By now, many of us have come to understand that Halloween is a Catholic holiday, the Vigil of All Saints’ Day and the first day of the ‘Allhallowtide’ Triduum.
But how can we celebrate it as such?
We can certainly have fun with pumpkins, costumes, trick-or-treating, candy and treats, and watching shows like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charilie Brown, since we know that we, as Catholics, are free to take whatever is good and wholesome from the culture at large.
But here are a few suggestions for those wishing to bring back some religious significance to this day.
1) Go to Confession
This can be done on Halloween Day if available (*hint hint* to any priests reading this!) or within a week or two prior.
This is appropriate for several reasons. One, going to confession is appropriate before all the major feasts of the Church, and All Saints’ Day is certainly one of them.
Also, part of the significance of the Feast is remembering that we, as the Church Militant, hope and strive to become members of the Church Triumphant one day. Regular confession is an invaluable part of that process.
Thirdly, this sacrament is an important part of death preparation, and as such can remind us of our own death.
2) Do preparation-for-death devotions.
Preparing for death is a lifelong process– it is not just something we do in our final weeks. After all, we do not know which weeks are our final ones!
Many beautiful prayers for a happy death are found in various prayer books and other resources. I particularly recommend the newly-canonized St. John Henry Newman’s prayer:
“O my Lord and Savior, support me in my last hour by the strong arms of Thy sacraments,
and the fragrance of Thy consolations.
Let Thy absolving words be said over me,
and the holy oil sign and seal me;
and let Thine own body be my food,
and Thy blood my sprinkling;
and let Thy Mother Mary come to me,
and my angel whisper peace to me,
and Thy glorious saints
and my own dear patrons smile on me,
that in and through them all
I may die as I desire to live,
in Thy Church, in Thy faith, and in Thy love.
Amen. My Jesus, mercy.”
3) Observe Halloween as a day of penance.
Implementing this suggestion is likely the hardest of all, since it contradicts the prevailing custom that Halloween is a holiday to celebrate!
And yet, the real Catholic festival is the following day, and traditionally, a vigil of a solemnity is a day of penance and spiritual preparation. So abstaining from meat or other pleasure, such as sweets or TV, is appropriate.
Fortunately, a solemnity begins the evening prior in the liturgical sense. So by the time evening falls, you can happily cast aside the spirit of penance and go trick-or-treating, eat candy, and celebrate!
However, if you must celebrate earlier on Halloween Day, you can alternatively use the preceding day as a day of penance.
4) Do some seasonally-appropriate reading.
Read books reflecting on Christ’s victory over sin and death, and the meaning of death.
Suggestions for adults and older teens include Dante’s Divine Comedy, which describes a pilgrim’s journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven, or St. Thomas More’s The Four Last Things.
Modern exegeses/syntheses of these concepts are also available, such as The Four Last Things: A Catechetical Guide to Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell by Fr. Wade Menezes.
Meanwhile, children (about seven and up) may enjoy Father Philip Tells a Ghost Story: A Story of Divine Mercy.
5) Mock evil!
Many Catholics are rightly skeptical about participating in what seems a celebration of evil. But we should remember that Christ conquered sin and death.
St. Thomas More reminds us that “The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.”
So there is a sense in which goofy ghosts, goblins, and skeletons have a place–not in a spirit of glorifying death and evil, but of mocking it!
Christ will conquer, and we can afford to make fun of a foolish Enemy that will be conquered in the end, especially if doing so reminds us of evil’s existence and reinvigorates our ‘battle spirit’ to continue working toward our salvation, with Christ as our commander and St. Michael as our mighty protector.
So in the end, Halloween’s Catholic origins can be an important annual reminder of our eventual death. It is also an opportunity to pray, reflect on, and prepare for the strange passage we will have to go through to experience the fullness of our redemption in Christ.
Christ has redeemed everything, even death.
And what better way to lead into a glorious celebration of the Saints in heaven, as well as a time of prayer for the suffering souls in purgatory?