For many churches this week, there won’t be any Styrofoam grave stones, skeletons or spooky signs of death and decay. Instead of morbid celebrations of Halloween, there will be innocuously termed—and innocuously decorated—”Harvest Parties.” It’s Halloween cleaned up, made appropriate even for the youngest congregants.

But maybe that’s a wrong approach. Halloween, also known as “All Hallows Eve,” and All Saints Day (on Nov. 1) offer a rare opportunity in the Christian calendar to reflect on death. The holidays were intended to celebrate the communion of the saints, the spiritual unity of all—living and dead—who trust in Christ and await the eventual resurrection of their bodies.

This is the hope on which Christians stake their lives. But in a culture with deep fears of death and dying, even many of the faithful would rather avoid talking about the grave.

Until the 20th century, the idea of the physical resurrection of our bodies shaped how Christians practiced the rituals of death. They used to see the end of life as the most important opportunity to engage their faith and live fully in the presence of God. Following the 14th century’s Black Plague, Christians developed the ars moriendi, the art of dying. With so many people perishing alone, as family and friends either died or fled, an anonymous priest created a book illustrating (with woodcut pictures) the temptations faced by the dying, and how they might be overcome. The images allowed illiterate Christians to die with the guidance of the church. Copies of the book spread throughout Europe and were used for more than a century.

Read the whole article at The Wall Street Journal.


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