On Oct. 31, neighborhoods across the country will be filled with miniature goblins and ghosts, superheroes and TV characters, monsters and villains. The familiar cry of “Trick or treat!” will produce showers of candy.
There’s little doubt that Halloween is one of our culture’s most popular – and most fun – holidays. For weeks, stores advertise all sorts of Halloween decorations, for our homes and ourselves. The day has inspired hugely popular and profitable movie franchises. Halloween completely infuses are culture.
But the secular celebration of Halloween has been drained of its religious and specifically Catholic roots.
The word Halloween is a derivative of All Hallow’s Eve, the Vigil of All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day, celebrated on Nov. 1 each year, commemorates all those in heaven, both the saints recognized and venerated by the Church and those unrecognized by the Church but whose lives were filled with holiness.
All Saints’ Day is followed the next day, Nov. 2, by All Souls’ Day, in which the Church remembers and prays for all those who have died but are not yet in heaven.
Both religious feasts spring from the Catholic understanding of the communion of saints, which binds together all who find a home in the Body of Christ.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.’
“All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God,” the Catechism continues. “All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.
“Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains. The saints, “being more closely united to Christ … do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus. … So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”
Just as the saints’ prayers benefit we pilgrims here on earth, our prayers for the dead can benefit those souls being purified before entering heaven and the glory of God.
All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day train our focus on death and our mortality. That is why so many of the traditional Halloween costumes are of ghosts. In the Catholic tradition, they are “reminders of death and of the last things,” Dr. Marcel Brown, of the Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told Vatican News.
“So just as we commemorate the feast of All Saints on November 1st, beginning with All Hallows’ Eve on Halloween, we also think about and turn our minds really, to the last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell,” Brown said. “And really our focus should be, since we all must die and are destined to judgment, how then are we to live?”
Let us reconnect Halloween to its religious roots. Let us embrace not only the costumes and candy, but also the contemplation of our life and our connection to the communion of saints. Let us say a prayer for our loved ones who have passed on. Let us draw inspiration from the saints and their surrender to God’s will in their earthly lives.
Let us draw on the spiritual goods we share as members of the Body of Christ to bring God’s love and mercy to all we meet. That will ensure for us not only a happy Halloween, but a fulfilling life on earth and eternal salvation in the life beyond.