We’re talking about Halloween, on October 31st, of course, and the two days that follow it on our Catholic liturgical calendar– the Feast of All Saints on the following day and the Commemoration of All Souls– the day after that, November, 2nd. The word Halloween means the “Eve of All Hallows”—a medieval word for saint.
All Hallow’s Eve or All Saint’s Eve is a celebration observed in many countries on October 31st, and ushers in the time of the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead—all the faithful departed, especially those close to us.
Some suggest that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festival, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, which may have had pagan roots and that Samhain itself was Christianized as Halloween by the early Church.
Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted houses, telling scary stories, as well as watching horror movies.
In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observance of All Hallow’s Eve, included attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular.
It has been suggested that the carved jack-o’-lantern, now a popular symbol of Halloween, originally represented the souls of the dead. In medieval Europe, fires served a duel purpose, being lit to guide returning souls to the homes of their families, as well as to deflect demons from haunting any Christian folk. Many Christians in mainland Europe, especially in France, believed “that once a year, on Halloween, the dead of the churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival” known as the danse macabre, which was often depicted in church decorations.
In parts of Britain, these customs came under attack during the Reformation as some Protestants berated purgatory as a “popish” doctrine incompatible with their notion of predestination, that denotes that all events are pre-ordained by God.
In the United States the Anglican colonists in the southern states and the Catholic ones in Maryland recognized All Hallow’s Eve, although the Puritans of New England maintained strong opposition to the holiday, as well as to Christmas. It wasn’t until the Irish and Scottish immigrants of the 19th century that Halloween became a major American holiday and was gradually assimilated into the mainstream of American society and was celebrated from coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds by the first decade of the 20th century.
In Cajun areas, a nocturnal Mass was said in cemeteries on Halloween night. Candles that had been blessed were placed on graves, and families sometimes spent the entire night at the graveside” The yearly Greenwich Village Halloween Parade was begun in 1974 by puppeteer and mask maker Ralph Lee. It is the world’s largest Halloween parade and America’s only major nighttime parade, attracting more than 60,000 costumed participants, two million spectators, and a worldwide television audience. (The image above is taken from that parade.) I saw a story in the New York Times the other day that a group was preparing a “socially distanced – scary haunted house with professional actors!” Hmmm. And I’m not at all sure what kind of children’s or adult’s Halloween festivities are occurring these days as a result of the pandemic. Well, anyway, All Hallow’s Eve is followed by All Saint’s Day—that falls on a Monday this year.
THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS
The Gospel for this Feast Day is from the Sermon on the Mount and the eight beatitudes . . . .
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
I’m just going to choose a few of these and comment on them using our Presbyterian scripture scholar William Barclay as our source.
First he comments on the word “blessed.” The word blessed is a very special word, he says. In Greek the word is Makarios. It describes that joy which has is a secret within itself–that joy which is serene and untouchable, and completely independent of all opportunities and changes of life. The Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable “No one,” says Jesus, ‘will take my joy from you” (John 16:22). The beatitudes speak of that joy which penetrates our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, and pain and grief, are powerless to touch, which nothing in life or death can take away.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In Hebrew the word for poor was used to describe the humble and the helpless person who put their whole trust in God.
Therefore, Blessed in the poor in spirit means . . .
Blessed is the one who has realized one’s utter helplessness and has put his whole trust in God.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake.
So few of us know what true hunger or what true thirst is about. In these Pandemic times and so many millions out of work, many families have lined up at food banks. But what about poor countries? What about counties that don’t have safe drinking water? So the hunger this beatitude speaks of is no genteel hunger but the hunger of a person starving for food.
If this is so, this beatitude is a challenge: How much do you want goodness? Most people have an instinct for goodness. But how much?
So the correct translation of this beatitude is . . .
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” but there’s even more to this beatitude than that. The Hebrew word for mercy, chesedh, means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with their eyes, think things with their mind and feel things with their feelings. This is much more than a gesture of our pity.
The word sympathy is derived from two Greek words syn which means together with and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what that person is going through. So the translation of this fifth beatitude might read . . .
O the happiness of the person who gets right inside other people until he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for the person who does will find others do the same for him and know what God in Jesus Christ has done!
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
This beatitude demands that every person should stop and think and examine himself.
