By Father Stephen Battey
Each year on October 31, countless children dress up in all manner of costumes and visit their local community with the hopes of bringing home bags of sugary treats. While this evening has largely become a secular affair, some may be surprised to learn that Halloween actually finds its origins in the Catholic liturgical year.
By the ninth century, the liturgical celebration honoring all the saints in heaven had begun to take shape, and had been transferred to November 1. Due to its significance, the feast had an eight-day octave of celebration following, and a vigil the night before. In England, it was very common to use the expression hallowed when speaking about things that were holy. As holiness is a quality that marks the lives of the saints, the vigil for All Saints would commonly be referred to as All Hallows Eve. This phrase could and would often be shortened to “Hallowe’en.” On that evening it was also common for the faithful to gather together and put on costumes of angels, saints, and demons. They would then enact battles between the forces of good and evil, and rejoice in the victory of God. Over time this practice lost its religious focus and the costumes became more diverse.
While it’s unfortunate that much of the Catholicity of Halloween has been lost, knowing the connection between Halloween and the Solemnity of All Saints can be a very intriguing conversation starter for the purpose of evangelization. By reminding our friends and family of the origin of Halloween, it can serve as an opportunity to increase awareness and devotion to the communion of saints that we recall in a beautiful way each year on November 1.
“Ask the Newly Ordained” features Fathers Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers.
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