October 29, 2010


Time to remember our dead

We have got an exciting weekend ahead, especially for the children. Sunday is Halloween, which somehow has become the second most popular public holiday, behind only Christmas.

Halloween and Christmas have at least one thing in common: In our secular society, both have lost most of their original religious significance.

We still celebrate Christmas in our churches, but it has become more and more difficult to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Halloween, on the other hand, has lost its religious connotations entirely.

We have Halloween on Oct. 31 because we have All Saints Day on Nov. 1. The word itself is shortened from “All-Hallows-Even [Evening],” which is the night before All Hallows Day. The word was once spelled “Hallowe’en.”

It appears to us that children’s costumes have changed over the years. We no longer see as many monsters, ghosts, vampires and witches as we once did. We see more masks of politicians these days, which apparently are scarier. We are told that the most popular costumes this year are those of the entertainer Lady Gaga.

We appreciate what many parishes and Catholic schools are doing to return the religious meaning to Halloween and All Saints Day. That is, the children dress up as their favorite saint. There are usually a lot of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thérèse costumes.

All Saints Day is an ancient feast, going back at least to the fourth century, when it honored all the martyrs killed during the Church’s early persecution.

Originally observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost, it was changed to May 13 by Pope Boniface IV in 610 when he dedicated the Pantheon as a Christian church. As its name indicated, the Romans had dedicated it to “all gods.” Pope Boniface reburied the bones of many martyrs there.

The feast was changed to All Saints instead of All Martyrs by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century. He also changed the date for its observance to Nov. 1. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV extended the feast, which had been observed only in Rome, to the entire Church.

It is fitting that we should honor the saints, those whom the Church has seen worthy to be canonized, as well as members of our family who have died and we believe have gone to heaven. They are our role models.

Some day, we hope that we will also be among those honored on that feast. Our purpose on this Earth is to do God’s will so we will be in his presence, and that of our loved ones, for all eternity.

As we say in the Apostles’ Creed, we believe in the communion of saints or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “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” (#962).

As part of that communion, we pray for the intercession of the saints, including the members of our family who we hope in Christ are now saints. The catechism says, “They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us” (#956).

Then there is that other category that the catechism calls “the three states of the Church” (#954)—the dead who are being purified. We say that they are in purgatory. We pray for them next Tuesday on the feast of All Souls.

Purgatory is the name given to a process of purification, not to a place that the soul might go to after death. Not everyone who dies is worthy to immediately enter into perfect and complete union with God. Therefore, there must be some process of purification, and that is what we call purgatory.

We pray for those members of the communion of saints because “it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Mc 12:48). The catechism says, “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (#958).

Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day are times to remember our dead.

—John F. Fink

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