All Hallows Eve

November 25, 2009 at 10:07 pm (Pilgrimage)

Happy Hallows

Halloween is derived from ‘All-Hallows-Even’, meaning the All Holy Eve, found in the Prayer Book. The Latin term for “Holy”, aka, ‘Sanctus’, comes the word ‘saint’, i.e., “All Saints Eve”.  Halloween is a vigil for the dearly departed. The 1928 prayer book offers a prayer during the burial of the dead, “O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered; Accept our prayers on behalf of the soul of thy servant departed, and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (p. 334).

Scary Purgatory


In the West, ‘All Saints’, aka. Hallows-Mass, or Hallowmas, began in the eighth century as a festival to commemorate ‘Saints, Martyrs, Confessors, and the Just made perfect’. All Saints grew in popularity and status, and by 835 AD the Frankish King, Louis the Pious, made its occasion obligatory for Christians.. By the 15th century, Pope Sixtus IV, affirmed its solemnity with an octave, ranking Hallows Day up with Easter, Whitsun, and Christmas. But in the eleventh century, Odilo of Cluny, added a second day– All Souls. Instead, All Souls recollected ordinary Christians caught in purgatory. Purgatory’s reputation as a residence of devils, torturing men until their satisfaction for sins were paid, made Hallows Eve a scary if not somber occasion. The story of St. Odilo details a harrowing visit from purgatory, not unlike our many ghostly and goulish tales more common to Halloween:

According to Jesse Voyles in his Life of St Odilo, a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land was cast by a storm on a desolate island. A hermit living there told him that amid the rocks was a chasm communicating with purgatory, from which perpetually rose the groans of tortured souls. The hermit also claimed he had heard the demons complaining of the efficacy of the prayers of the faithful, and especially the monks of Cluny, in rescuing their victims. Upon returning home, the pilgrim hastened to inform the abbot of Cluny, who then set 2 November as a day of intercession on the part of his community for all the souls in purgatory.

Anglicana’s All-Saints:



In the English Reformation, the dreary idea of purgatory as a place of torture or limbo was ‘exorcised’, and Souls Day was folded into Hallowmas. Thus, for English people, Nov. 1st became a commemoration for the entire Church, both great saints and ordinary souls. In Germany, All Saints particularly pointed to Martin Luther’s posting of 95 Theses, marking the beginning of the Reformation.  In England, Luther’s writings arrived at an early date, appearing in 1519. Not only did the Elizabethan period preserve All Saints, but it also published Fox’s Book of Martyrs. What a better time to dust off a picture of Cranmer? Anyway, the Anglican emphasis turned away from purgatory toward the communion of saints, our union with them and the heavenlies, the examples of their lives, and life everlasting as demonstrated by Christ’s Resurrection.  The Collect for Nov. 1st says:

“O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion on fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee: through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Souling and Alms:

In places like Brittany, Hallowmas remains the occasion for visiting cemeteries, decorating the graves of loved ones while pouring holy water or even milk libations upon tombstones.

2 cp flour, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup milk, 8 tbsp butter, 1/2 cp sugar, 2 egg yolks, 1/2 cup currants

The custom of Souling, from which ‘Trick-or-Treating’ or ‘guising’ derives, also comes from Britain, where children or the poor went  door-to-door begging for ‘soul cakes’ (scones filled with cinnamon spices, topped with fruits in the sign of a cross) or apples in exchange for giving a prayer to the dead, singing or caroling this:

Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, one for Paul, & three for Him who made us all

a gord size sugar pumpkin

Souling practices like candle lanterns carved from turnips– lit to guide lost spirits from purgatory while warding off devils– later turned into jack-o’-lanterns, especially when Irish came to America. Here, pumpkins were abundant (and much larger!), making carving easy. My sugar pumpkins are much more like Ireland’s turnips. Meanwhile, in New England, Victorians continued ‘souling’, Hallowe’en being considered a time to study old traditions and drink plenty of Scotch, taking note from Robert Burn’s poem, Hallowe’en:

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.                                                                                               –other stanzas read here

Some Upbeat Thoughts:

Halloween can be a very God-centered holiday. It becomes ‘ugly’ if we dwell on the fearsome half of it (death, separation, enmity). It gives opportunity to weigh our struggles with temptation and the devil.  During this time, men should look back to the resurrection Christ, knowing all those who’ve held to the promises of Christ remain with Him and are not cast down. But our Hallowmas should not end with ghouls and goblins or other unsavory demons. Do not forget the psalms and revelations which speak of the church militant and heavenly host. Halloween is also a time of spiritual strengthening, to give to the poor, be charitable, and cook lots soul cakes. Even today, many poor children come to our neighborhood for snacks and luncheon candy. In the midst of the fun, why not revive a little ‘souling’—singing the carols of saints and the dearly departed from the 1940 Hymnal? Tie written prayers for the whole church (abbreviated ones) to candy and cakes. Nor neglect evening prayer and the litany. The Anglican Missal gives the reading of Christ’s casting of demons (Lk. 6:1`7), along with the Introit, “The Saints shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people”. This is what we should look forward to.

Upon Hallowmas, after we may partake in morning communion, we might organize our lessons and thoughts upon the divines, martyrs, and saints of the Church; visit relatives; and decorate the graves of family, etc. It is a time to think about family, retell genealogy, reflect upon the baptized, and those died in Christ, both in heaven and earth. Hallowmas is a celebration of Christ’s Tabernacle, “that he is in us, and we in him”. Perhaps Mass should be done a little higher, paying special attention to the following petition:

“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed in this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom”

Ending Hallow's Eve

This Hallowmas we had a bit of a hangover from Scotch-whiskey while our parish service skipped the incense. Until this year, I did not know how ‘high’ All Saints was as a festival (octave and vigil), even with respect to the Anglican kalendar. The Anglican reformation perhaps made Hallowe’en less fearful and more comfortable, emphasizing our communion with saints on earth and in heaven, through solemn prayer and seal of the Promise. There was a time when family and kith were all buried together in the same parish graveyards. We should return to those remaining ‘mini-shrines’, reversing as much as possible the fragmentation of locality and family, visiting who we can and keeping all in prayer. Even holiday cards? The tombstones of old churches remain a testimony to the Promise given by God to ‘thy seed, and their seed’, generation after generation; from the fathers and princes of Israe to their households and children. This is indeed a time of ‘ingathering’– a memorial to the christian community’, last harvest, a final great feast before the end of Trinity, and “collects” par excellence as we approach Advent, Christmas, and then the last winter fast which culminates in Lent!  It is truly one of our greatest feasts. Amanda, my family, and I look forward to it next year.

Read more about the Hallow’s Octave starting with her Vigil at Homely Divinity.


1 Comment

  1. Mark said,

    When visiting my friend Trina in Maui, we often take a drive on the roaming Hana highway, which wends its way high into the foothills. On the way, we will stop for a picnic lunch and explore the little parish churches that dot the road. These churches, most of which date to the late 19-century, invariably have an attached parish cemetery. There is something about this arrangement that seems, well, meet and right. Having the mortal remains of the departed faith in repose on church grounds, with their memorials engraven in stone, solidifies the unity and solidarity of the baptized; it testifies to that scriptural blurring of the Church triumphant and Militant, in the ” cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us.

    All your suggestions for the keeping this feast are spot on. Reviving the tradition of serving soul cakes is especially commendable, because the use of such kindly fruits of the earth, as wheat flour, peaches, etc., keeps the celebration rooted in the rhythms of seed time and harvest.

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