On this All Hallows Eve's Eve (that's right), we're putting our Fun-Size Snickers down long enough to learn something pretty profound about Halloween — that it has deep roots in Catholicism. We fired some questions at the walking encyclopedia that is Father Steve Grunow, and this is what he fired back: Everything you ever wanted to know about Catholicism and Halloween, and more.
I always figured that Halloween had pagan roots, but you are telling me they are Catholic. Huh? How so?
The origin and traditional customs associated with Halloween require no other explanation than that they are examples of the kinds of festivity that served as a means of celebrating the various holy days of the Catholic Liturgical Year. This includes everything from masquerades, feasting, and the associations of a given day of the year with supernatural or spiritual truths.
I would draw a distinction between the violent, macabre imagery that characterizes the modern appropriation of Halloween as a kind of secular celebration and the more traditional customs that are characteristic of a Catholic cultural ethos. The descent of Halloween into the madness of an annual fright fest is a relatively recent development, but the true substance of Halloween belongs to the Church. Halloween (or “All Hallows Eve”) is the festive precursor to the celebration of the Church’s public commemoration of All Saints Day.
There has been an appropriation of the festivities of Halloween by modern pagans, but please understand that modern paganism is precisely modern and should be distinguished from the cults of ancient religions. The origins and practices of the modern paganism do not extend farther back than the late nineteenth century. Also, remember, the term “pagan” is a slippery one. What does it mean? The worship of the gods and goddesses from long ago? Those cults have long since passed away with the cultural matrix that once supported the world views that were the conditions for their possibility. You can’t just re-invent those cults without the culture that supported them...