A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

What about Halloween?

For many years,  the custom in this country has been to celebrate Halloween (October 31) by dressing up in different kinds of costumes.  In my youth (many years ago) the dominant costumes were those of  skeletons and witches.  When you stop to think about it, just what was Halloween celebrating–apart from “trick or treat”?

One day it dawned on me.  Halloween means “all hallow’s eve.”  The “hallowed” were the “holy ones,” that is, all saints.  All Saints day was the next day–November 1.  Apparently,  the celebration of  Halloween was an attempt to deal with the question of what happens to the dead.  The imagery of “death” (the underlying focus  of Halloween)  interplayed with the imagery of “life after death”” (the underlying focus of All Saints day).

The church established  November 2 (the day after All Saints day–November 1) as the feast of All Souls day, which was a day of commemoration of all the faithful departed.  So the issue of  “death” and “life after death” was confronted by Halloween (10/31) and All Saints day (11/1) on the one hand, and by All Saints day (11/1) and All Souls day (11/2) on the other.  In fact, on the church calendar the whole month of November is basically dedicated to the remembrance of all the faithful departed.

In the Gospel for the feast of the Commeration of the Faithful Departed (John 6:37-40), we note some specifics for the above discussion.  However, some background is needed.

Above all, John 6 is part of the “Bread of Life” discourse of Jesus.  In fact, John 6 begins with the miracle of the loaves and fish where there is ample discussion about hunger and nourishment.   

In a few verses before today’s Gospel, we note a clear connection between Jesus and nourishment.  Jesus says, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27)  In  addition, Jesus further says, “I am the bread of eternal life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)  In these two statements Jesus provides eternal nourishment to those who believe.

In all probability, we can conclude that two of the important themes in Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, which includes the above Gospel,  are “nourishment” and “eternal. ”  “Nourishment” in the sense that the miracle of the loaves and fish provide context for Jesus to say that he is the bread of eternal life. And that nourishment is possible primarily through the Eucharist and Scripture (given life through both).

“Eternal” is a constant point and it does have connections.  In the final words of the above Gospel (John 6:40) Jesus says, “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Thus, with the promise of the resurrection at the time of death, eternal life will be given to the believers.

During the present life, the believers in Jesus will be nourished  by Scripture and the Ecucharist.  Nourishment  will be effective in this life and in the next.  So, the next time that we go “trick or treat” on Halloween, we can realize that the “celebration” is but a reminder of what can happen to us after death.

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