We all know that Halloween is on Oct. 31. But did you know that it is the first of three ancient Catholic holidays? These three holidays demonstrate the link between the three states of the Church — also known as the Communion of Saints — and each holiday focuses on one of the three states. These states are the Church Militant (us here on Earth), the Church Penitent (those in Purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven). Though we are here on Earth, we still have a relationship with souls in the other two places, through prayer.

The name Halloween evolved from the older name All Hallow’s Eve, which celebrated the vigil of All Saints Day. All Hallow’s Eve was not celebrated in church but rather in the community by the people. Our modern interpretation of Halloween comes from their ancient traditions:

—    Trick-or-treating came from the tradition of going from house to house offering to pray for their departed relatives in exchange for a small treat.

—    On All Hallow’s Eve, people would dress up in ghoulish costumes to make fun of death and evil because Christ had won the battle over sin and conquered death.

—    They would decorate with skulls and other scary things as a reminder that we will all eventually die.

All Hallow’s Eve is a celebration in the community, by the people, who are the Church Militant, and the focus is on recognizing our mortality and that we need Christ for our salvation.

All Saints Day is celebrated on Nov. 1 and is a Holy Day of Obligation. This means as Catholics we have an obligation to go to Mass on this day, as if it were a Sunday. This year Nov. 1 is on a Sunday.

On All Saints Day we celebrate all the saints in heaven, which means not only the canonized saints that we formally recognize as saints, but also anyone who has gone to heaven. The saints in heaven are known as the Church Triumphant, and we can pray to them for their intercession, to help us here on Earth. They can help us when we pray to them.

A good way to learn more about the saints is to look up saints with whom you have something in common. There are many good online resources where you can look up saints categorized in various ways. For example, you can find a saint who:

  • has the same first or middle name as you
  • has his/her feast day on your birthday
  • is the patron of a career you are interested in
  • is the patron of a cause that is important to you
  • is from your geographic area.

All Souls Day is celebrated on Nov. 2, and is formally known as The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. On All Souls Day we pray for all the people who have died. We especially pray for those in purgatory, whose souls are being cleansed so they can eventually go to heaven. They are known as the Church Penitent, meaning they are doing penance for their sins. We pray for their souls, to help them make their way to Heaven. They need our prayers.

A good activity to do on All Souls Day is to go to a local cemetery and pray for the souls represented there. You can pray however you like — silent or out loud, your own words or a formal prayer. One good prayer to use for praying for souls in a cemetery is the Rest in Peace Prayer:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,

and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of the faithful departed,

Through the mercy of God,

Rest in peace. Amen.

Online saint resources





—Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.