A wonderful and historical article from Catholic Culture showing Halloween to be part of “a triduum of celebration, Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day…the three days celebrate the Communion of Saints.”
Ready or not, Halloween is Friday. This is the second highest grossing commercial holiday in America, and also one of the most controversial. Fundamental Christians believe it should be completely rejected because it has roots as a pagan celebration, and some Catholics feel a need to change the focus completely away from secular celebrations.
Halloween is not a separate feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar, but it does mark the vigil of All Saints’ Day. Halloween is part and parcel of our Catholic heritage. Halloween has both religious and secular traditions that we can embrace. We can find a balance to live in this world and celebrate Halloween like a Catholic.
What Are the Origins of Halloween?
I find it interesting that even tracing the origins of Halloween is marked with controversy. Throughout history Catholics have “baptized” many pagan customs, but neo-pagans try to rewrite history to claim that nearly every Christian celebration or custom has pagan origins, claiming that Halloween is entirely based on Celt or Druid origins. While we can find a few “baptized” customs in Halloween, Catholics can proudly say that Halloween is a Catholic holiday.
The name “Halloween” comes from the older English, where saints or holy people were called “hallowed.” All Saints Day was “All Hallows’ Day” or “Hallowmas,” and the evening, or “e’en” before the feast became popularly known as “All Hallows’ Eve” or abbreviated, “Hallowe’en” or our modern “Halloween.”
The origin of the solemnity of All Saints began in the early centuries in Church, originally designated as the Feast of All Martyrs (emphasis mine):
May 13 became the established day, inasmuch as the pope accepted a pagan temple, the Pantheon (unused for over 100 years), as a gift from Emperor Phocas and on May 13, 609 consecrated it as a Christian church in honor of the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. On this day of consecration the pope had 28 wagonloads of martyrs’ bones brought to the church from the catacombs (Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year, pp. 228-229).
By 840 the feast title changed to “All Saints” to include not only martyrs, but all the saints in heaven. England and Ireland celebrated this feast on November 1st and by 844, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast of All Saints to November 1st in the General Roman Calendar, timing it around the fall harvest to be able to provide food for the pilgrims to Rome.
It was not until 1484 that the first of November became holyday of obligation with a separate vigil and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast. Nearly 500 years later, in 1955, the octave and vigil of All Saints were removed, but since the feast of All Saints is a solemnity, the evening vigil begins the observance of the feast:
The liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight, but the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day….
Solemnities are counted as the principal days in the calendar and their observance begins with evening prayer of the preceding day. Some also have their own vigil Mass for use when Mass is celebrated in the evening of the preceding day (The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 3, 11).
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