Thursday, November 02, 2023

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 acknowledge 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).

The second day of the month is traditionally known as All Souls Day in the western Church. In Latin America and other former Spanish colonies, it is also known as "dia de los muertos" (day of the dead). 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. In former Hispanic territories such as the Philippines, Celia'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 to us in the States, unless you consider the mayhem we make out of Halloween. 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 the family to the graves.

In Mexico, legend has it that, on All Saints Day, loved ones are visited in the cemetery by the souls of children, especially those with the gift of baptism and before the age of reason (around seven years of age), and so are believed to be already in heaven. The legend goes on into the following day, that of All Souls Day, when they are visited by the ghosts of adults who have passed away.

VIDEO: Mexico City, 2018.

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 (a process surely more complicated than simply placing an image of Pachamama on the altar of God ... but that's another story).

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."