The Catholic Church in her infinite wisdom has given us guideposts in her many feast days to help us in our daily journey. We are now coming to the Feasts of All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2). For a Catholic family this is a wonderful teaching moment on the Communion of Saints: those of us on earth, the Church militant; those in Purgatory, the Church suffering; and those in heaven, the Church triumphant.
All Hallow’s Eve
The Eve of All Saints in commonly known as Halloween. The word derives from “All Hallows’ Eve,” the day before the Feast of All Saints. How this is celebrated today has no Christian connection. Its origin goes back to the pagan Druids. However, families can take this opportunity to usher in All Saints and All Souls.
Trick-or-treating heralds back to an old superstition that the dead return to earth on the eve of All Saints. They must be hungry, so food is left out. Of course, they also need prayers, so the custom of begging for soul cakes came about. The children would go from house to house begging for a soul cake and promising, if received, to pray for the dead of that family. “A soul cake, a soul cake; have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake,” was the chant. The idea of praying for the dead got lost over the years and today all is left is the demanding of a treat.
Serving soul cakes as a reminder to pray for the dead will bring back a Christian understanding. A soul cake can be as elaborate as you like, or as simple as an ordinary bun served warm with plenty of jam options. The children must ask by saying, “A soul cake, a soul cake, I pray thee a soul cake.” Then they say the name of the deceased person being prayed for. Bobbing for apples is also something children will enjoy as part of the evening. Review the Sign of the Cross as something they can use to ward off evil if they are afraid. My granddaughter can do this in English, French and Spanish. Teaching children to make the Sign of the Cross in another language is not only fun for the children but teaches them we are a universal Church with many languages and peoples.
Feast of All Saints
This Feast is a Holy Day of Obligation and honors another group in our Communion of Saints, those rejoicing in heaven. Because we can’t know the names of all those in heaven, the Church sets aside a special day to bring to mind not only the martyrs and confessors, but those known only to God who warrant heaven. The first saint to be publicly venerated was the martyr St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (d. A.D. 155). This veneration of holy people is rooted in Jewish tradition in the veneration of the tombs of patriarch, martyrs and prophets.
The First Eucharistic Prayer at Mass lists over 40 saints and apostles from the ancient Roman list. Next time at Mass when the priest says the entire list have your children pay attention to the names of the saints. Usually they will recognize the name of a family member. Taking turns reading the Litany of the Saints on this day to get children familiar with the names of many saints. For families this is the opportune time for children to look up their baptismal names.
For older children a more challenging assignment would be to look up an obscure saint. Herman the Cripple comes to mind. God chose him to show what the world considers weak can turn out to be the opposite. Among other accomplishments, he wrote the beautiful Salve Regina hymn. I won’t tell you the rest of the story. An older child will have to look him up and fill you in. St. Margaret of Costello is another suggestion.
The Feast of All Souls
This feast connects us with the “suffering souls” in our Communion of Saints. The Book of Maccabees tells us to pray for the dead as a way of loosening them from their sins. Hippolytus (A.D. 235) mentions praying for the dead in the context of Holy Mass. And this we still do. A wonderful activity on this day is to do a little family genealogy. Make a chart with the names of the children, then parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, and uncles and aunts if you can fit them in. Tell your children what you know about these people, especially any faith stories you have. Teach them, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.” Isabella prays for Grandpa Jack, James prays for great Uncle Harry.
Did you know a plenary indulgence can be gained for a soul in Purgatory by visiting a church or cemetery on this day? Pray for a certain soul, go to Confession and receive Communion within about twenty days and be free from any attachment to sin.
Finally, a wonderful practice during November is to add, “May the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace” when saying Grace before meals.
Happy Feast Days!
Sandra McDevitt writes on Catholic Culture. She also hosts, “Stories From the Heart,” which can be heard on EWTN Radio on Saturdays and Sundays. Go to Ave Maria Radio Archives to listen to any of her over 1,000 stories. Sandra and husband John are the parents of five adult children and four grandchildren.