This article was first published by the Diocese of Wollogong.
Halloween is growing in popularity but its roots are lost on most people. It is observed on 31 October, the “een” or “eve” of All Hallows Day (All Saints Day) on 1 November.
“Hallow” is a word in the Lord’s Prayer – “hallowed be thy name” (may God’s name be held holy) so to celebrate Halloween without connecting it to All Saints Day would be like celebrating Christmas Eve without a Christmas Day.
If you take away the Saints from Halloween, along with our Christian beliefs about the dignity and destiny of human beings, then all you have left is a pre-Christian superstition about the dead!
Halloween is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of another aspect of our faith. Halloween leads us into the back-to-back feast days of All Saints and All Souls (1 November and 2 November.) These two days celebrate what we affirm in the Apostles Creed, “I believe in the Communion of Saints,” which means the union that exists between the blessed in Heaven (the Saints), the souls expiating their sins in purgatory and we who are still on our earthly pilgrimage to eternal life with God. This is an abundant exchange where the holiness of the Saints (the hallowed ones) benefits others well beyond any harm the sin of anyone could cause others.
The origin of “trick” or “treat” is connected with forgiveness and reconciliation for those who had died in the previous year. To wipe the slate clean for the coming year, young people would come masked and boldly bargain for “treats” so that the spirits of the dead would not do you any mischief with their “tricks.” Costumes and decorations that glorify witches and devils are hardly appropriate because witches and devils symbolise the evil that Jesus Christ has overcome by his death and resurrection. The use of skeletons and skulls can be healthy reminders that we all have to die one day and we offer the charity of the Mass and our prayers as we lovingly remember our dead on All Souls Day.
Jack-o-the Lanterns roaming forever between heaven and earth, holding his pumpkin lantern high is a one-man morality tale associated with Halloween. Jack is smart enough to outwit the devil himself, but it is not enough to get him into heaven. Jack was so self-centred that he never helped another human being. He used his giftedness only for himself. While Jack knew about faith and the power of the Cross, he failed to take up his cross and follow Jesus.
Halloween also invites us to talk openly about death which is a taboo topic for so many, almost as if it were not a real fact of life! You and I need to press the “pause” button in our crowded lives to reflect on our own mortality, with all the spiritual and practical consequences that go with it. Fortunately each year the Church gives us two feasts, All Hallows (Saints) and All Souls (the Commemoration of all the Faithful who are departed) to do this.
Yours in the Lord
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong