October Blog | Happy Hallowtide | By Father Mark Neal
Halloween actually has significant Catholic roots. The name itself comes from All Hallow’s Eve – that is, the Vigil of All Saints’ Day on Nov 1, when Catholics remember those who have gone before us to enter our heavenly home. Immediately afterwards, on November 2, the Church commemorates all the faithful departed still detained in Purgatory, and prays in suffrage for them. All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day–these three days taken together are the “Days of the Dead,” a triduum of feasts also called Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, or Hallowmas (Hallow meaning saint or holy and mas meaning Mass).
Why do Catholics celebrate “The Days of the Dead”?
- Celebrating these Christian holy days helps remind the faithful of the reality of death. We will all experience it eventually. These days also remind us of the ‘last things’; death, judgement, heaven, hell.
- It reminds us to pray for the souls of the deceased. It is also a reminder that we, too, can ask those who have gone before us to pray for us. This is what we mean by the Communion of Saints that is so important in our Catholic Tradition.
Is it true that the Catholic celebration of Halloween has some pagan roots?
- Halloween is a Catholic holiday. It does not have origins in paganism, Samhain, Druidic festivals, the occult, or Satanism. This common misconception is relatively new with roots going back to the Protestant Reformation with no basis in historical fact.
Where did the various Halloween traditions come from?
- English, Irish, and French immigrants brought their variety of local Catholic customs to America. Dressing up for Halloween comes from the French; Jack-o-Lanterns come from the Irish, who originally carved turnips; the English begged from door to door for “Soul Cakes,” promising to pray for the departed loved ones of those who gave them these treats—this being the origin of trick-or-treating. These traditions converged in the big American “melting pot” and eventually became popular nationwide activities for Halloween.
What can we do to Celebrate Halloween as a Catholic?
- Catholics should not neglect the celebration of any of the Church’s major feasts. All Saints Day is no exception. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that Catholics are required to attend Mass. It’s a day to reflect on Christ’s triumph over sin, death, and the devil; to meditate on our own mortality and duties to God; to shun sin, Satan, and all his works; to give honor to the saints in heaven. In fact, we say that on All Saints day we honor all the saints; those known to us and those unknown. We pray for all who have gone before us and we ask their prayers on our behalf.
How to Celebrate Hallowtide:
- Take the family to Mass on All Hallow’s Eve (Sunday Oct 31)—then enjoy a special feast and merriment with loved ones. Here is a sheet for kids to understand these holy days.
- Thank the saints for what they have done for you on All Saints Day (Monday Nov 1) —pray for the intercession of the saints in heaven—especially those who are your patrons.
- Read about the lives of the saints or have a party with saint-based activities/costumes.
- On All Souls Day (Tuesday Nov 2) pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and make sacrifices on their behalf, especially those whom you have known and loved—and pray for those who have no one to pray for them. Remember to pray for the recently departed souls whose photos will be framed near the altar. 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
- Visit graveyards and cemeteries to pray for the dead, since they can no longer pray for themselves. There is an indulgence for those who visit a cemetery and offer certain prayers on this day.
Faithfully and joyfully celebrate The Days of the Dead in a manner that is pleasing to God!