Have you ever wondered about the connection between Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day? Originally a triduum of the Catholic Church, these are days of prayers, offerings, and masses in celebration of all those who have attained heaven and for those that are on their way. If you ever feel like sanctification is out of reach, the religious devotion that fills the three days of the Triduum is the perfect reminder of the universal call to holiness.
What’s behind the name All Hallows Eve? As with other major feasts, the celebration of All Saints Day (All Hallows Day) on November 1 began on the vigil, All Hallows’ Eve, better known as Halloween. The word Hallow comes from the same root as holy, and “e’en” is a truncation of the word evening in reference to the vigil of the feast. So, October 31, All Hallows Eve, was celebrated in anticipation of the feast of All Saints Day that followed. However, this celebration was removed from the liturgical calendar during the liturgical reforms of 1955. Halloween has since become adopted and adapted by the secular world as a holiday filled with candy, costumes, and horror, but its roots remain Christian. In fact, many of the modern aspects of the day have retained their liturgical origin, although most would never know. For example, the traditional colors of Halloween (violet, black, and white) come from the liturgical colors of the Triduum of Hallowtide. The color orange, which comes from the colors of autumn, is the exception. Another key connection is the focus of death. Halloween is filled with ghosts, skeletons, and tombstones, but even these are rooted in the Catholic tradition, as the day calls us to “memento mori,” a Latin phrase translated as “remember you must die.” This can turn our focus to questioning, how then are we to live our lives well? It’s the perfect reflection as we head into the second day of the triduum, All Saints Day.
A holy day in the Catholic Church, All Saints Day (November 1) is one in which we celebrate the glory of the saints in heaven while praying that we might one day join in that perfect unity with God. It’s not just a day for that elite group of extraordinary souls, but for all the holy men and women, the ordinary Christians who loved, served, and gave their life to Jesus. When we reflect on the lives of the known canonized saints, sanctification can often seem out of reach; however, achieving holiness is a process, and we must cooperate with God’s grace in our lives and follow his will. We can look to the lives of all the saints as a reminder that it’s worth persevering through our trials and standing by Christ no matter the cost.
Dedicating a day to commemorating the lives of the saints dates all the way back to 609 when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Roman Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Holy Martyrs on May 13, which is when the feast was annually held in Rome. The holy day was moved to November 1 when Pope Gregory III (741) dedicated a chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to all the Saints. All Saints Day came to be a very important liturgical day and a holy day of obligation. With only 365 days in the year, it would be impossible for each person in heaven to be recognized with their own liturgical commemoration, so all Saints Day allows us to celebrate every last soul in heaven, even those whose salvation is known to God alone, for the way they cooperated with God’s grace.
The Hallowtide Triduum concludes on November 2 with All Souls Day, which is a commemoration of all the faithful departed who die in God’s grace and friendship but are still imperfectly purified. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that they “are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (1030). The souls in purgatory can no longer pray for themselves or make sacrifices, so this is a day when we, the faithful on earth, can offer our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. Our prayers can help the souls of our deceased family members, friends, and even those who have no one to pray for them to be granted pardon and advance through the process of purification as quickly as possible so that they may be united with God and the other saints in heaven. Here is a beautiful prayer to recite for the Holy Souls anytime, but particularly on All Souls Day and throughout November:
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Though the practice of observing the Triduum may have largely fallen out of practice, we can certainly remember its liturgical origin and original purpose. We can begin preparing to honor our dead on All Hallows Eve, celebrate those who are surely in heaven on All Saints Day, and remember those who are on their way with prayers, offerings, and masses on All Souls Day. Each day should be filled with true devotion to God and hope that, like the many saints before us, we may too be perfectly united with Christ one day.
On this All Saints Day, if you have a particular saint that inspires you to grow in virtue and walk on the path to holiness, our Custom Saint Necklace or Custom Saint Bracelet may be the perfect way to remind you of their devotion to God and keep them close to your heart.
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