Some people think that “Halloween” festivities aren’t in alignment with Christian values, but like many things it has morphed into something that is very different from its origins. The origins of this holiday come from England, Ireland and Northern France in the 1900’s. It was a holiday that proposed that the souls of the dead, both good and bad could mingle with the living. In fact, the origins of “trick or treat” came from a belief the demons had their fun with poor mortals by frightening, harming or playing tricks on them. To protect yourself from the demons humans could offer them treats or disguise themselves as one of them and roam with them.
Amongst the peoples of the Roman Empire the custom of dunking for apples emerged as a part of “Halloween” festivities as an homage to the Roman Feast of Pomona, goddess of gardens and orchard dedications. As Christianity spread across the world these pagan practices were transformed into more spiritual celebrations of gathering to honor the dead and the emergence of children going door-to-door singing songs and reciting prayers for the dead to receive sweet treats called “soul cakes” formed the modern day festivities. While today’s modern day secular celebrations of this holiday seem to have reverted back to its pagan roots.
From a Christian perspective though, “All Hallows Eve” creates a wonderful stewardship opportunity and reminder for parishioners to request special prayers for the souls of their family members who have died. November 1st All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation for the Catholic Church designated to honor the litany of saints and November 2nd has been designated as “All Souls Day, a day to commemorate the souls of the faithfully departed.
And I heard a voice from heaven telling me to write, "Blessed are the dead--those who die in the Lord from this moment on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labors, for their deeds will follow them." - Revelation 14:13
While “All Saints Day” is a Holy Day of Obligation, All Souls is not. Many parishes will designate a day to have a Mass of Remembrance for those who have died. Some will gather to meditate on the scripture that outlines how we will be judged and offer prayers that their loved one’s names are written in the “Book of Life”.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” - Revelation 20:11-13
The practice of prayer for the dead may not have biblical substantiation, but the Lord offers comfort to those who mourn. For many of us that comfort is accomplished through prayer and supplication for their loved ones in many forms.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Matthew 5:4
Mass attendance is one way that members are comforted and participating in parish novena for loved ones also provides comfort. Other faith traditions may also look at this as a month to reflect on “Resurrection Day” and focus on month long activities that help members focus on spiritual works of mercy or make an especially focused effort to turn away from sinful behaviors.
…”Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” – Romans 6:8-11
Culturally, we see other practices of honoring the dead like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) a Mexican celebration to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have departed. ... It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on “All Hallows Eve” and leave in the next days. In New Orleans many will visit the cemetery to clean the grave stones of their loved ones as a means of sharing time with family, remembering them and honoring their earthly resting place.
At my parish scrolls listing those who have died in the past year are placed in the sanctuary for the month of November, which is a great tradition. This is also a time to be mindful of planning our stewardship commitments. Add to the prayers of the faithful a call to members to reflect on how they will share time, talent and treasure with their church community to glorify Christ.
Happy All Hallows Eve!