Millions of Children and Adults around the Globe, will celebrate Halloween today, but how many will truly know its origins? Its origins go beyond Spectres, Ghouls and Witches.
It had its beginnings in a Christian Holiday known as All Hallows’ Eve. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when the faithful would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting, for the big feast day of All Saints. This great feast day was established in 1840 by Pope Gregory IV, to be celebrated on November 1st each year.
Around the turn of the first millenium, the Church began to celebrate All Souls Day on November 2. During the festivities, the poor would visit the homes of the wealthier families and receive pastries called ‘Soul Cakes’ in exchange for a promise to pray for the homeowner’s dead relatives. The practice was known as ‘souling’. This evolved into ‘guising’ where the young people of Scotland and Ireland would dress up and perform songs, poems or jokes in exchange for fruit and nuts. The tradition was taken by migrants to the United States in the early 1900s, where it took on a new form and became known by its current name as ‘trick or treat’.
All Saints Day is celebrated with great Solemnity in the Church, whereby She honours all of God’s Saints, canonised or not. It is a day of celebration as we rejoice that these souls have reached their eternal goal and we seek their prayers on our behalf, so that we too may join them in Heaven and praise God for all eternity.
All Souls Day follows All Saints and is the day designated to pray for all departed souls in Purgatory, an intermediate state after physical death, where souls destined for Heaven must undergo purification, because “nothing defiled can enter Heaven”. Souls in this state can benefit greatly from prayers and sacrifices offered by the Church for them, so as to assist them in their final journey to God. In 2 Maccabees 12:46, we are told “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins”.
In many countries, All Souls Day is an important day where families cook special foods and make a special day’s outing to cemeteries to tend to the Graves, decorating them with flowers and candles, while they pray for their deceased loved ones and friends.
These two feasts follow back-to-back, to express the Christian belief in the Communion of Saints… a union of the Faithful on Earth (the Church Militant), the Saints in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the poor souls in Purgatory (the Church suffering) with Christ as the Head. They are all bound together by a supernatural bond.
Let us then celebrate these two great feasts by attending Holy Mass and offering intercessory prayers through the great men and women who have gone before us, and through the month of November let us remember to pray for the souls in need of our help to usher them more quickly into the arms of God.