Friday, November 01, 2013

Dia(s) de los Muertos

November is the month in which the Church devotes herself especially, to the remembrance of those who have died in the previous year. As we remember the communion of saints already "raised to the altar" in Heaven, we also pray for those among the righteous of this life, who nonetheless part from this earth with sufficient imperfections, so as to remain in a state of purification, at the end of which they are released to witness the Beatific Vision, to see their God face to face in Glory.

And so, as is said in the Book of Maccabees: “It is a good and holy thought to pray for the dead.” The chorus of both the "Church Suffering" (the souls of purgatory) and the "Church Triumphant" (the saints in heaven), along with the choirs of angels, are among the assembled at every Mass with the "Church Militant" (the rest of us).

As tomorrow will be All Souls Day in the western Church, it is also known as "dia de los muertos" (day of the dead) in Spanish-speaking countries. But since the celebration usually would have begun on the eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween), it is often referred to in the plural, and today's feast would be included in the celebration as well. In former Spanish colonies such as the Philippines, Sal's family still goes to the cemetery where their deceased loved ones are buried, not simply to lay flowers, but for a picnic. That sounds rather bizarre, unless you consider the mayhem we make out of Halloween here in the States. Customs associated with this holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. It is likely that such confections are brought with Sal's family to the graves.

The human skull is a favorite image associated with the feast. Homemade candies in the shape of skulls are given as treats to children, and adults are known to parade in the streets in costumes featuring their faces painted accordingly.

The origins of these customs have been traced back thousands of years, to indigenous observances dedicated to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. We can surmise that the Spanish colonizers "christianized" the observance in the manner that we know today.

In the month to come, man with black hat will feature other writings on matters of what Catholic teaching refers to as "The Last Things."

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