HE STORE DISPLAYS all remind us: it’s nearly spooky season. For Catholics, this means the usual dilemma: To celebrate or not to celebrate? Many Catholics wonder whether they should be participating in worldly celebrations which seem ugly and demonic. As with all things of this world, whatever God has created beautiful and good will be attacked, twisted, and corrupted by the Evil One. Don’t click this link around kids, but Halloween is an especially obvious ugly battle.
Surprise: Halloween is Catholic! • Despite what some may think, Halloween is actually a Catholic holiday. The term Halloween is just an abbreviated form of the word Hallow (“saint” or one who is “hallowed”) plus Evening (“even” or “e’en”). In reality, “spooky season” is Hallowtide, which includes All Hallows’ Eve, the Feast of All Saints Day on 1 November (a.k.a. All Hallows’ Day), and All Souls’ Day on 2 November (in some countries, known as Día de los Muertos). You might also hear it referred to as Hallowmas; people used to say, “Have a Merry Hallowmas!”
My Mission! • I feel very passionately that as Catholics we should fully embrace the rhythms of the liturgical seasons – what is commonly known as “liturgical living”. This is a subject close to my heart, especially at this time of the year. Perhaps this is because as church musicians we have a particularly close relationship to the liturgical rhythms of the church. I have often wondered why there are so many nasty decorations out there and virtually zero decorations reflecting the true season of Hallowtide. Because of this, I decided to put together my own Hallowtide wall art store:
* Etsy Shop • ALL HALLOWS’ EVE
—“Liturgical living for Catholic families” • (Andrea Leal)
Our Home Is Our Haven • Did you know that people used to send each other postcards for Halloween? I took one of those vintage Halloween postcards, added 3 candles to symbolize the Blessed trinity, modified an anonymous poem to say “All Saints Day”, and added the St. Benedict medal at the bottom with some of the words in Latin from the medal itself. I did this for my children, but I want to share it with you, too. Our home is our haven. It’s time we reclaim this beautiful season as our own and turn our backs on ghastly demonic decorations. My colleague, Dr. Tappan, often talks about the family as the “domestic church.”
Fully Embracing Hallowtide • I have spoken to many Catholic families on the topic of Halloween and I have seen a wide spectrum of approaches, from full blown scary costumes and trick or treating, to partial participation via Trunk or Treats at their parish and All Saint’s costume parties, to full and complete avoidance of anything to do with the holiday. No matter what level of participation you choose, here are some ideas for you to celebrate the season of Hallowtide for what it really is—a time to pray for the dead and to call to mind our own mortality.
(1) Pray VESPERS FOR THE DEAD • You can pray for the souls of the faithful departed on All Hallows’ Eve. Vespers is meant to be prayed “when the lamps are lit”, generally around the time it gets dark. Try using this home devotional booklet for Hallowtide. This handy little booklet contains various prayers for the season, including Black Vespers, the Little Vespers of All Saints, the long-form St. Michael prayer and a couple of “souling” songs.
(2) “Memento Mori” • You may also recall when we posted an elaborately illuminated Vespers for the Dead around this time last year—I decided this was the perfect image for a Memento Mori and is particularly well suited to the season. Memento Mori means “remember you must die”. This is the time of year that we pray for the dead, so it is very apt to recall the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell.
(3) Chant Black Vespers • This will be an easy one if you are a church musician. But even if you are not, you can still Chant the Vespers for the Dead. If your choir is available on October 31st and you have a parish in which to hold it, you can also consider chanting vespers as a congregation on Halloween using this Vespers booklet, which contains all the necessary chants. You can follow it up with an All Saint’s costume party with everyone dressing up as their favorite saint.
(4) Make a Family Tradition • A good alternative to trick or treating if you don’t feel like traumatizing you children with your neighborhood’s scary Halloween decorations is to have a family movie night. You can put together candy bags with their favorite candy and hide it somewhere in the house. Then, give them clues to help them find it. This can be as simple or elaborate as you would like to make it. One year, I hid numerous clues around the house and one clue just led to the next. Some clues were written in Latin, some used legitimate ciphers that had to be cracked, and one clue was pasted on the outside of one of our windows, although to get the following clue one of my daughters had to go outside in the dark and cold to retrieve it. She’s still mad about that one!
(5) Visit A Cemetery • Maybe the association with the Halloween and the macabre comes from the long-held Catholic practice of visiting cemeteries during the Octave of All Saints. It can be such a beautiful Hallowtide tradition to visit a cemetery to pray for the souls of your loved ones, or to pray for those souls who have no one to pray for them. Informally, I have investigated the plenary indulgence and it seems you can obtain a plenary indulgence for one soul on each of the eight days of the Octave. That’s 8 souls you could help liberate from purgatory!
The official guidelines for the indulgences comes from the Enchiridion of Indulgences:
A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
- on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed;
- on All Souls’ Day (or, according to the judgment of the ordinary, on the Sunday preceding or following it, or on the solemnity of All Saints), devoutly visit a church or an oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.
A partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
- devoutly visit a cemetery and at least mentally pray for the dead;
- devoutly recite lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the prayer Requiem aeternam (Eternal rest).
(6) Make a Día de Los Muertos Home Altar • You don’t have to be Mexican to adopt this beautiful custom. I am only half Mexican. The other half of me is a mate-drinking, alfajor-eating Argentine. And the total sum of this equation is 100% American! Still, I always set up a Dia de los Muertos altar. It doesn’t matter what your cultural origin is, feel free to try it out. Set out photos of your deceased loved ones, add a frame with the indulgenced prayer for the Holy Souls, and add some marigolds and candles. Papel picado and calacas optional!