If you wish, you can read that post here: Saint, Souls, and Saturday. Since Halloween is one of those days that many of my Catholic friends are reluctant to give up for fear of being cast as an extreme Christian fundamentalists, I thought I would approach it again on this blog. If you are new to Catholicism or new to this blog, if you are a cradle-Catholic or a modern Catholic, if you do nothing else today, please spend some time looking at the origins of Halloween using reliable Catholic information.
In my previous article on Halloween, I mentioned in brief detail how and why the Church, in Her wisdom, introduced the feast days of All Saints and All Souls Day. These Holy Days have very real significance in the lives of faithful Catholics. In fact, they are central to what we know about our lives, the lives of the Saints, Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother. Celebrating these days in Catholic fashion is significant and important. It is something we should be doing as Catholics. These days remind us that death is nothing to fear, as long as we are living in faith and following our Lord's Commandments. They remind us that, if we live our lives properly, we will be united in Heaven with all the Saints who have gone before us. We are reminded that Our Lord conquers evil, that Our Lord conquers death, that death brings us to Heaven.
These days from All Saints to All Souls also remind us to pray for our loved ones who may be suffering in Purgatory, waiting on the Mercy of Our Lord. In fact, praying for the souls in Purgatory is a great moral good. As such, traditionally the entire month of November is dedicated to the Suffering Souls in Purgatory. To ensure that faithful Catholics continued to pray for the souls of the faithful departed, the Church attached to these prayers a plenary indulgence, or a forgiveness of the temporal punishments of sin. In the special circumstance of All Souls Day, this indulgence shortens the time in Purgatory of our loved ones. In other words, praying for the Suffering Souls in Purgatory actually helps them.
In Catholic countries around the world, All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day were spent in seriousness, joy, and prayer. Families made long trips to the cemeteries where their loved ones were buried. On these days, they cleaned the graves, lit candles, and often prayed for hours. In many places, family members gathered together before or after Mass on these days, sharing family stories of their loved ones, and gathering to pray Rosaries for their souls. These were days that ushered in a month long period of prayer and penance in hopes that the souls of long lost mothers, fathers, grandparents, and even children made their way to Heaven where once again families could be reunited. It was a special time, a beautiful time for families to reflect on their own mortality and hope in the Lord's salvation.
However, these age old Catholic traditions are something our nation has never known. American Catholics have little or no knowledge of these beautiful, ancient traditions. Yes, our immigrant ancestors brought with them the ancient practices of praying for the dead, especially in the cemeteries during Hallow Mass and All Souls' Day. But these early Catholics ancestors were few and far between. But because the Protestants dominated our new country, they despised these practices, considering them superstitious and evil. To counteract them, they began to establish there own fall festivals and bonfire parties. They began to have plays, dances, and costume parties, mostly celebrating Guy Fawkes and Reformation Day, and incorporating American Patriotism. By the 1920s, the celebration and costume parties had become just another part of American life.
Catholics in America were faced, on a daily basis, with a dilemma. How could a faithful Catholic survive in the workplace, in the neighborhoods, in an increasingly hostile Protestant environment? In spite of Pope Leo XIII warning Catholics regarding the dangers of "Americanism," Catholics found themselves accepting of and influenced by Protestantism, just to get along with their neighbors. As such, American Catholics, Catholics first in heart, doctrine, and spirit, slowly evolved into Catholic Americans, Americans first in heart, doctrine, and spirit. And one of the quintessential celebrations of American life was the Halloween/Fall Celebration.
By the 1950s, Halloween was so popular in the United States, that trick-or treating, what had previously been a night young people used to tip over outhouses and vandalize fences, became a night for little children to dress up, go door to door in the burgeoning suburbs, and get piles of candy. Shortly thereafter, the celebration itself lost all religious and political meaning. It had become just another day for Americans to celebrate their Americanism. It was fun and it was mostly harmless. And it was a chance for Catholics and Protestants to play together all nicey-nice.
Over the years, Halloween celebrating has become so popular for Americans, that it is poised to take over Christmas. At the same time that Halloween has become so popular for Americans, it has also come along way since the kids trick-or-treating and candy of even my day in the 1970s. And while these were familiar Halloween costumes in my neighborhood, costumes are becoming more macabre and frightening. Adults are increasingly becoming more involved, using the night for drunken parties and mischief. Even Americans agree. Halloween has moved from childhood fun time, to adult party time. As such, it is becoming sexualized and scary, reminiscent of pagan rituals of ancient times.
So what is happening? And what are Catholics to do? Sadly, whether anyone Catholic wants to acknowledge it or not, Halloween is returning to it's pagan origins and celebrations. As a growing population of Americans identify themselves as non-religious or not affiliated with any religious group, there are bound to be ramifications. The holidays that once held some religious significance have become completely engulfed by secular materialism and commercialism. The sad thing, though, is that those who do consider themselves religious continue to fully participate in the slide to secularism. This slide into secularism, the loss of religious practices and identity, has opened the gates for Halloween to return to its godless, pagan origins. Very few people, even Catholics, recognize what Hallows Evening is supposed to be about.
All Hallow's Eve begins this evening. This is the evening many Catholics would do well to go to Mass instead of trick-or-treating. Visit the cemetery where your loved ones are buried. Light a candle as a reminder that the Light of Heaven is their guide. Pray a Rosary. Instead of spending time at the shopping mall looking for that last minute zombie costume, reflect on the Communion of Saints. Read a story about your name saint, if you have one. Help your children make a costume of St. Joan, St. George, St. Lawrence, or St. Kateri. Instead of grabbing bags of candy for trick-or-treaters, bring out the old photos of grandma and grandpa. Make a list of all the faithful departed in your family. Work on your family altar. Call your friends, have them over for a Rosary and tea. Rejoice. Pray. Make it a Holy Day again. Help a Poor Soul in Purgatory.
But most of all, leave the pagans to themselves.
Efficacious Prayer for the Faithful Departed
O most compassionate Jesus, have mercy on the Souls detained in Purgatory, for whose redemption Thou didst take upon Thyself our nature and endure a bitter death. Mercifully hear their sighs, look with pity upon the tears which they now shed before Thee, and by virtue of Thy passion, release them from their pains due to their sins. O most merciful Jesus, let Thy Precious Blood reach down into Purgatory and refresh and revive the captive souls who suffer there. Stretch out to them Thy strong right hand, and bring them forth into the place of refreshment, light, and peace.
May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
This is dedicated to the baptized Catholics in my family, whose souls are hopefully in Purgatory, awaiting their eternal reward. May God have mercy on their souls.