Note: This is the second essay of a series on the Hallowtide Trivium (Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day). The first essay can be read here.)
The Catholic Church, from the earliest times, has always sought to venerate the feast days of martyrs, and in 609 or 610 Pope Boniface IV consecrated the old Roman Pantheon over to the Virgin Mary and all the Church's martyrs. Later, as a more regularized process for canonizing saints developed, the Church began to recognize the feast days of all of its saints.
Thus, in the 8th century Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome to all the saints and fixed the feast day to November 1st. Later, Pope Gregory IV made the November 1st obligatory for the entire western church in 838 A.D.
The day is set aside to venerate those who have lived out their faith in Christ and have finished the “race” that we are all on, and are now with God. The fact that the solemnity is a holy day of obligation is meant to highlight how important their witness to the faith is not only to the lives of the faithful, but also the life of the Church as it sojourns through this world.
For Christ's overcoming of death had far more significance that merely offering us a means and way for our souls to escape sin and death. Our Blessed Lord's death and resurrection was also a radical reordering of the chaos and evil that was brought into the world through Adam and Eve's original sin.
The Tearing of the Veil
In his book Christ and the Powers, Hendrik Berkhoff writes that the “Principalities” and “Powers” of which St. Paul spoke of in his letter to the Colossians, were not originally evil in and of themselves. They were created to act as part of the invisible framework in God's creation, as links between “God's love and visible human experience” and “serving as aids to bind men fast to his fellowship; intermediaries, not as barriers but as bonds between God and man.” In other words, God used them as intermediaries to keep order in creation and to continually renew it through his love and power. It was through these invisible entities that God's power was in part made manifest to mankind.
Because of the Fall though “not only men have turned away from God, but the invisible side of the cosmos functions in a diametric opposition to its divinely fixed purpose.” Thus, instead of binding men and God, the Powers and Principalities “stood as a roadblock between man and his creator” and have “become gods (Gal 4:8), behaving as though they were the ultimate ground of being, and demanding from men an appropriate worship.”
Even though these entities turned from God's service, they did not lose their innate powers, and were able to manifest a cheap mimicry of God's glory for their own purposes. It was this state of affairs that was the source of all the idolatry that mankind fell into as mentioned in Wisdom (13:1) and later in Romans (1:18-22). As St. Paul wrote, “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God.” (1 Cor 10:20)
However, it was through the death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord that he “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15). Just as the Temple veil was torn in two at his death, through his resurrection Christ pulled back the curtain of creation and laid bare the divine pretensions of all the Powers and Principalities who had been passing themselves off as gods for so many ages.
This is an important point when it comes to the observance of All Hallows Eve (Halloween) and the rest of the Hallowtide triduum. Setting aside all of the false pagan or occult allusions that have been attributed to Halloween, the fact remains that a lot of occult baggage has needlessly been attached to all three of these feast days.
Despite their true natures being revealed, the spiritual battle against “the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12), continues to this day. Certainly, in the form of the modern worshipers of ancient gods such as Mamom, Gaia, and Moloch who, like diabolical rock stars, continue to draw huge crowds under their sway. More specifically though are the numerous New Age, Wiccan, or Neo-Pagan practitioners who like to claim (or reclaim it from their point of view) any of the Hallowtide feast days for themselves.
These adherents may hold some power in the here and now, but ultimately they do so only by Christ's forbearance. For we are living in the “last days” after the resurrection where the man (or demon) behind the curtain is still monkeying with the levers of creation even though his presence has been revealed. If mankind was “without excuse” in seeing the truth about God before the coming of Christ, it goes doubly so after his resurrection.
It's not just that the times have changed, the whole nature of the universe has; so that trying to really go back and worship some past pagan pantheon is like trying to go back to believing in a geocentric universe or that there are really monsters under your bed. It's just not possible. By his resurrection Christ has reoriented creation so as to cut off any possibility of having an excuse to engage in idolatry.
This is why All Saints Day is so important. Unlike the pagan-wannabes who are basically LARPing their way through the spiritual life and trying to make Halloween and the rest of the Hallowtide feast days into something they never were, the Saints in heaven are a visible sign and witness to the truth of the faith. There are the “great cloud of witnesses” that have thrown “off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and have ran the “with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb 12:1).
They are the ones who have seen how the light of Christ has illuminated the darkness of the world, and acted according to the truth that he has revealed. This is why on this day we pray, sing, chant, and (hopefully) process throughout a Church filled with light and beauty. We do so in order to venerate the hallowed trail blazers and the spiritual map makers who have cooperated with God and left a trail for us to follow.
Lastly, it is a day for us to imitate those saints and reject the lies of the world and the evil one, to take up our own cross and to shout heavenward, “Hey, wait for me! I'm coming with.”