The Catholic Encyclopedia on The Feast of Fools:
The central idea seems always to have been that of the old Saturnalia, i.e. a brief
social revolution, in which power, dignity or impunity is conferred for
a few hours upon those ordinarily in a subordinate position. Whether it
took the form of the boy bishop or the subdeacon conducting the cathedral office, the parody must always have trembled on the brink of burlesque, if not of the profane. We can trace the same idea at St. Gall in the tenth century, where a student, on the thirteenth of December each year, enacted the part of the abbot. It will be sufficient here to notice that the continuance of the celebration of the Feast of Fools was finally forbidden under the very severest penalties by the Council of Basle in 1435, and that this condemnation was supported by a strongly-worded document issued by the theological faculty of the University of Paris in 1444, as well as by numerous decrees of various provincial councils. In this way it seems that the abuse had practically disappeared before the time of the Council of Trent.
The Feast of Fools took place, it seems, on the date of Jesus's circumcision, providing, I am sure, much material for pantomime, tomfoolery, and obscene mirth. Apparently, the Lord of Misrule entered the Church to invert the social order, letting the worst possible taste reign. Erotic frenzy and overt violence, replaced for one day the disguised violence and covert pleasures of solemn hierarchy. What have we gained and what have we lost, in making our religion so humorless, so life denying and so responsive, or even subordinate, to the worldly powers that be?
Satire, I think, the most moral and obscene of the literary arts, is rooted in the saturnalian or Dionysian spirit, one that makes its own moral points about humanity, equality, justice, dirt, and fecundity. "Come let us drink!" as Rabelais said, raising high the chalice in blasphemous parody of all that is holy. "Come, let us celebrate the Circumcision of our Lord," says he making slicing off a wafer from the long loaf of sacred bread. "Come let us eat!," says, he as the whore kneels before him dressed as Nun. Jonathan Swift is perhaps in the same company. On Saturday he throws excrement in a madhouse among the politicians chained to the walls. On Sunday he preaches a plain sensible sermon. How better to help us appreciate that we are all, the mighty and the commoner, just so much clay or dust? When you hold yourself out as a morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, the highest art would be as a Lord of Misrule. If only I could rise to that, rather than paltering about as a pennyante moralist in the dour spirit of Bill Bennett.
Where does philanthropy fit? Surely, some generous soul will fund a Feast of Fools? We could stage it at Hudson Institute with Lord Black as the Lord of Misrule, with a Lapsed Priest, a Trusted Advisor, an Attorney, a Trained Monkey, a Fundraiser, a Philanthropic Consultant, and a troupe of Think Tank Thinkers, dancing about on Lord Black's leash while Old Nick (or a retainer costumed as him) plays the bagpipes. We might as well learn to laugh, else who knows where it would end, short of jail or a Dungeon for one and all. I am no better. When the rich man calls me Whore, I answer, "How may I serve you, Sir?" As long as your money is good, your morals are fine with me.
We are just playing here, appearances to the contrary. Serio ludere. Mingling delight with instruction, secreting medicine in candy, as Horace said we poets must if are are to inculcate morals in the higher ups, as the nursemaid does with a child. "So kiss my boots," as my Mistress Candidia said to the Pope, banqueting in his private quarters, on peacocks' tongue. "Kiss my ring," laughed he, raising his jocund glass, as the mitre tipped from his head into the suet pudding. We all know that money rules and religion follows with philanthropy and politics on all fours. "Let us drink to the Market!" And we all raise our glass, the golden chains dangling from our wrists. Who will stand against it? (Jesus, you died in vain.)