All Hallows Eve, also known as Halloween, has ancient beginnings. For Catholics, it is the eve of All Saints Day.
While Halloween traditionally celebrates scary ghosts, who torment us from the beyond, All Saints Day recognizes that we are intrinsically connected to the saints and to God, who together exist beyond time and space. As Catholics we honor the heroes of our faith – people who did great things with love.
“Roman Catholics understand a saint to be someone who is dead, whose life conformed to Church teaching and who has performed some miracles after dying, thereby qualifying them to be canonized and to become the object of prayer, devotion and veneration,” notes Bibleanswers.ie, an online resource for those who want to examine their beliefs in the light of God’s word.
“However, the Biblical teaching is quite different,” the site notes. “The word ‘saint’ means one who is sanctified, or set apart for God. It is not a statement of one’s spiritual status that only a few Christians attain. On the contrary, a saint is anyone who has a living relationship with God through his mercy and grace expressed in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, every Christian is a saint.”
In writing his famous epistle on the grace of God to the Christians living in Rome, Paul greets them: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”
Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange, notes that the saints “teach kids that saints are just people who learned how to love really well.”
“The saints reflect every struggle with all human failings, every personality,” Dawson says. “To do the things in life to become closer to God and become more and more a person of love – that is what makes a saint.”
Bound up as it is in questions about the afterlife, Halloween offers families an opportunity to celebrate the saints in a way that is consistent with our faith and reflects the goodness and beauty God offers us, Dawson says.
“Tying in the heroes of our faith,” Dawson says, “is relatively easy with really young children who are generally OK with what Mom and Dad suggest. I know families who have dressed as saints together and have had a really good time with it.”
Little boys, she notes, would be excited to dress as St. George who fought the dragon, complete with a helmet, sword and shield. “Girls with a militant streak might enjoy being St. Joan of Arc. Or children might enjoy being St. Juan Diego carrying the tilma full of roses for Our Lady.”
In some parishes, Dawson says, parishioners celebrate the Harvest Mass on the Saturday closest to Halloween. A procession of saints – depicted by children in costumes – is the highlight of the Harvest celebration.
All Saints Day offers Catholic families an opportunity to reflect on the alternate reality that exists in our lives, where the saints exist unseen beside us, present to us but invisible. We honor our ancestors and those Christians who came before us and pray for the communion of saints.
Indeed, celebrating the saints echoes the meaning of Paul’s words, Dawson says. “The whole point of Christian live is to imitate Jesus’s life with our lives,” she notes. “We fail many, many times, but we don’t give up.”