I asked a long time friend how he viewed the significance of Halloween. We both had agreed that over the last half century the holiday has taken on more and more attention particularly for merchants. There is a greater emphasis on candy and other types of sweets to be given to trick-or-treaters. More homes are decorated in orange and yellow colors which resemble Christmas lights and there are a greater number of adults who put on parties just for themselves. It seems that the celebration of Halloween has become a two-month autumnal affair, to be quickly followed by mercantile preparations for Christmas. The liturgical history of the day is quite complex and extends from fourth century Greek and Syrian Christian communities who commemorated all the martyrs of the church. Those names were both known and unknown. Later on a specific date was decided upon in both east and west and the company now included all of those people who either died for Christ or lived for Christ.
On May 13, 610 the great Temple of the Pantheon at Rome was dedicated in honor of the Mother of God and of all the holy martyrs. The Bishop of Rome, at the time, was Pope Boniface IV who selected the date because of its proximity to Easter. The Invitatory (i.e., the opening verse of the Divine Office) for the feast of All the Saints shows how Christocentric the concept of the Communion of Saints actually dominates the days of October 31, November 1 (Feast of All Saints) and November 2 (Feast of All Souls). “Come, let us adore the Lord, King of kings for He, Himself, is the crown of all the saints.” In 610 a great stock of relics was transferred to the former Pagan temple. All in all, there were 28 wagons full. Since it was difficult to procure food in Rome in May for all the pilgrims, Pope Gregory IV (827-844 A.D.) transferred the feast to the post-harvest time and designated November 1 as the Feast of All Saints extending the significance to everybody who lived holy lives. It has remained thus until the present day.
Today’s readings are appropriate for the Vigil of All Saints since both contain directives to holiness, according to one’s station in life. St. Paul writes to his church at Ephesus that children should reverence their parents, echoing the age-old commandment from the Decalogue – honor your father and mother. He reminds his readers that this commandment carries God’s promise of a long life. He also indicates that family life is a two-way street. Parents must likewise reverence their children. He even extends his mandate to the social situation of slaves and masters. Here there is a phrase reminiscent from Paul’s own autobiographical epistle to the Galatians: “If I am still trying to please men, then I am not a servant of Jesus Christ (1:10).” Masters, too, must act with reverence. God sees what is in the hearts of all and He is scrutinizing each one for sincerity. Jesus also is seeking transparency from His disciples. He instructs His followers to “Enter through the narrow gate.” In this passage from St. Luke’s gospel, Jesus promises the glory of the kingdom and the significance of the eternal banquet, which is foreseen in the Eucharist itself. In speaking of the significance of these three days of the Vigil, the celebration of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls, the late Dr. Pius Parsch threw up a joyous invitation for all Christians to go out in joining the celebration of a wonderful family feast. He did not have in mind witches and goblins nor horror movies but instead the purity of heart that it takes to walk with the Church and in the Church, straight into the palace of everlasting life.
- Jerome M. Vereb, C.P.