Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Rant, Because It's My Blog - For Crying Out Loud Catholics, Celebrate Halloween!

I'm not sure when this trend started, I remember it beginning at least a decade ago, or perhaps a little before, this apparent aversion Catholics have to Halloween.  I should say the aversion that seems to be present among some circles of Catholics, an almost fundamentalist approach to what is essentially a Catholic holiday.  Instead of the traditional costumes and images of ghouls and goblins, we have to dress children up in saintly costumes, and call the day "All Saints' Eve".  Even though the term "All Hallows' Eve" means precisely the same thing.  I remember during my highschool years, the first "All Saints" party held in my home parish, where ghoulish costumes were verboten, and only saintly attire was permitted.  I also remember one occasion during my university days when I was visiting one of my favourite Christian bookstores on October 31st, and a delivery man had just dropped off a shipment to the young woman working the checkout counter.  As he was about to depart he wished her a "Happy Halloween", and in a very indignant fashion she responded, "I'm Catholic, I don't celebrate Halloween, I celebrate All Saints' Day."  I'm sorry but, give me a break! 

Halloween is as Catholic a day as they come.  It originated in Irish popular piety as a day to recall the reality of Hell.  Thus, Halloween is, say it with me now: SUPPOSED TO BE SCARY.  It is a day to remember the sad fate of the souls of the damned, and that Hell is a real possibility for all of us, unless we strive to enter by the narrow door.  The earliest celebrations of "All Hallows" began in the 300s, but was celebrated in May, on May 13th in fact, the day it is still observed in some Eastern Churches.  It was transferred to November 1st in 844 when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints.  It has NOTHING TO DO with a druid harvest festival.  There is no agreement among scholars that the pope consciously transferred the feast to "baptize" the pagan festival of Samhain, and the idea that the pope would transfer a feast of the Universal Church for the sake of a small group of pagans at the edge of the world seems to me to be rather far fetched.  The appropriation of Halloween by pagans is a modern innovation, not extending any further back than the late 19th century. 

It is quite true that the celebration of Halloween has become as much secularized as many other Christian feasts, Christmas being chief among them, and so dressing up children in secular costumes like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, frightening as that may be, is not the true intention of Halloween either.  But to dress children up as saints for this day also misses the entire point of this particular observance.  We honour the saints tomorrow on November 1st, we remember the souls in Purgatory the following day on November 2nd, but this day, October 31st is to remind us that there is a third possibility for us after we die, one we should avoid at all costs.  

I'm going to step out on a limb here, I hope you'll join me, I'm going to suggest that ignoring the true heritage of Halloween plays right into the Modernist ideals that have infected the Church over the past decades.  Today we only talk about heaven, a great many Catholics don't even have a concept of Purgatory or the need to pray for the dead any more.  The generally accepted idea is that when we die, we all go up to heaven, no stops along the way, and you really don't even need to be that holy, as long as you're a good enough person, it's a free pass right upstairs.  This is totally at odds with Sacred Tradition and the teaching of Our Lord in Sacred Scripture.  Nonetheless, good Catholics seem to be playing right along, and ignoring the teachings of our Church on the Last Things.  Halloween is not about the saints, that is for tomorrow, today is a day to remind ourselves, and catechize our children, that Hell is a reality, and it is something we need to strive to avoid by living lives that are truly Holy!

Further reading:


  1. Christmas eve masses are about Christmas. Halloween after dark is about All Hallows

    1. In fact, the concept of anticipating a feast on the evening before is a very recent one. It was Pope Pius XII who first permitted Masses to be celebrated in the evening, and allowed an "anticipated" Mass on Saturday evening to fulfill the Sunday obligation. Prior to that, the liturgical day began at midnight, hence the tradition of the Christmas midnight Mass, which began in the 5th century. It was the first Mass of Christmas, because before midnight it was not Christmas yet. So for 1100 years, All Hallows did not begin after dark on October 31st, it began at midnight on November 1st.

    2. An "eve" celebration is a particular occasion on its own, not an extension of the day to follow. The concept of "anticipated" Mass as we now practice it is not in the same tradition as the observance of an "eve" (as St. Agnes' Eve, for instance). One may go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but it takes place on the next day, not on the Eve. Masses earlier on Christmas Eve, such as those for children, are "anticipated" Masses of the next day. The Easter Vigil is sort of an anticipated Mass, in that it covers one's obligation for Easter Sunday, and if it takes place before midnight it is an anticipated Mass of a sort, but it is also a slightly different liturgy than that of Mass at dawn or Mass in the morning, reinforcing the idea that the "eve" is not the next day pushed up. All Hallows' Eve, in addition to having once been considered the turn of the year, was originally an acknowledgement that the damned were likely to be disturbed and angry on that night, and doing their Damnedest to exert their power through fear, to disquiet those who were to celebrate the saints on the next day. It is a day of reality which has a place in the calendar and in the Christian consciousness. I can fully understand people in schools being concerned that the ghoulishness and violence of popular entertainment have so distorted the event -- not to mention the secularization of it -- that they think they should banish it where they can. But they do so in defiance of Christian tradition and the Christian view of reality.

  2. I would suggest the aversion to Halloween in conservative Catholic circles is heavily informed by evangelicalism. This influence took hold in the vacuum after the old pre-conciliar Catholic identity more or less collapsed after the council.

    While pretty much all informed Catholics acknowledge the Catholic festal origins of days like Halloween, there are some who retain an evangelical-inspired suspicion of the "scary" stuff which is, as you say, confirmed or at least not countered by the post-conciliar overemphasis of the positive bits of our religion at the expense of the really truly scary stuff.

    The authentic pre-conciliar Catholic cultural tradition is replete with all kinds of very scary things, including Churches built out of bones, body parts in altars, scholars having skulls on their desk to remind themselves of their own mortality, macabre processions and rituals, etc. to remind us of the very real and serious facts that (1) the world is haunted by Satan who seeks the ruination of souls and (2) we all face impending death and judgment.

  3. Awesome article! Thanks for sharing!!