Halloween. It is perhaps one of the most misunderstood holidays, but one that has definite roots within the Catholic faith.
Halloween comes from the word ‘hallow’ which means holy and ‘e’en’ a shortened form of the word evening. November 1 is All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation honoring all the saints, which was originally known as All Hallows Day. October 31 then became known as the Eve of All Hallows or Hallows Eve, later called Halloween. In early days, Catholic Europe celebrated the vigil of a major feast day with celebrations where many churches often displayed the bones and relics of their saints.
With the influx of immigrants to America, so too came many of their customs surrounding Hallows Eve: dressing up as a favorite saint, carved Jack-O-Lanterns, and begging for treats in exchange for prayers for deceased loved ones.
In 2018, Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma issued a Memorandum on the Celebration of Halloween within his diocese. He wrote, “The custom of dressing up for Halloween is devotional in spirit. By dressing up as the saints whom we most admire, we imagine ourselves following their example of Christian discipleship. This practice allows the lay faithful to become ‘living icons’ of the saints, who are themselves ‘icons’ or ‘windows’ offering real-life examples of the imitation of Christ.”
Eventually the deeper meaning behind All Hallows Eve – honoring the example of the saints – became distorted and the more commercialized and ‘ghoulish’ aspect of Halloween evolved.
For 35 years, Sr. Mary Cabrini, SCMC, vice-principal and science and religion teacher at Sacred Heart School, Taftville, has sought to restore that deeper meaning to her 8th grade religion students through an extensive research project on the life of a saint of their choosing. Students present their findings to the entire student body, parents and invited guests during a Wax Museum of Saints on Halloween. At that time, students assume the life of their saint, complete with costumes, stories and biographical information about him or her. The event draws attention away from glamorizing the secular aspects of Halloween and focuses on the holiness of the many men and women who lived and died for their faith and are remembered on All Saints Day.
“This project teaches the students that the saints are ordinary people, like they are, who just did extraordinary things with their lives,” Sr. Cabrini said. “As they learn about their saint, they can relate situations in their lives to something the saint went through in his or her childhood or adolescence…It proves to them that, just like the saints did, they can get over any troubles they may be experiencing in life. They can choose one aspect of a saint’s life and use it as an example to help them in their own life.”
Sr. Cabrini noted that oftentimes the students choose the name of the saint they researched when making their confirmation. “It’s not because choosing that name is the easiest thing for them to do,” she said. “It’s because they ended up discovering something about their saint that made an impact and had an influence on their life.”
Bishop Konderla concluded his 2018 memorandum by urging members of his diocese to observe the beauty and depth of the Feast of All Saints. “Let us make…an act of true devotion to God, whose saints give us hope that we too may one day enter in the Kingdom prepared for God’s holy ones from the beginning of time.”
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin, Catholic Family Services
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