All Hallows’ Eve – Halloween – is the vigil of All Saints. We use the word “hallow” every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed (holy) be thy name.” The Saints are those holy (hallowed) men and women of every time and place who now stand “before the throne and the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-14.) While there are many Saints with their own special days, today is a day to honor the “vast multitude which no one could count.” Many of the customs now associated with Halloween have their origins in today’s observance of All Saints and tomorrow’s Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls).
Trick-or-Treat, for example, started out as an opportunity to pray for the dead. Children would go door to door begging for “soul cakes” with the promise to pray for the family’s deceased loved ones. Today we might see trick-or-treating as an exercise in holy hospitality. Strangers arrive at our door and we welcome them, giving them something to eat. (See Matthew 25.) Once home, children sit down to a sweet feast – perhaps an image of the heavenly banquet that awaits us at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. (If you love chocolate Halloween is truly a “taste of heaven” Psalm 34:8!)
Jack-O-Lanterns, originally thought to ward off evil spirits, are also known as “Death Heads”. Yet even the face of death is illuminated by the light of the Risen Savior. The warm glow of the carved pumpkin can remind us that by his Resurrection Jesus has robbed death of its fear: “Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O Death is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55.)
Skeletons remind us of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). It is an image of resurrection as the bones come together, are clothed in flesh, and finally have the Spirit of life breathed into them. Through Ezekiel the Lord says to Israel: “My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live….”
Finally, ghosts can remind us of the souls who are still in need of purification before entering into God’s presence. We call this purification “purgatory” and we believe our prayers can assist our sisters and brothers who are being purified of attachment to sin. (See 2 Maccabees 12:43-46.) Purgatory is really a consoling teaching of the Church which emphasizes the mercy of God who desires to bring us to himself despite our sins and failings. Today we think of it as a final healing through the encounter with God’s love rather than some sort of punishment. And so we pray, “Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them.”