Last week I posted a blog entitled, “All Souls Day: Hallow-mas Revisited.” In it, I inadvertently conflated two separate days on the calendar of the Church. Folks who knew better graciously pointed out my error. I should have known better anyway.
Even as I wrote that piece, I had the passing thought that All Souls and All Saints are two different concepts. Alas, instead of researching that idea a bit, I hurriedly passed on by without a second thought. Mea culpa…
Days of the Dead
The history of these two days is quite interesting (if you like history—which I do). I won’t put forward all the details here, but I commend a little search engine investigation to you on the subject of All Souls v. All Saints. Distinctions between the two definitely exist.
Interestingly enough, they are not only tied together by their close proximity on the calendar but also by the general term “Days of the Dead.” The Days of the Dead apparently run from October 31 (Halloween) through November 2 (All Souls Day). All Saints Day is sandwiched in between. All things dead seem to be celebrated on these days by various cultures and cults as well as by the Catholic Church and Christians in general.
The Days of the Dead are big in various pagan rituals and celebrations dating back for centuries. The Aztecs were celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) three thousand years ago. Old habits die hard. It’s actually been declared a public holiday in Mexico.
On the Christian end of things, All Saints is generally a day to celebrate the dead in Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is considered a holy day of obligation. All Souls, on the other hand, is a day set aside by the Catholic Church to pray for the deceased who currently reside in purgatory. I find it a bit curious that this is not a holy day of obligation. It would seem to me, if you believe praying for the dead is efficacious, that would be more important than celebrating those who’ve already made it to Heaven. (Maybe my Catholic friends can straighten me out on that one.)
Good vs. Evil
Be that as it may, the Christian introduction of Halloween into all this is what has always fascinated me. Apparently, a thousand years ago or so, Christians would gather on the day prior to All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows Day) to ask for the Lord’s blessing and protection. Many on that night would dress as saints and/or demons and act out the war between good and evil. The play was usually performed at night around a bonfire. It became known as All Hallows Eve (or Halloween).
In my research on the topic, I haven’t run across any article that reveals the eventual winner in these mock battles between the forces of the virtuous and the evil. From my perspective, I’m rooting for the good guys. A Zombie Apocalypse is not my idea of a decent ending.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]