My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Halloween means different things to different people. For some, it means an innocent custom of dressing up in costumes and visiting homes requesting a “trick or treat.” The “treat” is usually a gift of candy. The “trick” refers to a harmless prank of some sort if no treat is given. Since most people are prepared to give a treat, it is rare to see a trick performed instead.
For others, Halloween has more sinister connotations, for example, in scary movies and horror films intended to frighten viewers with grim tales of violent killing.
Either way, the secular culture’s ideas of Halloween are pretty far removed from their religious roots.
The word “Halloween” comes from the phrase, All Hallows Eve — shortened to Hallowe’en, that is, the evening before All Hallows Day. What does that mean?
“Hallow” is a word that we do not use much in everyday conversation, although we should be familiar with that word from our daily prayers. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to Our Father in heaven, “hallowed be thy name.” In other words, we are honoring God’s name as holy or sacred. So, All Hallows Eve is Oct. 31, the night before the day dedicated to All the Holy Ones, that is, All Saints Day, which the Catholic Church observes as a holy day on Nov. 1. Saints are those who enjoy the reward of eternal life with God in heaven.
The following day, Nov. 2, is All Souls Day, when we pray for those who have died, but whose souls are still in purgatory, being purged or cleansed of the impurities which remained at the time of death due to venial or lesser sins. Unlike those who die in the state of mortal sin and are condemned to hell for all eternity, the souls in purgatory are sure of their salvation, and they will enter heaven as soon as they are completely purified and made worthy to enjoy that presence of God which is called the Beatific Vision. We can help the souls in purgatory by our prayers, fasting, good deeds, alms, and acts of charity, as well as by offering indulgences for their intentions and by having Masses said for them.
Our modern custom of trick or treating comes from the practice of souling — going from door to door on or about All Souls Day to solicit gifts of food in return for prayers for the dead. As a Christian tradition it goes back to at least the 14th century, when it is mentioned by Chaucer. It is still commonplace in many Catholic countries, notably Ireland, where soul-cakes are left out for the departed. The first reference to the practice under that name in England is John Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, published in 1779: “On All Saints Day, the poor people go from parish to parish a Souling, as they call it.”
While many people decorate their homes for Halloween many weeks prior to Oct. 31 and take down their decorations shortly thereafter, the Catholic Church observes the entire month of November as a time to pray for the souls in purgatory. Though God loves the souls in purgatory, he punishes them because his holiness requires that nothing defiled may enter heaven and his justice requires that everyone be punished or rewarded according to what he or she deserves.
Our observance of Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day from a Catholic perspective should be a time not only to pray for the dead, but should also serve as a reminder to all of us to prepare ourselves for the day of our death, when God will judge us according to the way we lived during our lifetime on earth. We should always bear in mind these words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Matthew 16:26-27).
We should also pray for the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, keeping in mind the petition we make at the end of every Hail Mary: “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.