so that they might return thanks to Thee. Upon us, however, Thou hast bestowed spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Thy Son.

Above all, we give Thee thanks, for Thou art almighty; glory unto Thee forever.

Remember, O Lord, Thy Church. Deliver it from all evil and perfect in Thy love. Gather it from the four winds, sanctified in Thy kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it, for Thine is the power and the glory forever.

Let grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David. If anyone is holy, let him come. If not, let him be healed. Maranatha! Amen.

Prayer of the Three Youths (After Mass) – Daniel 3

Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Ye heavens, bless the Lord;
All ye waters above the heavens, bless the Lord.
All ye hosts of the Lord; bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord.
Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
All ye winds, bless the Lord.
Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
Cold and chill, bless the Lord.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord;
Frost and cold, bless the Lord.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
Nights and days, bless the Lord.
Light and darkness bless the Lord;
Lightning and clouds, bless the Lord.
Let the earth bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord
Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord.
Ye springs, bless the Lord;
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord.
Ye dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord;
All ye birds of the air, bless the Lord.
All ye beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Ye sons of men, bless the Lord;
O Israel, bless the Lord.
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord.
Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord;
Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord.
Ananias, Azarias, Misael, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit;
Praise and exalt God above all forever.
Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven;
Praiseworthy and glorious forever.

Psalm 150 (After Communion)

Praise ye the Lord in his holy places: praise ye him in the firmament of his power. Praise ye him for his mighty acts: praise ye him according to the multitude of his greatness. Praise him with sound of trumpet: praise him with psaltery and harp. Praise him with timbrel and choir: praise him with strings and organs. Praise him on high sounding cymbals: praise him on cymbals of joy: let every spirit praise the Lord. Alleluia.

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