“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!”
– Traditional Scottish Prayer
Ready for the trick-or-treaters?
They will be out in droves this weekend parading around as ghoulies and ghosties to celebrate All Hallows Eve which comes slightly distorted to us as Halloween. This is a good opportunity for parents to teach their children of the religious origins of this ancient observance.
As is often the case the details of how the Feast of All Saints (All Hallows) came into the Church are lost in the clouds of history. Some associate it with the conversion of the Roman Pantheon which honored Pagan Gods into a Christian Church honoring martyrs in 610 a.d. Others trace its origins to Ireland from where it moved to England and the continent. In the 8th or 9th century it was extended to the whole Church and included all saints, not just the martyrs.
Traditionally feasts begin at sunset of the previous day, the vigil. That is why Mass on Saturday evening counts for Sunday. Thus the Feast of All Hallows began on the vigil, or eve of the day; hence, Halloween. The date of November first may reflect the Irish custom of observing important events on the first of the month.
Now about the ghoulies and ghosties! Here we have a conflation or mixing of the Feast of All Saints on November 1 and the Feast of All Souls on November 2. The feast dates back to the Cistercian monks at Cluny in the 10th century and reminds us to pray for those who are in Purgatory and need our prayers. Traditionally we call them the Church Suffering, as we refer to the saints as the Church Triumphant and those of us still alive as the Church Militant.
In the Middle Ages there was a popular belief that on All Souls Day the souls in Purgatory could appear on earth as will-o-the-wisps, witches, ghosts and all sorts of things to those people who had wronged them during their lifetimes. At some point, these customs slipped into the All Saints Celebration called Halloween.
So this weekend when the little ghoulies and ghosties are out they remind us of the suffering souls in Purgatory who need our prayers.
We should all remember our beloved dead and pray for them regularly and for those who have no one to pray for them.