With this being a COVID year, I’m not quite sure how many kids will be dressed up like ghouls and goblins, witches and warlocks, superheroes, and the like, but I do know that this a beautiful and holy evening that has been hijacked by our culture, and Catholics would do well to take it back and practice the real meaning behind Halloween.
The first reading comes from the last book of the Bible, where John is given a privileged glimpse “behind the veil,” and gets to see what’s going on in Heaven, even though he is still among those striving on earth. He sees more people than anyone could count! We hear the angel say, “These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” John sees the Saints in Heaven worshipping God. They made it. And we can too!
In 835 Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for All Martyrs, which would later be called “All Saints,” from May 13 to November 1. And that’s what we celebrate tomorrow! For nearly 2,000 years we see in the lives of the Saints examples of who God calls us to be, but also that God keeps his promise and grants eternal life to those who live good, generous, and holy lives. We see in these statues that surround this altar an earthly vision, of what John saw in Heaven that day.
And how do we become Saints? Well, like them, we die proclaiming Jesus to the world. We live holy and selfless lives. We tend to the sick and the needy, and we give up earthly wealth for a heavenly reward and eternal glory. The Saints of the Church are those who have been officially recognized to be in Heaven, and are among those who can both hear and take our prayers to Jesus who grants them.
But what about those who are in John’s vision of heaven who the Church has not officially recognized as Saints! What about our family members that are in heaven with God who hear our prayers and are among the heavenly multitude? On November 2, in 1048, a collective memorial called All Souls Day was added to our church calendar, and that beautiful and holy day is when we remember our family and friends who have died and gone to their eternal reward in heaven.
Isn’t that beautiful? Our Church remembers. In the Scriptures the Apostles are identified by name. In our Eucharist prayer we call upon the Saints by name and we celebrate that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses at this holy Mass, this holy altar, this holy meal. At this altar heaven and earth come together with a kiss–which is why Fr. Manuel and I kiss the altar as Mass begins. Our Church remembers and makes Christ present; the Saints present, and those we love present. Our loved ones are never forgotten by God nor by us, his Church.
We celebrate the holy Saints of the Church on November 1, and we celebrate the holy souls of the just on November 2, and that makes the evening before these two Holy Days a very Holy Evening. Did you know there’s an older term that is used for the word Holy and we say it when we say the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” Hallow is an Old English word that means Holy. So we could say that October 31st is a very Hallow Evening. And an abbreviation of the word evening is, e’en, like when someone says, “Good e’en.” And finally, when you put Hallow and e’en together, you end up with a very Halloween. A Holy Evening. Not the devil’s day, not mischief night, not even candy night–it’s the night when for a thousand years and more, we celebrate those Holy Saints of the church and the souls of the just who enjoy the presence of God that we look forward to. Far from the devil’s night, it is among the most holy nights of our year, or it can be–if we are intentional about it.
As a family we should be praying for our loved ones who have died and who undergo final purification in Purgatory, the cleansing before entrance into heavenly glory. We should be praying for those who have no one else to pray for them. We should be reading about the lives of the Saints and telling their story alongside stories of our own family who have passed from this life to eternal life with God. We go to the cemetery, visit and clean up the gravesites of those we love. The C.C.C. says that through the communion of saints “a link of love exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory, and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them all there is an abundant exchange of all good things” (#1475).
More than anything, we should think about how to get to where they are. We should reflect about the brevity of life and the importance of living right. Jesus tells us exactly how to do it, really. He said, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Strive for a pure heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are children of God.” Be the one who ends the cycle of violence. And “Blessed are you when they insult you because of me.” Live for Jesus. He promises that our “reward will be great in heaven.” The Beatitudes are Jesus’ roadmap for becoming holy and a Saint of the Church. There is no reason that anyone here should not one day be up here among these statues. Pretty cool thought, right?
Far from being the day of the dead, Halloween is the day of the living! A celebration of the Church triumphant, those holy souls who have received their reward, and who pray for us as we, the Church militant, continue to strive mightily to grow in holiness, cling to Jesus, and join them someday.
FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE
The folktale of “Jack o’ the Lantern” arrived with early Irish Catholic colonists in Maryland. It quickly grew in popularity because of the independent spirit admired in this country. Jack has the cleverness to outwit the devil himself, but it isn’t enough to get him into heaven (see box below).
As you carve your pumpkin (or roast the oiled seeds at 325 degrees for 25 minutes), tell others the tale behind jack-o’-lanterns. Talk about what it means to be a saint and why Jack didn’t make the grade. Don’t be afraid to point out the “moral of the story” (which is why it was told in the first place). Jack was so self-centered he never helped another human being. He was given a good set of brains, but he used this gift only for himself. He knew about faith and the power of the cross, but he used it like a piece of magic instead of as the way of Jesus (see Luke 9:23). The cross is indeed strong enough to vanquish the devil. But embracing the cross is what brings eternal life.
The Tale of Jack O’Lantern
A Read-aloud Story from Catholic Update
Jack, the Irish say, grew up in a simple village where he earned a reputation for cleverness as well as laziness. He applied his fine intelligence to wiggling out of any work that was asked of him, preferring to lie under a solitary oak endlessly whittling. In order to earn money to spend at the local pub, he looked for an “easy shilling” from gambling, a pastime at which he excelled. In his whole life he never made a single enemy, never made a single friend and never performed a selfless act for anyone.
One Halloween, as it happened, the time came for him to die. When the devil arrived to take his soul, Jack was lazily drinking at the pub and asked permission to finish his ale. The devil agreed, and Jack thought fast. “If you really have any power,” he said slyly, “you could transform yourself into a shilling.”
The devil snorted at such child’s play and instantly changed himself into a shilling. Jack grabbed the coin. He held it tight in his hand, which bore a cross-shaped scar. The power of the cross kept the devil imprisoned there, for everyone knows the devil is powerless when faced with the cross. Jack would not let the devil free until he granted him another year of life. Jack figured that would be plenty of time to repent. The devil left Jack at the pub.
The year rolled around to the next Halloween, but Jack never got around to repenting. Again the devil appeared to claim his soul, and again Jack bargained, this time challenging him to a game of dice, an offer Satan could never resist, but a game that Jack excelled at. The devil threw snake eyes—two ones—and was about to haul him off, but Jack used a pair of dice he himself had whittled. When they landed as two threes, forming the T-shape of a cross, once again the devil was powerless. Jack bargained for more time to repent.
He kept thinking he’d get around to repentance later, at the last possible minute. But the agreed-upon day arrived and death took him by surprise. The devil hadn’t showed up and Jack soon found out why not. Before he knew it Jack was in front of the pearly gates. St. Peter shook his head sadly and could not admit him, because in his whole life Jack had never performed a single selfless act. Then Jack presented himself before the gates of hell, but the devil was still seething. Satan refused to have anything to do with him.
“Where can I go?” cried Jack. “How can I see in the darkness?”
The devil tossed a burning coal into a hollow pumpkin and ordered him to wander forever with only the pumpkin to light his path. From that day to this he has been called “Jack o’ the Lantern.” Sometimes he appears on Halloween!