Friday, October 30, 2009

Hallowe'en - a Christian Holiday

Catholic News Agency
October 30, 2009

By Helen Hull Hitchcock *

Not long ago, a friend and I were talking about children and holidays. "What am I going to do about Hallowe'en?" she asked. "My kids love planning costumes, figuring out jokes and riddles for trick-or-treating, and then there's the big night when dozens of neighbor children come to our door for handouts. But now I wonder if it's right for Christians to let our kids participate in pagan holidays like this at all."

Her concern was real — and considering some of the adult Hallowe'en street celebrations in recent years, anyone would think this is a deeply pagan festivity. (The same might be said of Mardi Gras celebrations!) Add to that the fact that some people today actually claim to be witches. They have claimed "ownership" of Hallowe'en. They claim it is really an ancient pagan harvest festival.

What about this? Can even innocent children's parties, trick-or-treating, dressing up like witches and ghosts on October 31 — as almost all Americans have done for generations — be participating in a pagan religious celebration? Worse, is it a way of seducing our kids into the occult or devil worship?

Are we compromising our religious beliefs and principles by letting our children, even if innocently, dabble in something that has its origins in evil? As Catholic families, what is our obligation to be consistent and true to our faith?

We think that Hallowe'en can be a real teaching moment. Despite what many people think — or what some modern-day "witches" may claim — Hallowe'en is and has always been a Christian holiday.

The word Hallowe'en itself is a contraction of "Hallowed evening". Hallowed is an old English word for "holy" — as in "Hallowed be Thy Name", in the Lord's Prayer.

Why is this evening "hallowed"? Because is is the eve of the Feast of All Saints — which used to be called All Hallows. Like Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and the Easter Vigil, the Church's celebration of her greatest feasts begins the evening before. (This follows the ancient Jewish practice of beginning the celebration of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday evening.)

We need to begin to re-Christianize or re-Catholicize Hallowe'en by repairing the broken link to its Christian meaning and significance. We need to reattach it to All Saints Day — and to All Souls Day, for it is only in relation to this that we can understand the original and true significance of the "hallowed eve".

The Communion of Saints

The Church's belief in the Communion of Saints is a key to unlocking the real mystery of Hallowe'en and to restoring its connection to the Church's celebration of All Saints and commemoration of All Souls.

The Communion of Saints is really a definition of the Church: the unity in faith in Christ of all believers, past, present and future, in heaven and on the earth. We are united as one body in Christ by holy things, especially the Eucharist, which both represents the Mystical Body of Christ and brings it about. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church §960)

The Communion of Saints also means the communion in Christ of holy persons (saints) — "so that what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all". (CCC §961)

So, as Pope Paul VI put it, "We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church".

Furthermore, "we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and His saints is always [attentive] to our prayers". (CCC §962)

This is why Catholics honor the saints and "pray to the saints". (Actually, what we are doing is are asking them to pray for us -- to add their prayers to ours, just as we might ask a friend to pray for us. This is known as "intercessory prayer".)

It is because of our belief in the communion of all the faithful in Christ — in this world or in the next — that Catholics pray for the dead, for all those those have died and who are being purified (in Purgatory), that they will soon be granted eternal rest in heaven with God and reunited with all the saints.

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