The theses challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church on the nature of penance, the authority of the pope and the usefulness of indulgences.
Oct. 31, the date that Lutherans observe as Reformation Day, is also the eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows Day), commonly known in today’s culture as Halloween.
Naturally, Luther was concerned with debating his theses, not marking the pagan Celtic festival of the dead, which was also their new year.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory II moved the date of All Saints Day to Nov. 1, thus offering a substitute of the popular celebration of the Celtic new year.
The pagan festival embodied the belief that the dead rose to mingle with the living on that date, and any ghosts who visited the houses were greeted with tables loaded with food.
After feasting, villagers would don costumes representing the souls of the dead and parade to the outskirts of town.
Historically, Christians observed All Hallows Day to honor all saints in heaven. At the time of Luther it was one of the most solemn observances of the church year.
Among other reasons, Luther chose this day to post his theses because more people than usual would be attending worship services.
Today, Halloween, with its decidedly pagan flavor, is now one of the busiest commercial holidays, second in sales in the U.S. to Christmas.
According to the National Retail Federation, the average person will spend $66 on Halloween with the total holiday spending reaching close to $6 billion.
How can ELCA congregations and members celebrate Halloween and at the same time commemorate Reformation Day?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Host an impromptu Reformation party. Give both children and adults the option of wearing costumes. Serve apple cider and offer snacks. Perhaps offer a puppet show depicting stories from the Bible.
- Read the 95 theses as a group or individually. If your congregation or pastor does not have a copy, download one from the Internet.
- Read Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, which you can find in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship,” beginning on page 1160.
- Watch “Lutheran Basics,” a 10-video set produced by Mosaic Television. You can download segments of “Lutheran Basics” to your computer. It contains such videos as “Opening the Door to Luther: A Video Journey through Lutherland with Rick Steves”; “Morning Star of Wittenberg: The Life of Katie Luther” and “Glory to God Alone: The Life of J.S. Bach.”