October 28, 2011


Halloween and All Saints’ Day

Halloween has become second only to Christmas as the most commercial festival in this country and around the world. Stores have been selling costumes, outdoor decorations, pumpkins for carving and candies for the trick-or-treaters for weeks—and seem to start earlier every year.

The secular world, of course, never thinks about it, but the word “Halloween” began in the 16th century as a shortening of All Hallows’ Even(ing), which was a Scottish version of All Saints’ Eve. It was, and still is, the night before All Saints’ Day.

We like the practice in many Catholic schools of having pupils dress as their favorite saints on All Saints’ Day. That is much more faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church than costumes like ghosts, goblins, witches and vampires.

The feast of All Saints on Nov. 1, has been traced to the eighth century when Pope Gregory III founded an oratory in St. Peter’s Basilica for the relics of saints. Prior to that, it was held on May 13 because it was on that date in 609 or 610 when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and the martyrs.

Honoring the saints and praying to them for their intercession is part of the Catholic culture. Christians have honored people who lived heroically holy lives since the beginning of Christianity when it began to venerate St. Stephen as the first martyr.

For centuries, local churches remembered holy people after their deaths, calling them saints and praying to them to ask for their intercession with God.

Finally, the popes reserved for themselves the right to declare someone a saint.

The Catholic Church canonizes people not only to honor them—they couldn’t care less, being in heaven—but, more importantly, to offer them as role models. Those of us who are still trying to work out our salvation can try to emulate some of the virtues that were displayed by those who were so close to God that they were recognized for their holiness.

However, there are many more saints than just those the Church has officially canonized. To be a saint means simply that that person is in heaven. Naturally, we hope that all of us will be saints after we die, although there’s not much chance that the Church will officially declare us so.

That’s the reason for All Saints’ Day—to honor all those other saints, including our friends and relatives.

We Catholics also believe in what we call the communion of saints. That means that we believe that a spiritual union exists among the saints in heaven, the souls who might be undergoing a process of purification before entering heaven, and those of us here on Earth.

Do you pray to your patron saints? The Church encourages us to name our children after saints so they can pray to them. There are also patron saints for almost every profession imaginable. This has become a recognizable and beloved part of the Catholic culture for many people.

One of the most popular saints is St. Anthony of Padua because he helps people find lost items.

Catholics believe that the communion of saints also means that we can help those who might be undergoing that process of purification that we call purgatory. That is what we do especially on Nov. 2, the feast of All Souls.

Sacred Scripture says that nothing impure will enter the kingdom of heaven. But not everyone who dies is worthy to enter into perfect and complete union with God. Nor has he or she rejected God’s mercy enough to sentence himself or herself to hell. In the process of purification we call purgatory, every trace of sin is eliminated and every imperfection is corrected.

The Catholic Church doesn’t say when this will occur since the concept of time is meaningless in eternity. Perhaps it occurs immediately after death or in the process of dying. We don’t know.

Belief in the efficacy of prayers for the dead goes back at least as far as the Old Testament’s Second Book of Maccabees (2 Mc 12:39-46). After Judas won a battle, he took up a collection, which he sent to Jerusalem for an expiatory sacrifice.

—John F. Fink

Local site Links: