All Souls Day
As Christians, we dedicate this day to remembering loved ones, family, and friends with thanksgiving and prayer. We celebrate All Souls Day on November 2nd unless this date falls on a Sunday. If this happens, we then celebrate it on November 3rd. Halloween, which is celebrated on October 31st, has many of us as Catholics torn as to whether or not to celebrate this holiday. Let us find out how Halloween is connected to All Souls Day and maybe find an alternative or a happy medium to celebrating this secular holiday and celebrating the religious and very beautiful meaning of All Souls Day. All Souls Day actually originated from All Hallows-Even. The Old English word “hallow” means to make holy or consecrated. In its adjective form it means something that is holy or blessed as in The Our Father (Hallow be thy name). All Saints Day (November 1st) called Hallows-Mass or All Hallows-Mass, is the Mass celebrating all the blessed (all the saints).
Halloween comes from the shortened name of Hallows-Even (the eve or vigil of All Hallows, which is All Saints), the evening before Hallows Day. Our present day Halloween originated from a Pagan festival called Samhain (meaning summer’s end). The Celts divided the year in two parts summer and winter. October 31st marked the last day of summer. On this day the Celts believed that the curtain between the living and the dead was very thin, therefore the Spirits could rise up and roam the earth on this night. In an attempt to protect themselves, the Celts would carve faces into turnips and other root vegetables and place candles inside hoping the lanterns would frighten away any bad spirits. Some people would also dress up in costumes or wear masks to fool the spirits into thinking that they too were spirits and should be left alone. They would have large bomb fires and there would be singing and dancing. Samhain is equivalent to our New Year’s Eve holiday. Therefore you can picture the atmosphere and the type of celebrating that was going on as they brought in their new year. When the Romans arrived, they added their custom of a harvest festival with an emphasis on apples to the Celts pre existing Samhain celebration. Later, in an attempt to Christianize the Celtic holiday, in 835 Pope Gregory IV replaced Samhain with All Saint’s Day followed by All Soul’s Day.
The fundamental idea of All Souls Day is the acknowledgement of human frailty. Since very few people achieve perfection in this life, going to our graves with traces of sinfulness. Some period of purification seems necessary before a soul comes face to face with God. The Council of Trent (The Council existed from 1545 to 1563 with the purpose of clarifying doctrines of the Church and the execution of a thorough reform of the inner life of the Church by removing the numerous abuses that had developed in it) affirmed this purgatory state and insisted that the prayers of the living can speed the process of purification. Based on the doctrine that the souls of the faithful which at death have not been cleansed from the temporal punishment due to venial sins (less serious sin that weakens our relationship with God), or have not fully purged from attachment to mortal sins (serious sin that breaks our relationship with God), cannot attain the beatific vision (the eternal and direct visual perception of God enjoyed by those who are in Heaven, imparting supreme happiness or blessedness), and they may be helped to do so by prayer and by the sacrifice of the Mass. In other words, in our prayers, we are hoping to release them from Purgatory (which is a condition or process of purification in which souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready and achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven). Purgatory is often thought of as a terrible holding place that one’s soul goes to while awaiting judgment, but Purgatory is actually more of a process of preparation, both spiritually and emotionally. Think about Purgatory this way: when you are in darkness and step out and see the bright sun shine or bright light, instead of it being a wonderful experience we are often blinded and it causes us discomfort. This is what it would be like if we all of a sudden came face to face with the brilliance of God. So it is necessary for us to go through the process of Purgatory so that when we finally are in heaven and in the presence of God it is a joyous and pleasant experience and we ourselves are worthy of being in God’s presence.
In the past, the poor (mostly women & children) would go door to door begging for food and in return would pray for the dead. “Soul Cakes” was the name given to the doughnuts they received.The circle represented eternity, with no beginning and no end as well as the life cycle of life, death, and rebirth.Some Soul Cakes looked like small pancakes and others looked like large rolls.
All Soul Cakes were made from very simple ingredients so that it would not be too expensive to make. These Soul Cakes were the original treats. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. As time went by, the basic idea of why this celebration was being celebrated was soon forgotten and it became more of a secular holiday predominately focused on costumes and candy, and prayers forgotten.
Let us recapture the beauty of All Souls Day once again
by celebrating this day as a family as we offer our prayers on behalf of our loved ones that have started their journey home.