The costuming, the candy, and the partying all to the side, Hallowe’en – the night before All Saints Day – is actually a Christian event of some antiquity. It and All Saints Day (November 1) itself arose as counterweights to the pagan festival of Samhain, which also occurs on these two days.
The peasants and bourgeoise of European Christendom were taught to fear and abjure paganism and the festival of Samhain. Among the legends of the time was that on that evening, the pagans would conjure spirits from Hell to walk among them, doing what evil they could. Accordingly, it became a regular practice to lock and barricade the doors of every Christian home as the evening of October 31 approached. After a while, as the fear of supernatural mischief-makers abated, the same people and their descendants began to mock the pagans by costuming themselves as ghosts, witches, and devils, and then roving about their communities “scaring” those who would not propitiate them with an edible treat. Therein lie the origins of our contemporary, secularized practices.
But Hallowe’en retains some supernatural significance, especially in Latin countries. It’s the opening of a triduum called The Day of the Dead, which is dedicated to those who have preceded us into eternity: remembering them (October 31), venerating those who have become saints (All Saints’ Day, November 1), and praying for the souls still immured in Purgatory (All Souls’ Day, November 2).
The Church still maintains All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day celebrations and commemorations. On November 1, Catholics are encouraged to pray to their patron saints for guidance in this life and intercession with Jesus Christ for the sake of our eventual salvation. On November 2, we are encouraged to pray for our beloved dead, exhorting them to a swift exit from their final trials and admission to Heaven:
Prayer for the Dead:
In your hands, O Lord,
we humbly entrust our brothers and sisters.
In this life you embraced them with your tender love;
deliver them now from every evil
and bid them eternal rest.
The old order has passed away:
welcome them into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping or pain,
but fullness of peace and joy
with your Son and the Holy Spirit
forever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for the Faithful Departed:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Prayer for the Souls in Purgatory:
O Lord, almighty God, we beseech you,
by the very precious blood of Jesus, poured out during his Passion,
to deliver the souls of Purgatory,
and especially those which must as soon as possible enter your Glory,
so that they begin right now to bless you for all eternity
and intercede tirelessly for us.
Sweet Heart of Mary, be our salvation.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help,
or sought thy intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence
I fly unto thee,
O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To thee do I come,
before thee I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
It’s hard to reach one’s mature years without accumulating at least a few beloved dead. Remember them throughout these next three days, and pray for them. Don’t expect them to send thank-you cards; the postage is prohibitive.
May God bless and keep you all.