This week is important for us for various reasons. Tuesday is Halloween. Wednesday is All Saints Feast. Thursday is All Souls Day. And Friday is First Friday with our Holy Hour and Sacred Heart devotion.. First in this list is Halloween which some consider as a negative holiday, because it’s been turned into a commercial driven candy fest, which obviously isn’t healthy for our children (or for us parents who raid the candy bag!). Some others oppose it for religious reasons, saying that it opens children to evil and is too frightening – although many church parking lots are used for “trunk or treat” for safety reasons! I think it is good to have some perspective that will help us look at it objectively. It was in the year 835, that Pope Gregory IV designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day (the term hallow means holy referring to saints). The night before was known as All Hallows’ Evening from which the term Halloween came.
Many festivals worldwide celebrate a time when the dead return to mingle with the living. The Hindus call it a night of Holi. The Iroquois Native Americans celebrate a feast of the dead every 12 years, when all those who have died during the preceding 12 years are honored with prayers. A national holiday in Mexico, the Day of the Dead, begins on November 2 and lasts several days. In this gruesome festival, death becomes a kind of neighborly figure, appearing on candy, jewelry, toys, bread, cakes, and so on. This is the time when the souls of the dead are thought to return and when the living are to honor them. For example, doors are decorated with flowers to welcome the angelitos, the souls of dead children.
For us Catholics, Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the whole of November are opportunities with two goals: first. to really think about, cherish and remember our loved ones who are departed from the earth; and second, to reflect on our own mortality and the meaning of death as a gateway to the next world. That’s why this Thursday evening at 5pm we will have a special Mass to remember our departed ones. Bringing their photos to church will help us remember them as a community. The lit candles will remind us of their life in the light of Christ who rose from the dead. Offering prayers help us to thank God for the blessing of their lives in which we too shared.
All these will also remind us about the reality of death – a topic we rather not think about! This season of Fall offers us a pageantry for our senses with the vibrantly colored leaves but the falling leaves remind us of the completion of the cycle of life – a living metaphor for death that will happen to all of us. Bible often calls it with a very pleasant term ‘sleep’ and even Jesus used that term regarding his friend Lazarus who actually had died. See John 11:11-14. St. Paul spoke about those who are alive and those who are asleep (referring to the dead) in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. Yes we don’t need to be afraid of death because Jesus conquered death through his resurrection. It is a guarantee for us to think of death as a passage to the life of eternity, to join the “communion of saints” a doctrine that reminds us of rejoining with our dear departed ones who are with God.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal