Unbroken The celebration of Halloween stretches back into the mists of Celtic history, back to an era when November 1 was New Year’s Day. In those ancient days, Halloween was a farewell celebration of the year that was dying as well as an anticipatory festival of the year that was about to dawn. For the Celts, such revelry was an occasion for people to come together from mountaintop and valley, from places far and near, from this world and the next! Since they believed that the web of life encompassed not only this world and its peoples, but also the next world and its inhabitants, the joy of those on earth was enhanced by the attendance of loved ones from the other world in the celebration of this annual festival.
It is no surprise, therefore, that when the Celtic people of Ireland became Christian around the fifth century, the belief in the “communion of saints” resonated deeply with their traditional conviction regarding the bond of love that exists between the living and the deceased. Over the succeeding centuries, through the lens of their Christian faith, they continued to cherish that bond during Halloween and Celtic New Year festivities until those celebrations came to be recognized as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the universal Church.
Today, in our Catholic tradition we remember in a special way all the deceased not only during those early days of November, but also throughout the entire month. We recall with gratitude the many ways in which we have been blessed by God through those who have gone on ahead of us to the next life; we renew our confidence in their ability to intercede before God for us as we continue our pilgrim path on earth; and we pray that all of us will be led into full communion with one another and with God one day.
St. Ambrose eloquently expresses our belief in the communion of the saints: “Those who have died in grace have gone no further from us than God, and God is very near.” Frequently, the death of a loved one can sharpen our awareness of this mysterious bond. Soon after the death of my father, one of my sisters and her three-year-old daughter returned to their car laden with bags after having completed the weekly shopping, only to realize that the key was nowhere to be found. In desperation, my sister paused and said to her daughter, “Let’s pray to St. Anthony.” To her surprise, her little daughter – who had been very fond of her recently deceased grandfather – responded immediately, “No, let’s ask granddad.”
This small child realized in a mysterious way – not unlike the intuition of her ancient Celtic ancestors during their celebration of Halloween – that the precious bond of love between her and her granddad had not been broken by death, but rather that they remain united with one another in the communion of the saints.