22 October 2015

Why you shouldn't wear a Halloween costume to the Holy Mass

N.B.: I am re-posting this from a few days ago.

Even though Halloween is not at all pagan in origin, should children dress up in their costumes to attend the Holy Mass as part of the day's celebrations? This is the question that several friends have put to me over the past couple of weeks in light of some plans that seem to be in the works in their parishes.

This is a question that - so far as I know - the Magisterium of the Church has not specifically addressed (but it is likely a question no one seriously thought would actually have to be asked).

My personal answer to this question is simple: No.

Before I explain my reasoning, let me first make a distinction. It sometimes happens (so I'm told; I cannot remember yet seeing it) that a toddler is brought to Mass wearing a Superman costume or a princess dress or something similar because mom and/or dad simply does not have the energy left to fight that battle. That is sometimes understandable and is not the kind of costumes I have in mind. 

The costumes I have in mind are those of older children (and even of adults), those deliberately chosen for the purpose of going trick-or-treating in hopes of sweet loot and/or having a good time. They are those worn, perhaps, to an evening vigil Mass of All Saints' Day so as not to have to change into their costumes afterwards. They are worn to Mass so that others can see how cute, clever, or creative the costume is. I think you have the idea of what I mean.

With this distinction having been made, let me now offer three reasons why I think it inappropriate to wear a Halloween costume to the celebration of the Holy Mass: they pose an unnecessary distraction to others, they are duplicitous, and they can be scandalous to others.

An Unnecessary Distraction

Whenever we go to pray, most of us already unfortunately bring us many distractions that seem vie for the attention we intend to direct toward him who first loved us (see I John 4:10). There are the daily concerns that weigh us and even the concerns of the coming weeks, anything from travel plans to bills that we need to pay to the question of what we will eat for dinner. These distractions can be difficult enough for many to keep at bay; we do not to add another distraction to them unnecessarily by wearing costumes to Mass. 

In such a matter as this - not simply the question of Halloween costume but of other distractions besides - this poem found in the sacristy of the chapel of St. Joseph's Hospice in London:
Your God is listening
As His grateful friends adore 
Tread softly to His presence
And gently close the door.

A noise may change the current 
Of another’s train of thought
 And steal from God the glory 
Deep thinking would have brought. 

At Holy Mass you’re kneeling 
On Calvary’s lonely hill 
A God is dying for your sins 
For His sweet sake KEEP STILL.

Prayer comes with enough difficulties for some; we do not need to add to their difficulties.


Why do we wear costumes at Halloween? Despite the vague origins of this practice, the reason today is, I think, two fold: both to have fun and to pretend to be someone or something we are not. Children do this almost instinctively; it is part of playing, the work of children.

In his celebrated essay "On Fairy Stories," J.R.R. Tolkien - who knew a thing or two about children - rightly noted that the knowledge children have of the world
...is often so small that they cannot judge, off-hand and without help, between the fantastic, the strange (that is rare or remote facts), the nonsensical, and the merely 'grown-up' (that is ordinary things of their parents' world, much of which still remains unexplored. But they recognize the different classes, and may like all of them at times. Of course the borders between them are often fluctuating or confused...
For children, then, pretending is simply something that they do, without always realizing their game is not wholly consistent with reality, but, as Tolkien continued, "that is not only true for children." G.K. Chesterton perhaps put it best when he said that children "are simply human beings who are allowed to do what everyone else really desires to do." 

The difference here is that when children pretend to be someone else, they are doing it simply for one; when adults pretend to be someone else, they are doing it - often enough, at least - to live a duplicitous life.

Whenever we enter the presence of God, we should do so simply as we are, without any pretense whatever. Remember what Jesus said about the Apostle Bartholomew, who was also known as Nathaniel: "There is no duplicity in him" (John 1:47). (Some translations use the word "guile" in place of duplicity. In its original meaning, guile meant something like fraud, ruse, or trickery.) Benedict XVI pointed out that Jesus' words regarding Nathaniel hearkened back to the words of Kind David: "Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2).

Children implicitly know that there are some times when dressing up and make believing are inappropriate. Adults know this, as well. Surely, of all times and places, the presence of God is the last place we should ever consider attempting to be someone we are not, that is, of being a hypocrite. This can be a fitting opportunity for parents to point out the importance of Jesus' words, that "not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21).


From a Catholic church in Aliso Viejo, CA nine years ago
Depending on how consideration someone puts into a costume and how much prudential thought is used when choosing a costume, what someone wears for Halloween - such as the costume worn by the woman at the right wears - could very well be scandalous to another person and be a stumbling block to his or her faith.

The photo quality is not very high, but, yes, that is a woman serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion dressed as a devil. At best, it demonstrates a lack of prudence and good sense, together with little regard for the sacredness of the Eucharistic Lord. Such a costume should be expected to give scandal to the faithful.

Even if someone thinks such an argument unconvincing, the advice of Saint Paul concerning the eating of meat sacrificed to idols should be borne in mind: "...if food is a cause of my brother's failing, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall" (I Corinthians 7:13).


Several other reasons could also be given to demonstrate why wearing a Halloween costume to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be both unwise and inappropriate, but these should suffice for now.

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