In Autumn, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer; as the air grows colder and as trees and plants appear to die; there is a feeling of something like a death settling upon the natural world. From ancient times, many peoples and cultures in this season of autumn would ponder things like death, the realm of the dead and other creatures of the “beyond realms,” like ghosts and (often evil) spirits. Thus as Christianity expanded throughout the world and encountered these cultures, the Church decided it would be wise to present the Christian understanding of these things.
In pondering otherworldly “spirits” (especially evil spirits), the Church reminds us of the “good spirits” (what we call “angels”) that battle and fight for us. On September 29th we celebrate the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel (who, as legend has it, was the very angel that cast Lucifer (Satan) and his followers (demons), out of heaven when they rebelled against God. Along with St. Michael, we celebrate the two other significant Archangels, St. Gabriel (the messenger angel who appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation) and St. Raphael (the angel who served as God’s instrument of healing in the book of Tobit).
Shortly after, on October 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, reminding us that each person has an angel assigned to them by God for their protection and defense (especially against spiritual threats).
We also receive help from the spiritual realm from our Blessed Mother Mary, who also offers powerful intercession for us against the spiritual forces of evil. On October 7th we celebrate the Feast of “Our Lady of Victory” (Also the Feast of the Holy Rosary, which is why October is the “Month of the Rosary.”) We also invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary’s prayers, “at the hour of death,” as we say in the “Hail Mary.”
Speaking of death, in this season the Church also holds up for us all those who, through Christ, have achieved victory over death, that is, the Saints. On November 1st we celebrate “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows Day.” Which we begin by celebrating on the night before, “All Hallow’s Eve” or, as shortened in old English to “Hallow E’en, or Halloween.”
Finally, we pray for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2nd). We not only remember our beloved dead, but we also especially pray for those who are undergoing the final process of Purgatory before entering fully into the full joy of heaven (that’s why we offer Masses for those who have died, that the power of Christ’s Sacrifice, that we experience in the Mass, is applied to them in a particular way.
In our cultural celebrations of these Feasts, while there are some things that are fine and not in contradiction with our faith, there are also some things that are more problematic. In weeks to come, I will write/say more about how we, as Catholics can navigate the celebration of these things.