Celebrate Halloween? Don't Miss an Opportunity!

by Joyce Stolberg

A core doctrine of the Church encompasses the Communion of Saints: the faithful on earth are united with the triumphant in heaven while, still united, those who died without being completely purified continue their preparation for heaven in purgatory. Members can interrelate through prayer, merit, and intercession. Since earliest times, the Church has celebrated the anniversaries of the death of the martyrs. However during the persecution of Diocletian, so many martyrs gave their lives for the Faith that they could not be celebrated individually. Following the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.) those who led holy lives without being physically martyred were also honored. How could everyone who triumphed over earthly trials be honored?

There is mention in a homily by St. Ephrem the Syrian as early as 373 A.D. and by St. John Chrysostom in 407 A.D. of a common day celebrated in honor of all the saints. In the meantime, the western reaches of the Roman Empire had been spreading through the Celtic regions of Britain and beyond where the Druids celebrated the end of harvest and beginning of winter on October 31 with the feast of Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead could return to Earth (History Channel online). Whether by coincidence, or more likely to Christianize this feast, Pope Gregory III (731-741) established the feast honoring all the Saints in Rome on November 1; Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration to the universal Church (Catholic Encyclopedia, All Saints). From the beginning, celebration began on the vigil --- the prior evening, Halloween or "all hallows evening."

Some Christian denominations refuse to celebrate Halloween, claiming that it is a pagan feast and incompatible with their Christian teaching. These are the same austere Christian denominations which have suppressed the proper honor given to the saints: no "All Saints Day" equals no Halloween. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, uses things that tingle the bodily senses to invigorate the spirit. How can we Christianize rather than suppress our traditional Halloween fun, and replace the influence of the evil spirits with benign assistance from heavenly beings?

First of all, both for those who are implementing lectionary based catechesis and for those following a linear model, the end of October and - presented in Chapter 8 of God Calls You by Name. Death, judgment, heaven, purgatory, and hell are vital aspects of our Catholic Faith. Particular judgment at death, general judgment at the end of the world, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come are essential elements of the Creed our candidates and catechumens will soon profess. Both the practice of virtue and the committing of sin have eternal consequences.

Secondly, engage in a bit of kinesthetic learning. Join the fun, but Christianize it! Why not encourage the children to dress as saints? Do the boys have a penchant for the macabre? If they must have the blood and gore, honor the martyrs, as the Church did in the beginning! They could, for example, come as John the Baptist, with a platter around the neck and a generous supply of catsup to represent a beheading. Or they could be Sebastian with toy arrows fastened in appropriate places, catsup added. St. Paul could have a sword attached to his neck (Ideas contributed by a friend, Kathryn Zamudio). Young girls could dress as princesses such as St. Elizabeth of Portugal or St. Margaret of Scotland, as nuns representing any number of Saints, or as virgin martyrs complete with the catsup gore or red makeup. For a little humor, try stringing up a large number of cut-out fish on a dowel and completing the costume was a bishop's miter. No, it's not St. Peter! It's St. Polycarp: poly means many and carp are fish! St. Patrick could chase a few harmless rubber snakes!

I think you get the idea: don't miss an opportunity! As autumn yields to winter, we celebrate the great harvest of souls gathering into the kingdom of heaven. Let us teach this doctrine with vigor, and celebrate it with appropriate measured enthusiasm.