This Wednesday is Halloween. It has been reported by ABC News as being the “second largest holiday” behind Christmas. This determination is with regard to the amount of money that people spend. While this is either interesting or shocking, it can also be an opportunity for Catholics to recall core beliefs in our faith. Because the celebration of Halloween only has relevance to our society today because of its relationship to two important holy days in our Catholic faith: All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).
The English term “Halloween” is derived from a contraction of the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” which is a reference to the evening before the day to reverence all the holy ones (i.e. the Saints). So even the term “Halloween” would not exist without All Saints Day.
All Saints Day is the day in our Catholic faith when we remember and reverence all of the Saints in our Catholic faith: Those who we know are in heaven (the officially canonized, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Paul II, etc), as well as those who are in heaven whom we don’t know (such as some of our relatives and friends who God knows are in heaven). It is a very special time for us on earth to recall that God’s mercy and love is already having an affect and bringing people to the eternal life that Jesus himself promised. It is a day of great joy for the entire Church! That is also why it is a holy day of obligation for Catholics around the world. A holy day of obligation means that all Catholics are required to attend mass on that day (or on the evening before, where available). The Church makes this requirement because it is a day of great importance and celebration for our entire Church family, for we celebrate all of these saints in heaven and are reminded of our great calling to become saints, ourselves. All Souls Day is also a day of great importance, but its focus is a different group of people. All Souls Day is the day that we pray for all of the souls in Purgatory. We believe, in our Catholic faith, that when we pass away from this earth, that we are judged by God and we go to our eternal reward or punishment. For those souls who are on their way to heaven, they pass through Purgatory, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “purgatory is a ‘final purification’ (CCC 1031) which is afforded to ‘all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified’ so that they might ‘achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven’ (CCC 1030).” Essentially, we recognize that even if we are judged to go to heaven, we still have some sense of sin in our hearts that needs to be cleaned (or purged) out of us to enter the absolute perfect love that is heaven. So truly, purgatory is a gift to prepare our souls for the immense perfection that is heaven.
With all that in mind, All Souls Day is the day that we do not simply “remember” our loved ones who have passed away, but rather, we pray for them to assist them through purgatory. Our prayers actually have an effect, and so it is ultimately an act of love to pray for our relatives and friends who have passed away, and All Souls Day is devoted explicitly to that effort (though you can pray for the souls of the deceased on any day and at any time). All Souls Day (November 2nd) is not a holy day of obligation, though it is a good practice to attend mass and pray at a cemetery for all of those who have passed away.
Halloween can be a fun event, but let us not forget the true origins of that day, for it is deeply connected to our Catholic faith that have more spiritual importance for our entire Catholic Church. May God bless you during these upcoming holy days.
P.S. My favorite costume that I have worn is as Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek.
Fr Nathan LaLiberte