The Greek word for pure is katharos. It has a variety of meanings, but basically means unmixed, unalloyed, unadulterated.
Is our work done from motives of service or for pay. This beatitude requires self-examination. So then the sixth beatitude might read . . .
O happy is the person whose motives are most pure for one day he will see God!
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Their Roman neighbors asked a libation to their god before dinner. They couldn’t do that. Then Caesar declared himself a god and required obeisance by law. They couldn’t do that and faced torture and martyrdom. Barclay vol I pp 88- 111.
Hebrew 12; 1 speaks of a great “Cloud of Witnesses”
Here are some of the amazing folk down through the twenty one centuries of the church of many gifts and talents who have drawn people the Western Catholicism into relationship with our God and with one another
Here are some of our great ones , , , s
Saint Mary, Mother of God,
Saint Michael, Archangel and mighty protector against the Evil One
Saint Gabriel, Archangel
Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, taught Jesus his trade on carpentry
Saint John the Baptist, one of my patrons (my middle name is John)
Saint Peter, the Rock on whom Jesus built his Church
Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles
Saint Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the Apostles
St. Martha offered hospitality to Jesus in her home
St. Monica prayed for her son, Augustine’s conversion
St. Augustine, the early church writer and doctor
St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, Eastern Church fathers and doctors
St. Leo the Great, early church pope and great achiever
St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism
St. Anselm, apostle to the English
St. Patrick, apostle to the Irish
St. Robert of Molesme, one of two founders of the Cistercians and one of my patrons
St. Bernard, early founder of the Cistercians, doctor and church reformer
St. Francis of Assisi (y’all know who he is, right?)
St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers
St. Anthony of Padua Master General of the Dominicans—not just the finder of lost objects!
St. Clare, followed Francis and founded the Poor Clares
St. Thomas of Aquinas, the great medieval theologian at the end of his life said God was unknowable
St. Catherine of Siena a 33-year-old Dominican third order lay woman, counselor to popes who obtained peace between warring factions and stigmatist
St. Joan of Arc who led France successfully in war against the English and was burned at the stake as a heretic because of it
St. Thomas More, Chancellor to King Henry VIII and lawyer who would not abide Henry’s divorce
St. Ignatius of Loyala, Founder of the Jesuits and his motto To the Honor and Glory of God (AMDG) (I remember putting that at the top of all my high school and college papers)
St. Francis Xavier, the great missionary to the orient
St. Teresa of Avila, the joyful reformer of the Carmelite order
St. John of the Cross, Teresa’s cofounder and poet
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Jesuit youth who died serving the sick during the black plague
St. Peter Claver, Spanish Jesuit priest who served the slaves in Columbia
St. Vincent de Paul who served the poor and reformed seminary education
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk maiden, converted by Jesuit missionaries in the New York region
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
St. Francis de Sales promoted sanctity for everyone in all walks of life
St. Paul of the Cross founded the Passionists
St. Alphonsus Ligouri founded the Redemptorists
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, wife, mother and founder of religious order of sisters who have founded schools of all levels up to the university level across the US and beyond.
St. John Vianney, a simple French parish priest recognized as the patron of all priests.
St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesians
St. Damien de Veuster, who spent his life helping those with Hanson’s disease on Molokai, Hawaii
St. John Henry Newman, Anglican scholar, who converted to Catholicism and founded the Oratory
St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who became a doctor of the church at age 24
St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life in place of another who had a family at Auschwitz
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) Jewish scholar, college professor, convert to Catholicism, Carmelite nun, imprisoned and sentenced to death also at Auschwitz
St. Pius of Pietrelcina, (Padre Pio) suffered from the Stigmata (wounds of Christ) for most of his life, spent many of his days hearing confessions of hundreds of penitents
St. Paul VI / St. John XXIII / St. John Paul II Popes
St. Teresa of Calcutta. (Mother Teresa) Founder of the Missionaries of Charity, received the Nobel Peace prize,
St. Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador.
And now before you go, here’s the rousing hymn, “For all the Saints”. The songs lyrics are a meditation; I suggest singing along and paying attention to the words. Be sure ton turn up your speakers and an enter full screen. Click here.
And here are the All Saints’ Day Mass readings: Click here.