Celebrating 'All Hallows Eve' and the 'Feast of All Saints' in a Pre-Christian West
'Halloween' comes from 'All Hallows Eve', the Vigil of the celebration of the Christian Feast of 'All Saints'.
The Feast of All saints is our family Feast day when we honor all those who have died, marked with the sign of faith, and gone on before us to be with the Lord. They now beckon all of us into the fullness of the communion of love.
This year our grandson discovered a place he incessantly refers to in his adorable attempts at conversation as the ‘punkin patch’. I have heard so many stories about his two trips with his mom to the “punkin patch” that I could probably write a book. He is looking forward to “trick or treating” with his mom in our neighborhood this year and his excitement is contagious! He has his little “Dash” costume ready. For my readers unfamiliar with who “Dash” is, he is the little boy from the family of Super Heroes in the movie “The Incredibles” who can run really fast. I have seen the video at least five times. The day he tried the costume on we watched him run all over the house with the kind of joyful abandon we sadly lose as we “grow up.” So, pushing those pumpkins out of the way today to clear a spot for my books made me smile.
I hurriedly opened my laptop and read one of the news sources I often check, the UK “Daily Telegraph.” I knew I wanted to write on the Feast of All Saints. A report out of Rome bore this headline “Vatican condemns Halloween as anti-Christian.” However, a further read of the original source upon which the Telegraph reporter based his article in L’Observatore Romano, revealed a very different headline. The article in the Vatican paper was entitled 'The Dangerous Messages of Halloween.' The priest interviewed for the story warned that the celebration has sometimes been hijacked by occultism and encouraged parents to 'to be aware of this and try to direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty rather than terror, fear and death.' Good, sound advice for all of us.
“Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve”, the Christian Vigil of the celebration of the Christian Feast of “All Saints”. I contend that what it is becoming simply reflects the waning influence of the Christian vision in the West and presents an opportunity for Catholic Christians to do what we have always done, live like missionaries in our own culture. The Church has always recognized that cultural practices can be “mixed”, containing those aspects which elevate the human person and those which do not. However, members of the Church are invited to transform such cultural practices from within through our proper participation. That has been the missionary model of the Church for two millennia.
Many of the dates which were “Christianized” and now host Christian “Holy-Days” were originally utilized for “Pre-Christian” (“Pagan”) celebrations. This process reflects the wisdom of the Church and a missionary approach. She has “baptized” them, recognizing the seeds of what was good within them. By immersing them in the beauty of the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the fullness of truth and the source of all goodness, she transforms them into vehicles for transforming culture. The Church is His Body. She is meant to be the home of the whole human race. As the early fathers were fond of proclaiming, the Church is the world reconciled - the world in the process of transfiguration. We who live our lives in the Church do so for the sake of the world. We should not be afraid of human culture; we are called to continue the redemptive mission of our Lord by transforming it from within as leaven in a loaf.
The early Christians always honored the dead and had a special devotion and affection for the martyrs. We have wonderful accounts like the Martyrdom of Polycarp from the middle of the second century which set forth the practices: “Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps ”. The Liturgy was often celebrated over the bones of the “holy ones” the saints, who gave their lives in love for Love Himself, Jesus Christ the Savior.
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