Custom of dressing up for Halloween ‘devotional in spirit,’ says bishop

TULSA, Okla. — Halloween is an opportunity for Catholics “to express in every detail of our observance the beauty and depth of the feast of All Saints,” said Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa.

Children pick out treats during a Halloween carnival in 2014 at Santa Cruz Catholic School in Tucson, Ariz. Halloween is an opportunity for Catholics “to express in every detail of our observance the beauty and depth of the feast of All Saints,” says Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Okla. Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day, Nov. 1. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

It is important to maintain “the Catholic meaning and purpose of all holy days, especially those which have been adopted and adapted by the culture around us,” he said in a recent memo posted on the diocesan website, https://dioceseoftulsa.org.

Also known as All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween is the eve of All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, which is a holy day of obligation for Catholics. All Souls’ Day is Nov. 2. The word “hallows” means “holy ones” or “saints,” noted the bishop.

“The custom of dressing up for Halloween is devotional in spirit,” he added. “By dressing up as the saints whom we most admire, we imagine ourselves following their example of Christian discipleship.”

“This practice,” he continued, “allows the lay faithful in festive celebration to become ‘living icons’ of the saints, who are themselves ‘icons’ or ‘windows’ offering real-life examples of the imitation of Christ. In dressing up as saints we make Christian discipleship our own in a special way, following the exhortation of St. Paul, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor 11:1).”

Even Halloween’s appeal to the “frightful” has “a devotional meaning in the Catholic tradition,” Bishop Konderla said. “Props such as skulls and scythes have historically recalled our mortality, reminding us to be holy because we are destined for judgment (Heb 9:27, Rev. 14:15). Visible symbols of death thus represent a reminder of the last things — death, judgment, heaven and hell.”

The “Gothic” aspect of the day is even a reminder of Christian teaching “about the resurrection of the dead,” he said, but secular culture “often represents this in a distorted manner. … Separated from Catholic teaching, grim or ghoulish or ‘Gothic’ costumes can furthermore be mistaken as a celebration or veneration of evil or of death itself, contradicting the full and authentic meaning of Halloween.”

The bishop also advised Catholics to “intentionally avoid” Halloween images contrary to the faith that have become popular in the secular adaptation of the celebration.

“Turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we want to refrain from glamourizing or celebrating anything involving superstition, witches, witchcraft, sorcery, divinations, magic, and the occult. … We want to be good models of Christian virtue for those we serve and make clear distinctions between that which is good and that which is evil,” he said.

He urged all Catholics “to express in every detail of our observance the beauty and depth of the feast of All Saints” this Halloween.

“Let us make this year’s celebration an act of true devotion to God, whose saints give us hope that we too may one day enter into the kingdom prepared for God’s holy ones from the beginning of time,” he added.