The Roman Catholic church’s yearly liturgical calendar is full of solemnities, feast days, and memorials. If you don’t know the difference between the three categories, you need to consult the Catholic encyclopedia. Anyway, yesterday Catholicism celebrated All Saints Day (a solemnity) and today it marks All Souls Day (a feast day). In brief, on All Saints Day, Catholics pay homage to ALL the “saints” who allegedly merited Heaven by living holy lives. Catholics celebrate the feast days of certain very popular saints throughout the year and All Saints Day gives them a chance to honor all the lower-profile, “bench-warmer” saints who don’t merit individual feast days on the official church calendar.
Today, All Souls Day, Catholics pray for the souls of the deceased who are allegedly in purgatory. Catholicism teaches purgatory is a way station for those souls who need to be cleansed of venial sins or for the remaining temporal punishment for forgiven mortal sins before they can enter Heaven. Catholics arrange for masses to be offered up as indulgences to shorten the time a deceased loved one must endure purgatory. Various other indulgences can also be applied. Many souls do not have family or friends assisting them out of purgatory, so the indulgences from the masses and prayers on All Souls Day are applied to the forgotten suffering souls in purgatory.
Of course, none of the above is Scriptural. The Bible says everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone is a saint. The Bible speaks of no intermediate cleansing station like purgatory. The doctrine of purgatory denies the ability of Christ to cleanse those who trust in Him as Savior from all sin.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7
In the Gospel of Luke 23:39-43, Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that He would bring him into Paradise that very day. There is no purgatory for those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone.
Most American Catholics have no clue about the meaning of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Yesterday, All Saints Day, was a holy day of obligation, meaning all Catholics were required to attend mass under pain of mortal sin and eternal damnation, but of course, the VAST majority didn’t bother. They can’t make it to mass on Sunday let alone during the week.
Catholics in America are generally very casual about All Saints-All Souls but that’s not the case in some countries. In Poland, the land of my paternal ancestors, they celebrate/reverence All Saints and All Souls Days with a devotion that would shock American Catholics. During “Zaduszki” (the day of prayer for dead souls), the entire country shuts down and millions visit the graves of family members to pray and leave behind flowers and lighted candles. A great amount of superstition and pagan-(c)hristian syncretism marks these two “holy days.” The dead spirits are believed to visit their old homes and warm themselves while enjoying the commemorative meal left for them. A bench is provided close to the hearth with a dish of water, a comb, and a towel so that the dead souls can wash themselves and comb their hair. Household activities are restricted so as not to interfere with the movements of the dead spirits. Bread is brought to the cemeteries along with the flowers and candles for the deceased to enjoy.
For more on the customs of Zaduszki, see here. The citizens of predominantly Catholic countries are notorious for mixing overtly pagan practices with their (c)hristian religion.
What does the Bible say about Purgatory?