I’d like to call to your attention to several things regarding October 31. One is that on October 31, 1517, the young German Augustinian priest named Martin Luther nailed 95 propositions to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, as a challenge to others in the community to discuss them with him in a series of theological disputes. That event set into motion a chain of events which ultimately led to Martin Luther’s excommunication from the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation. For that reason, the Lutherans of the world celebrate October 31 as “Reformation Day.” Let us be aware of that, and pray with them and for them that the unhappy divisions introduced into the Church by Luther’s actions can be repaired, perhaps in our own lifetime, by the goodwill of Catholics and
Lutherans together, and of course, the operation of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community.
Then, I’d like to tell you about a priest who, back in the 40s, was ahead of his time in terms of the liturgical renewal. His name was Msgr. Martin Hellriegel, and he was pastor of a parish in Saint Louis. He decided that something should be done to bring Hallowe’en back into the Church and remind the world that the origins of Hallowe’en are sacred, and not trivial and foolish — the whole skeletons, black cats, witches, and jack-o-lanterns scenario. So the monsignor invited a number of the parishioners to take part in a vigil service on the night of October 31 (that was before afternoon and evening Masses were permitted). Some dressed as various saints; others carried images of saints or relics of them. There were processions in the church and prayers to this and that saint. It became quite a popular devotion and was repeated for a number of years. A cousin of mine was going to college in Saint Louis, and she attended the Hallowe’en service several times and spoke to me of it.
Now, I find that our Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., which is right across the street from the Catholic University, is doing the same thing. And it has proven very popular among the students and other young people in the Washington area.
Hallowe’en was originally the eve of All Hallows, or All Saints, the feast which is celebrated the next day. It originally had nothing to do with scary, spooky, graveyard humor, nor with the practice of “trick or treat.” But now it has devolved into that, and we can be sure that all our merchants will do their best to keep the thing going because they hear the merry jingling of the cash register wherever costumes and candy are sold. Those of you who have anything to do with young children or schools of any kind might think of how you can re-Christianize Hallowe’en and help our young people to understand what it’s all about and to increase their awareness of the many saints whom the Church has canonized and who are honored the following day. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.