Surprised? Don't be. Halloween has origins in the Catholic liturgical calendar, but the customs surrounding it have drifted from the feast’s intended meaning and purpose. The name itself derives from the archaic English phrase “All Hallows’ Evening,” referring to the Eve of All Saints. Since All Saints can begin with evening prayer the night before, Halloween is the feast’s “earliest possible celebration.”
The three consecutive days — Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day — illustrate the Communion of Saints. Pope Sixtus IV in 1484 established November 1, the feast of All Saints, as a holy day of obligation and gave it both a vigil (known today as "All Hallows' Eve" or "Hallowe'en") and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast. By 1955, the octave of All Saints was removed.
English, Irish, and French immigrants brought to America their variety of local Catholic customs: dressing up for Halloween comes from the French; Jack-o-Lanterns come from the Irish (they were originally carved turnips); the English begged from door to door for "Soul Cakes," promising to pray for the departed loved ones of those who gave them these treats, thus the roots of trick-or-treating.
For Catholics today, Halloween is a day to reflect on Christ's triumph over sin, death, and Satan; to meditate on our own mortality and duties to God; to shun sin and the devil; to give honor to the saints in heaven; and to pray for the souls of the faithful departed in purgatory. And, of course, to have fun with joyful feasting and merriment.
Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command, so that we may merit what you promise.
The photo above is from the Teutonic Cemetery, a burial site adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Located where the Circus of Nero once stood, during the period of the Roman Empire, it was the site of the martyrdom of many of the early Christians of the city.