Some people are mystified by the way secular words have come into our language as contractions for, corruptions of or calculated contradictions to religious phrases and sacred concepts.
One example is the word hocus-pocus. The definition of hocus-pocus is a meaningless chant or incantation used to obscure an illusionist’s fakery. When people complain that what they are seeing is a bunch of hocus-pocus, they are accusing the performer of sleight of hand, deception, and elaborate activity or secretive talk to cover up a scam. However, the origin of the phrase, according to the English prelate John Tillotson (1630-1694) was based upon a perversion of the liturgical speech “Hoc est corpus meum” or “This is my body.” These are the core words of consecration at a Catholic Mass that the priest says which change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
To appreciate just how sinister this term hocus-pocus was intended to be, we only have to consider some words and phrases that are directly related to it. These include: hanky-panky (illicit sexual play), hoax (premeditated conning or defrauding), hokey-pokey (lyrics associated with sensually suggestive dancing), and hokum (nonsense introduced to arouse amusement) coupled with smoke as in smoke and hokum or “smoke and mirrors,” a camouflage to deliberately mislead.
The true presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine is an essential belief for all Catholics. Implying that our faith in the Blessed Sacrament is nothing more than a manipulation based upon fairy tales and pretense is insulting, blasphemous and diabolical.
The implication that the Catholic Church is fraught with fraud continues with yet another example in the word Halloween. This is a late 18th century contraction for “all hallows eve,” the night prior to All Saints Day. Hundreds of years ago, people went door-to-door dressed up as saints, which was the holy origin of our present-day irreligious masquerading and trick-or-treating. Halloween is now a global festivity of anything but sanctity. If we asked children of any age and probably most adults to describe what they associate with Halloween, would their response be closer to consecrated lives or candy delights? Once again the idea of clandestine dishonesty has become a substitute for virtuous truth.
Before Christ’s crucifixion, the gospels recount how the Roman guards made sport of Jesus’ prophetic powers by blindfolding him, slapping his face and demanding to know who struck him. They crowned him with thorns, forced a phony wand into his fist, disguised him in a royal costume and mockingly genuflected in front of him as their make-believe king. They thought they were too clever to be hoodwinked by snake oil miracles and supernatural assertions. Only on Golgotha do we find one soldier who finally realized that they had killed the Son of God. In the end, how many were tricked by Satan, the father of lies? How many were treated to salvation by Christ, the Messiah?
Throughout October, position a mask in the middle of the kitchen table. Let this centerpiece serve as a daily reminder that the 31st day of this month commemorates the evening before our celebration of all the saints who are models of holiness, not victims of hocus-pocus or intentional tricks and false treats.
Father Pagliari's monthly Holy Homework column can be found at https://www.cny.org.
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