Catholics and Halloween have a long history, starting way back to when Halloween was known as All Hallow's Eve and was just the night before All Saints Day and the day before All Souls Day. Both of these celebrations in the church have a rich history and a special place in our liturgy.
But what are they?
All Hallow's Eve (Halloween)
Depending on where an individual was in the world, this evening could be a night of merriment or a solemn vigil. The concept of dressing up has several different origins, but my personal favorite is that children would dress up like a variety of saints who would be celebrated the next day. In some countries, children would go from door to door to beg for soul cakes or other treats. Many families would celebrate within their homes with large meal and sweets, leading up to the big event the following day.
All Saints Day
All Saints Day is celebrates, simply put, all saints. Which means all those who have attained heaven, even those who are not known or recognized as saints. This could be your grandmother or other distant relative. Anyone who has attained heaven is a saint, regardless of whether or not they have been recognized. That is why this day is a Holy Day of Obligation. We celebrate all those who attained the ultimate goal, to rejoin Jesus in Heaven!
All Souls Day
If All Saints Day is for all those who have already attained Heaven, it stands to reason that All Souls Day is a day of prayer for all of those who not yet attained Heaven. Purgatory is the "in-between" where people who have the stain of minor sins on their soul go. There is a lot that can be discussed about Purgatory, but we can talk about that another time. Masses on this day are for all those souls caught in-between and in need of prayers before they can finally reach Heaven. Essentially, we are helping our brothers and sisters who still need sanctification before they can return home.
But wait! What about Dia de Los Muertos? The Day of the Dead!
The Day of the Dead in the Catholic faith is All Souls Day although there are pretty incredible traditions in Latin American culture that are less Catholic and more of a hybrid between Latin and Native traditions that celebrate the life and history of those who have passed away, as well provide spiritual support for them on their journey. No different than what we do when celebrate the Mass and pray for those who have passed away.
Halloween, as fun as it is, is much more than a night of tricks and treats. There is a rich Catholic heritage to be shared and celebrated. If anything, don't forget that November 1st is a Holy Day and take a little extra time to pray for those who died on November 2nd.
1.) To Feed the Hungry
Luckily, this one has not changed all that much in the 2000+ years since Jesus taught us that those we feed are actually Him. Community/soup kitchens are just one way that you can help provide food to the hungry. There are many different programs that accept food donations. Your church may have a space that collects food each week for your local food pantry or kitchen. You can also make an effort to eat at locations that do not throw away their extra food, but instead, donate or "harvest" them. This also means acting with integrity when you vote. Choose government officials who will not cut government funding for children to eat free or reduced lunches. Participate in local elections to protect the closing of community areas that allow people to eat for free. If possible, donate time or money to such programs to help keep them going strong.
2.) To Give Drink to the Thirsty
Can you believe that there are places where people still do not have access to clean drinking water? Even in the United States! We so often take water for granted, it just comes out of the tap! But there are many who go thirsty. You can donate water, support programs that dig wells, and as mentioned above, vote with integrity to protect clean water programs.
3.) To Clothe the Naked
With all of these different websites that allows us to sell our apparel second-hand, it can be so tempting to make a quick buck. But donating gently used apparel to local thrift stores, especially ones that are volunteer-ran and use their funds to support the community further. You can also purchase items that do little to no good as secondhand, such as shoes. Try to not use these places a dumping ground for your unwanted items though! You can also volunteer at these places and clothe our brothers and sisters in a different manner.
4.) To Harbour the Harbourless
I know, confusing verbage, but this means to provide homes for those without them. We have several different organizations that actually build homes for families without. Volunteering at a homeless shelter is another option. But I think that we can also practice this by opening our home to friends, family, or even children who do not have a home that they feel safe and loved in. A home is more than house; we can provide some of that warmth and security that a home provides.
5.) Visit the Sick
I always think of nursing homes when I read this one. I recall being in elementary or middle school and traveling with the choir to sing around the holidays. But there are people of all ages who need comfort. Children in particular could use someone to read to them, color with them, or just sit with them as the wait for a procedure. Nursing homes are still good options, but not just around the holidays. You can also volunteer in more unique ways, that may require some training, like helping with NICU babies or other specialty wards. You can search your local hospitals for volunteer opportunities if you are feeling stumped.
6.) To Ransom the Captive
This is generally translated to visiting those in prison, but I believe this could be so much more. There are incredible programs out there that do more than just visit prisoners. They actually ransom them by helping them learn work skills, earn a degree, GED, or college credits and beyond. Programs like Homeboy Industries, founded in Los Angeles, help those who have been captured by gang life that will eventually lead to prison. They need volunteers to help mentor and rehabilitate those men and women who would otherwise return to their former ways and eventually to prison. This one may take little bit more research, but there are also so many unique ways to help!
7.) Bury the Dead
At first glance, this one had me stumped. Bury the dead? Isn't that the family's job? But thinking back to elementary school, I attended a small, parochial school. The older students would occasionally attend and sing at the funerals of parishioners. And we can still do that. Provide comfort to the families who have lost a loved one by attending the funeral or visitation. Offer the family assistance, not just the during the first month, but beyond that. The pain of loss does not vanish quickly for most. Casseroles are well and good, but as the holidays appear, people may need a listening ear or just a good laugh. Try to be mindful of their needs.
What are other ways we can provide corporal (physical) acts of mercy to those around us? Do you know of any organizations that provide such opportunities?