Liturgy: The Feasts of Hallowmas

by Jay Chin


The Western Church ends October and begins November with the Hallowmas Triduum, three days in which we remember those who are no longer with us and those either already enjoying the Mystery of God, or well on their way to it.


The Triduum begins on October 31st, the Eve of All Hallows, famously contracted to Halloween. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that the Triduum begins on this day has nothing to do with any pagan celebrations that coincided with it. It is simply the day before All Hallows Day, November 1st. The early Church used to commemorate the Virgin Mary and all martyrs on May 13th, which was the day Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs, formerly known as the Pantheon, around the year 610. About 120 years later, Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to all the saints on November 1st and so he moved the feast to that time. Then, about 100 years later, Pope Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire Western Church. The Eastern Church usually celebrates this feast on the first Sunday after Pentecost, hence the name Sunday of All Saints.

The Mass of the Feast of All Hallows makes use of two readings that present two perspectives on the saints. The first lesson comes from the Book of Revelation, where the angels come forth and take the elect towards the throne of God and to the Lamb, and they prostrate themselves to exclaim blessings and thanksgivings. (In the Novus Ordo, the exact readings are Rv 7:2-4, 9-14; in the Vetus Ordo, Rv 7: 2-12) The Gospel lesson, however, is that of the beatitudes of St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The blessed are those who are spiritually poor, those who seek justice, and those who are reviled. The first lesson teaches us how the saints are now in heaven, joyous with God, while the Gospel lesson teaches us who the saints were on Earth, suffering and actively seeking God.


The Feast of All Souls comes to the Church about 200 years later when the Bishop of Cluny assigned the Benedictines of Cluny to pray for the souls in Purgatory on the day after the Feast of All Hallows. The special intention of this day spread throughout the Church until it became a universal feast. The Eastern Church has many days in which it remembers the faithfully departed, especially during several Saturdays during the Great Lent.


The Novus Ordo Missae conveys a sense of continuity between the Feast of All Saints and that of All Souls through the continued use of white vestments. It keeps the participants’ focus towards Heaven. The first Lesson of the Novus Ordo comes from the Book of Wisdom, chapter 3, still refers to the saints, the justified that are in the hand of God, free from all suffering, partaking in God’s majesty and love. The Psalm is Psalm 23. The images of reposing, of being anointed with oil and walking into darkness evoke the end of this life and the beginning of that to come in good hope of beholding heaven’s light, for one shall fear no evil.


The traditional black vestments of the Vetus Ordo Missae are much more evocative of the grief we feel when our beloved depart and of the sufferings of Purgatory. The first Lesson of the Vetus Ordo comes from 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul tells us of the transformation one goes through in order to rise again, and the pain of sin being conquered through Jesus Christ. The gradual is the famous Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”) where some are sentenced to acrid flames, while others are guided to God’s right hand. Judgment is upon us all and the possibility of being with God is as real as the possibility of eternity without God: Hell.


Yet the two Ordines come together in the Gospel lesson, in John 6, where the meaning of life is given to us: Christ himself, for all that see the Son and believe in Him, will have life everlasting and will rise. And so we continue to pray for those in Purgatory, who endure purifying flames in order to enter heaven, because we believe that they died with faith in Jesus Christ.


Hallowmas celebrates humanity’s relationship with God. God granted each of us the freedom to choose to believe in Him or not, to be sinners or not. And no matter what we choose, we will justly be judged and be granted what we wanted for all eternity, be that God and the Lamb, or to never have anything to do with them.


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