Christians and Halloween: Celebrating All Hallows Eve in a Pre- Christian West
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. This is one of the origins of our practice of embedding relics in the altar to this day. Christians do not fear death. We view it with the eyes of faith as a change of habitation.
The dates of commemorating those who witnessed to the faith by their heroic lives and deaths varied as local communities honored local saints and martyrs. Over time, those Feast days became more universally accepted as the rhythm of the Church Year became more uniform.
The first account we have of honoring all the saints is from St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373). The great Bishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407), set aside the first Sunday after Pentecost for this commemoration. The Church of the East still celebrates the Feast on that day.
In the Western Church the date may have originally been on that date but was moved to May 13th. There is some evidence that the move to November 1 came with Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741), and was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany.
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.
The vigil of the Feast (the eve) came, in the English speaking world, to be known as "All Hallows Eve" or Halloween. While some consider Halloween to be "pagan" in origin it is actually the eve of this great Christian Feast of All Saints. Many of the customs which surround it reflect the Christian confidence in our triumph over death in Christ and our bold rejection of the claim that evil has any more power over us.
In a special way we commemorate all who have been honored by "canonization", the process wherein the Church has acknowledged their extraordinary lives of holiness and holds them up as models and intercessors. This wonderful celebration is grounded in the most ancient of Church teaching concerning the Communion of Saints.
The Church proclaims that death does not separate us any longer because it was defeated by Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:28) We affirm and celebrate our eternal communion in Him - and with one another - through the Holy Spirit. We honor all of our brothers and sisters, known and unknown, who are a part of that great cloud of witnesses to which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews attests. (Heb. 12:1).
Just as we pray for one another, so those who have gone on before us pray for us and are joined to us forever in that communion of love. This ancient and firm belief is attested to in the earliest writings of the Christian tradition.
For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) wrote: "We mention those who have fallen asleep: first the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition... (Catechetical Lecture 23:9).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this communion in these words: "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness...They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us...So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped....as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself: We worship Christ as God's Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord's disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples (CCC # 956, # 957)
So, on the evening when kids throughout our neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods walk from door to door, collecting candy, my grandson, dressed like the "Incredible Hulk" will join them. I know that some of my readers have made a different decision about their own children or grandchildren. I respect their decision as well. Over the years that my wife and I were raising our children, we tried both approaches. As you can tell, one won the day.
When my grandson is done sorting through all of the candy and talking away about the events of the evening, I will make the sign of the cross on his forehead and pray a prayer which has developed over all those years my wife and I raised our own children:
"May the Lord bless you, fill you with His Holy Spirit, surround your bed with His Angels and give you peace." He will look at me as he does almost every night and ask me to repeat it again saying "surround your bed with His angels?" in a question format.
I cherish that question because it calls me to do all I can to help to form him in the Christian way of life. As for the growing pagan practices around us, I am not afraid. I will do all that I can to ensure that he will be a part of a new generation of those who, bearing the name Catholic Christian, do what Christians always do, bring about the conversion of Nations and cultures.
That is what it means to be a missionary Church. That is also why I use the term "Pre-Christian" to describe the state of the West - not "Post Christian". This is a new missionary age and there is a lot of work to be done. Let's embrace what is good in our culture - and transform what is not - in the way we celebrate Halloween. It is an invitation to Christian mission in the Year of Faith.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Holy Day, All Souls Day, Trick or Treat, missionary, Year of faith, family life, spiritual childhood, Deacon Keith Fournier
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