People say that Catholics have a hard time observing holy days in our thoroughly secularized culture.
But that is not exactly the case when it comes to keeping All Saints’ Day. Just about the entire American population observes this holy day—by doing something unusual the night before, be it dressing up, or giving out candy, or watching horror movies.
Of course, it would please the Lord more if everyone kept All Hallows Day by going to Mass, and it would do us all a lot more good. Ringing doorbells to get candy can be a lot of fun. But trick-or-treating cannot hold a candle to keeping the Solemnity of All Saints.
In order to try to get a grip on what celebrating this Solemnity actually entails, let us imagine ourselves back in the second or third century, during the early generations of Christianity.
Back in those days, martyrdoms occurred frequently. If we were living then, when one or more of our brother- or sister-Christians suffered martyrdom, we would certainly have made it a point to do two things:
1. Carefully preserve their mortal remains as best we could.
2. Commemorate the anniversary of their martyrdom every year.
We would also naturally have joined the Christians in neighboring towns and cities in commemorating their martyrs’ anniversaries every year, too. This is how the Church began to have feast days for saints.
By the time the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian rolled around at the end of the third century, the number of Christian martyrs had grown to the point where no one city could possibly commemorate all the anniversaries of all the martyrs every year. By then, there were way more than 365 Christian martyrs.
But: not long after that, Christianity became legal and official in the Roman Empire. Pope Boniface IV transformed the enormous Roman temple called the Pantheon into a church dedicated to the Blessed Mother and all the martyrs. Pope Gregory III built a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to all the martyrs. He dedicated this chapel on November 1.
Ever since those ancient times, we have kept this feast of All Hallows. And All Hallows’ Eve has been a time to fool around with ghosts and goblins and such.
So we can reasonably conclude that we give out candy precisely because more than 365 Christians were killed for their faith before the reign of the Emperor Constantine.
Praise God! Certainly all the martyrs would want our children to be happy.
But let’s remember: No horror movie could capture what the heroes of our faith have gone through to make sure that this faith could be handed down to us. And no bag of candy could ever supply the delight that the martyrs won by freely laying down their lives for the truth.