The Church and Halloween: Satan the Defeated Enemy
20071104 - Halloween Message
Our post-modern present further encroaches on what was once sacred and there's no other place where it is so obvious than in the church and her conduct of herself in the world. Worldliness have been making in-roads in the church as evidenced by disregard or even absence of an absolute standard, preoccupation with externals, and diminishing quality of doctrine and practical Christianity. One by one the church's religious observances and feast times gave way and slipped away from it's religious moorings and succumbed to individualistic interpretation and materialism. Our feasts have lost their objective meaning in favour of a private interpretation.
The observance of All Saints' Day used to dominate the Philippine religious scene along at par with Lent and Christmas but not so today. This season used to be marked by remembrance of the departed loved ones and deep respect shown through the preparations, care people lavish towards their departed loved ones' final resting places. Used to be that vigils are held and religious services are offered up for the deliverance of their souls from purgatory. Now holidays opportunities and Halloween parties compete for our attention. And what's with the preoccupation with the paranormal, horror flicks and scary topics?
Didn't you know that Halloween is a “Christian”1 and therefore, religious holiday? Yes it is, and the traditional activities and accoutrements we have come to know to be associated with its observance like of jack-o-lanterns, costume parties, trick-or-treating, monsters and scaring each other stupid was not the traditional at all.
Halloween is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. The term Halloween (and its alternative rendering Hallowe'en) is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of “All Hallows' Day”, which is now also known as All Saints' Day. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”).2
In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnise the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighbouring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast. Martyrs who suffered on the same day were jointly commemorated. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in sermons by St. Ephrem the Syrian (373) and St. John Chrysostom (407). At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honoured by a special day however, other saints were added gradually, and increased in number when a regular process of canonisation was established. Pope Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November. Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration on 1 November to the entire Church. The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself.3
So why bother with the day before the actual feast day? The Biblical day commences on the preceding evening, therefore that evening is the actual beginning of the festive day in the Christian calendar; in a similar manner that we observe the great vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morning and anticipate Christmas Eve (Misa de Gallo) which ushers in Christmas Day. All Saints' Eve precedes All Saints Day.
The Christian understanding of word “saint” is one who is among the elect of God. The Greek does not imply moral purity on the part of the person but rather a “set-apartness”. All Saints' Day is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. James Jordan has this to say:
The concept, as dramatised in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.
What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan's great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.4
Contrary to prevailing concepts regarding the forces of darkness and Halloween, the defeat of evil and demonic powers should be associated with Halloween. There is no gain that could be had from spending time on movies that only lionise a defeated enemy. In keeping with the general theme of mocking the enemy, dressing up children in ghost, goblins and witches costumes just goes to show the confidence in the complete victory of Jesus Christ (Col 2:15) and Satan has no more power to wield that children can mock him.
In the Harry Potter series there is a bad spirit called a boggart – if you encounter one it will take on the form of your greatest fear. The spell that is used to defeat one is “Riddikulus” and is delivered by thinking of something that will make whatever form the boggart assumes hilarious – the more outrageous, the more effective it is. In a like manner Satan will prey upon our fears and use them to discourage us and lead us astray. Though he is like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) seeking whom he may devour according Scripture we are not helpless; rather we are encouraged to resist him and be firm in our faith.
We must remember that “though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.”5
Let us redeem this time. In the context of our society, we cannot escape the fact that we have to live with this annual holiday, But instead of going with the flow or weathering it out by holing up inside your houses, let us instead use the occasion to answer our calling to place everything under the feet of Christ. Culturally speaking we are to redeem
All Saints' Day should be a time of remembrance as well for the church triumphant. <What/who is the church triumphant?>
Example: Alternative, one home school group had an all saints day party. They literally dressed up as saints, good history lesson and exercise in next generational thinking by making our students appreciate our rich heritage and that we are not just upstarts.