Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Faith Seeking Understanding for October 30, 2005

This coming Monday is October 31st: Halloween. Our culture has recently expanded this “holiday” to include months of candy and costume buying in anticipation of parties, dances, school dress-up days, and trick-or-treating. Unfortunately, with all this excitement, we easily miss the real point of the celebration: All Saints Day. The word “Halloween” comes from “All Hallow’s Eve” or the vigil of All Saints Day (All Hallows) on November 1st. The Solemnity of All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, requiring all Catholics to attend Mass on that day. We will celebrate our regular 9:00 am Mass and a 7:00 pm Mass on November 1st.

The Catholic celebration of All Saints dates to Pope Gregory III (8th century), who established the Feast for November 1st. During the great period of monastic growth in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Feast of All Souls became a customary way to commemorate and to pray for the deceased monks of the past year. These feasts gradually became celebrated on November 1 and November 2 to remind us of the great men and women who have preceded us to eternal life: the Saints who reign with God in heaven and those faithful departed in Purgatory, still in need of our prayers.

To prepare for these days in honor of the dead, children in the British Isles would often go door-to-door to secure prayers on behalf of their departed relatives and friends. Many of the other elements of Halloween remain as traces from the pre-Christian Celtic pagan tribes, who would attempt to frighten off evil spirits by carving gourds (Jack-o-lanterns) and using them as lamps, by dressing as ghosts or goblins, and by offering feasts to their gods and other spirits.

As we celebrate Halloween this year, it is imperative that we remember the true purpose behind our festivities. We honor all the Saints of the Catholic Church on November 1st, those known and unknown; we ask for their intercession through prayer and we should be guided by their lives of holiness and service to the Gospel. Costumes that commemorate the lives of the Saints help to foster this devotion: St. Joan of Arc, St. John Bosco, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux are easily identified costumes that link Halloween to All Saints Day, and help remind us of the Holy Day that follows. Handing out a Holy Card or a prayer along with candy treats also reminds us of the real feast!

All Souls Day reminds us of Church teaching on Purgatory, which is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 1030 ff.): “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”

We are encouraged to assist our departed brothers and sisters by our prayers: “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (CCC, para. 1032).

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

--- UPDATE ---
There seems to be some scholarly discrepancy as to the origin of Halloween customs; some indicate that the pumpkin-carving and trick-or-treating is a recent custom, reminiscent of Irish harvest festivals, brought to the United States by Catholic immigrants from Ireland and England. At any rate, it is difficult -- if not impossible -- to connect the current American traditions and customs surrounding Halloween with any pagan worship whatsoever. Unfortunately, Halloween hasbecome a festival of materialism, centered around decorations, candy, and costumes, separate from the true meaning of All Saints' Day. We should strive to remember the Saints in our homes, follow their example, and entreat their intercession.