All Saints Day: Vigil Mass and Mass of the Day October 31st & November 1st, 2023
Tonight, we celebrate, at least here in this country, what we call Halloween. Few people, beyond Catholics, see any connections to the Feast that is All Hallows Eve, or All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Yet these feast days, for the past 1,200 years, have deep roots in our Catholic tradition. Families in many faith traditions, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim among them, face questions about whether Halloween aligns with the principles of their faith. Catholics, though, don't seem to see much of a problem when it comes to this topic. We simply see Halloween as a harmless tradition, for children a fun time to dress in costume, “trick or treat,” and get their hands on some candy. Adults to use the day to dress in spooky costumes, carve pumpkins, attend parties, and visit make-believe haunted houses.
Halloween came from a feast that was celebrated for hundreds of years in Ireland, really a harvest festival known as Samhain which was celebrated on the last day of October into the 1st day of November. Many Irish people believed that this was a time of the year when those who had died could be visible to, and in touch with the people of the earth. Therefore, traditions such as pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating became part of the feast. On this day, an Irish man, according to legend, known as Stingy Jack, a man God would not let into heaven and Satan would not let into hell, would visit the homes of the Irish. According to the story, Jack was a cheater, who took up drinking with the devil. However, when the drinking was over and the bill came due, Jack did not want to pay. He tricked the devil to turn into a coin, which Jack kept in his pocket and refused to take out until the devil promised Jack he would stay free of hell.
As in all folk stories, there was a catch and a warning about immoral behavior. At the end of Jack’s life, Jack, the trickster, wasn't accepted into heaven or hell, leaving Jack to wander the earth at night with just a bright piece of coal carried in a pumpkin, to light his way. By the end of the story, Stingy Jack became Jack of the Lantern or as we say today, Jack-O’Lantern. For us, the trickster Jack, became Trick-or-Treat. But Halloween also has a long history in our observance of All Saints Day. While this feast was held in March, Pope Gregory III transferred it to November 1st. The name Halloween comes from the day’s role in our Christian tradition as All Hallow Eve, or a vigil before All Saints Day. All Saints Day was the time to remember those who have died and gone to their heavenly reward, the Feast of All Saints. So, a celebration on the eve of the feast day, like Halloween, became our tradition. Thanks to the Church, we now extend the celebration of All Saints Day into All Souls Day, a time to remember all those who have died.
And thanks to the people of South America, especially the people of Mexico, All Souls Day was extended into the Day of the Dead, Dia De Los Muertos. El Dia de los Muertos, is truly a Mexican holiday, where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives, for a brief reunion, that includes food, drink, prayer, and celebration. According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can do the same on November 2nd. So, with our great traditions, All Hallow Eve, or Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, and the Days of the Dead, we can treat our deceased loved ones as honored guests in our celebrations. Therefore, these days are all about us, for we are the people who long to see God’s Face. I wish you all a happy Days of the Dead, by saying, Feliz dia de los Muertos.