All Saints—All Souls—Halloween? What Holiday is it?
St. John’s is marking the feast of All Saints in a special way this year. We will respect the tradition of the medieval church in which we celebrate the lives of saints and commemorate all faithful departed on subsequent days. In our fast-paced, attention-deficit culture, we have blended these two observances into All Saints Day, and while this is a reasonable compromise on some levels, it loses focus.
Strictly speaking, All Saints, a fixed feast on November 1, is a celebration in which we lift up the great witnesses that have gone before us and who serve as examples for our Christian pilgrimage. We give thanks for the lives of those who have taught us in word and deed. It is a celebration feast that is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where we will be in true communion with God. Our celebration at St. John’s will include festive hymns with brass accompaniment, special choral selections, and the video presentation on those from our congregation who have passed from life to life eternal in the past year.
Following All Saints Day is All Souls Day on November 2. The feast is known in our Book of Common Prayer as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. On All Saints Day we give thanks for the witness of the saints. On All Souls Day we pray for those who are now with God. It is a solemn, moving feast in which we contemplate the thin veil that separates our life from eternity. Our observance will be a Holy Eucharist presented as a Requiem Mass with traditional plainsong music provided by the men’s ensemble Orison at 8:00 on Monday November 2. The service will last one hour and will include the Rite of the Catafalque. This is a moving experience in which the clergy will place Memorial Cards with the names of loved ones from the congregation into a catafalque, a symbolic coffin. We will then pray an absolution and commendation over these names as we remember those who have crossed from this life to the next. Memorial Cards are available now on Sundays and at most small group gatherings. You are also welcome to submit names by using the form on the St. John’s website. The service on Monday will also include the reading of the necrology.
So how does Halloween fit into all of this? It has become something of a fashion among conservative Christian groups to consider Halloween an evil, perhaps even Satanic, holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth! As Harry Potter fans will know, a hallow is a holy person or thing (we use this word in this sense when praying the Lord’s Prayer: hallowed be thy Name). All Saints Day has also historically been called All Hallows Day, so the evening before All Hallows is Hallow Eve or Hallow E’en or just Halloween. There are several world traditions relating to Halloween, so there are a variety of explanations why we do things (from costumes to candles to jack o’lanterns), but the common denominator is that we are celebrating the eternal triumph of good over evil, the recognition that in the lives of the Saints we see God’s kingdom on earth, that the voices of darkness have no power over us. With a little understanding, Halloween can be just as much a Christian holiday as any of these others, and it certainly has its own brand of fun! At St. John’s we will get a jump on the day by transferring Halloween backwards for our October Friday Night Out. This will be a special evening with activities for kids and costumes for adults. We hope you will join us for some light-hearted Halloween fun as we spend a weekend celebrating life and the lives of those we love.