October 27, 2019 - Pastor Message05/19/2021
“For the Church is compelled by the Holy Spirit to do her part that God's plan may be fully realized, whereby He has constituted Christ as the source of salvation for the whole world. By the proclamation of the Gospel she prepares her hearers to receive and profess the faith. She gives them the dispositions necessary for baptism, snatches them from the slavery of error and of idols and incorporates them in Christ so that through charity they may grow up into full maturity in Christ. Through her work, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men, whatever good lies latent in the religious practices and cultures of diverse peoples, is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of man” (Lumen Gentium 17, trans. at vatican.va).
Halloween fast approaches, the holiday loved by children who have a sweet tooth and despised by adults who consider it a celebration of paganism, but is that really the case? Is Halloween an exercise in pagan idolatry, or is there something more to it? A study of the history of this controversial holiday can help answer these questions.
Halloween began in Europe in the Middle Ages as a form of evangelization of the pagan people known as the Celts, who each fall marked the change of seasons from summer, the season of light and life, to winter, the season of darkness and death, with the feast of Samhien. The Celts believed that, on that night, the worlds of the living and the dead merged and that spirits, both good and evil, roamed the earth. Many of the practices we associate with Halloween have their origins in this pagan celebration. The purpose of the feast was twofold: to ward off evil spirits, either by scaring them away by wearing scary masks (the origin of wearing costumes on Halloween) or by appeasing them by offering them treats (the origin of trickor treating); and to help usher the spirits of deceased loved ones to the afterlife (the origin of bonfires and JackOLanterns, lighting the spirits’ way).
When the Church encountered the Celts, Christian missionaries saw in the feast of Samhein an opportunity to teach them about the Gospel. Recognizing the Celtic practice of praying for the dead as something good and praiseworthy, and something that the Church was already doing in various ways, the Church established the feast of All Souls and, with it, the feast of All Saints, encouraging people to pray for the intercession of the saints rather than to pagan gods or spirits. In England, the feast of All Saints was called All Hallows, and the night before was All Hallows Evening, later shortened in common parlance to simply Halloween.
Throughout her history, the Church has always recognized elements of truth and goodness in the different cultures she encounters as she continues her mission to bring the Gospel to the world. She then baptizes those good and true elements by using them as opportunities to teach people the truth of Christ. When understood in the right spirit, Halloween is a great example of this effort at work. So let us take the opportunity this week to teach our children the Christian meaning of this holiday, and have a happy, and safe, Halloween!
Fr. Marc Stockton