What is Catholic about Halloween?

On the surface there isn’t much that looks Catholic (or even religious) about Halloween. One of the most basic elements is, though—the name! It is a shortening of the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” (“e’en” and “eve” are both short forms of “evening”), which in turn indicates that it is the evening before All Saints’ Day (“hallowed” is another way to say “holy,” as in the Our Father “hallowed be Thy name”). It forms part of what might be called the Fall Holy Week! Like the celebration of Easter in the Spring, we have a whole run of special days.

October 31st, as the vigil for a major feast day, is a time in the Catholic liturgical cycle to prepare and/or begin to celebrate the coming day. Parts of the current cultural celebration flow from other sources, but still the opportunity remains to keep this context in mind. A classic way would be to spend the first part of the day as a time of preparation (maybe by setting aside time for prayer/reflection, making a sacrifice for the day, or doing work of mercy), and then spending the latter part with a celebration/thanksgiving!

On November 1st (a holy day of obligation for us) we take a moment to commemorate all of the saints in heaven—named or unnamed. We give thanks God for the gift of their holiness, we ask for their prayers, and we seek to learn from their lives. I’ve already mentioned this a number of other times on this blog, but I have found the communion of saints to be a tremendously strong help in the spiritual life!

November 2nd is generally referred to as All Souls’ Day in the US (or Día de los Muertos in Spanish), and on it we commemorate all of the faithful departed. We pray that by the purifying power of the Redemption of Christ they may enter into the full company of the saints (I’ll have to post more about praying for the deceased another time!). Black vestments may be used, which is not to signify despair but rather compassion for the solemnity of the loss of a loved one (like waiting with them during the night for the dawn). As with a funeral, the priest may also wear white vestments (signifying the Resurrection) or purple (which we wear in times of purification or petition). There is a special indulgence (again, something for another post!) if we visit a cemetery to pray for the deceased in the week following. Finally, in this spirit of compassion, many places also include prayers for those who have lost loved ones in the past year on this day. All Souls’ is a fitting time since it falls just before the start of the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc), which can be especially difficult after a significant loss. Consider reaching out to someone you know that might be in need of support, or searching for support if you are struggling.

I encourage you to enter into these holy days. The liturgical calendar of celebrations gives a powerful way to let our daily life enter into harmony with our life of faith! It gives us moments to renew our devotion or to focus on particular needs. May we support each other this week through the Communion of Saints!

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