Bishop Peter Ingham's Reflections on Halloween and All Saints Day
Halloween is growing in popularity but its roots are lost on most people. It is observed on 31 October, the "een" or "eve" of All Hallows Day (All Saints Day) on 1 November.
"Hallow" is a word in the Lord's Prayer – "hallowed be thy name" (may God's name be held holy) so to celebrate Halloween without connecting it to All Saints Day would be like celebrating Christmas Eve without a Christmas Day.
If you take away the Saints from Halloween, along with our Christian beliefs about the dignity and destiny of human beings, then all you have left is a pre-Christian superstition about the dead!
Halloween is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of another aspect of our faith. Halloween leads us into the back-to-back feast days of All Saints and All Souls (1 November and 2 November.) These two days celebrate what we affirm in the Apostles Creed, "I believe in the Communion of Saints," which means the union that exists between the blessed in Heaven (the Saints), the souls expiating their sins in purgatory and we who are still on our earthly pilgrimage to eternal life with God. This is an abundant exchange where the holiness of the Saints (the hallowed ones) benefits others well beyond any harm the sin of anyone could cause others.
The origin of "trick" or "treat" is connected with forgiveness and reconciliation for those who had died in the previous year. To wipe the slate clean for the coming year, young people would come masked and boldly bargain for "treats" so that the spirits of the dead would not do you any mischief with their "tricks." Costumes and decorations that glorify witches and devils are hardly appropriate because witches and devils symbolise the evil that Jesus Christ has overcome by his death and resurrection. The use of skeletons and skulls can be healthy reminders that we all have to die one day and we offer the charity of the Mass and our prayers as we lovingly remember our dead on All Souls Day.
Jack-o-the Lanterns roaming forever between heaven and earth, holding his pumpkin lantern high is a one-man morality tale associated with Halloween. Jack is smart enough to outwit the devil himself, but it is not enough to get him into heaven. Jack was so self-centred that he never helped another human being. He used his giftedness only for himself. While Jack knew about faith and the power of the Cross, he failed to take up his cross and follow Jesus.
Halloween also invites us to talk openly about death which is a taboo topic for so many, almost as if it were not a real fact of life! You and I need to press the "pause" button in our crowded lives to reflect on our own mortality, with all the spiritual and practical consequences that go with it. Fortunately each year the Church gives us two feasts, All Hallows (Saints) and All Souls (the Commemoration of all the Faithful who are departed) to do this.
Yours in the Lord
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD Bishop of Wollongong
All Saints Day Reflection
All Saints Day is a celebration of holiness. The Saints model aspects of the perfection of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. They show us how to be a faithful follower and disciple of Jesus. We also ask the Saints to pray for us. Being already with God, the Saints can intercede powerfully for us.
Bl John Paul II wrote about giving glory to God for what he has done in every century by granting his Church a great host of saints and martyrs right across the world. He said that holiness is a message that convinces without the need for words. It is a living reflection of the face of Christ.
While only St Mary of the Cross MacKillop has been formally canonised, we all know of many saintly people who have positively witnessed to the faith and passed on the precious legacy of Catholic faith and culture to their children and grandchildren. Some have been prominent in public life, others in ministry, in teaching and catechising, in living their ordinary lives with great faith and devotion. Many of our immigrants have fled persecution in their native lands and have brought the precious gift of their faith and culture which has enriched our local church communities.
These stories of people's perseverance in the faith, which we have all witnessed, call and challenge us to holiness.
Our Year of Grace in Australia called us "to contemplate the face of Christ" and "to start afresh from Christ" borrowing from Bl John Paul II's letter at the start of the New Millenium (Novo Millennio Ineunte .) Linked to this is Chapter 5 of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church ( Lumen Gentium) "The Universal Call to Holiness." We are all called to be saints – to live our lives in union with Jesus Christ and ultimately to enjoy his presence forever in heaven.
In our diocese and in our parishes on this All Saints Day, we recall outstanding and inspiring members of our Church, be they remarkable lay Christians in families, in teaching and social outreach, in business and industry, or Clergy, Religious Sisters and Brothers.
So many have made and are making remarkable faith-filled contributions in public life, in works of outreach, charity and mercy, in education or the arts.
As we give thanks for the models of faith, hope and charity we have experienced in our lives, we can celebrate the way God has blessed our local church with inspiring people who love Jesus Christ and have taken the Gospel to heart.
Yours in the Lord