All Saints' / Souls' Days question

Prompted by a recent thread on MPSIMS: I’d be interested in being enlightened by Straight Dope participants who are Catholic, or well-versed in Catholic matters (I’m not Catholic, and have little or no clue about a lot of such matters). Topic – as per title – All Saints’, and All Souls’, Days. I was so out-of-touch with all this, that I had not even realised that they were two separate, successive days – Nov. 1st and 2nd: I’d thought them alternative names for just one-and-the-same single day, that after Hallowe’en night. The thread has informed me otherwise: however (and for this, I’m sure that blame belongs to me for fundamental ignorance / being not too bright over attempted explanations) – posts on the thread, and my logging-on to a catholic site which tried to cover the matter, have left me confused about the roles of the two different days.

Pardon asked, for my putting things hence rather crudely – and seeing things, in what I envisage as decidedly-conservative Catholic terms (the notions about this particular stuff dating many centuries back, after all). As per my present understanding, or failure to understand: Hallowe’en (evening and night of October 31st, the eve of All Saints’ Day) is when “all and any” souls briefly revisit Earth – including the (still wicked) souls of the deceased wicked; and maybe assorted never-human evil spirits, demons, etc. Care should thus be taken on this night, by the faithful.

People now seem to be trying to inform me that All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1st) is the day on which souls in Purgatory should be concentrated on, and prayed for that they may in time be released into Heaven. Whereas All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2nd) is for commemoration of the faithfully departed, when God’s mercy is asked, for all souls of the – presumably, Catholic – deceased. Also, the day for “Day Of The Dead” doings, if such is part of one’s culture: visiting the cemetery to say “hi” to one’s own dear departed.

Maybe I’m thoroughly misunderstanding the info concerning the 1st and 2nd; but I’m puzzled as to how there’s a difference or distinction. Unless I have things very wrongly – as of the present time there aren’t many human souls in Heaven: only the especially and outstandingly virtuous (those, were what I’d thought Catholicism meant by the word “saints”) – the great majority of those souls which have not been dispatched to Hell, are serving their many centuries in Purgatory: these, it seems, are specially prayed for on the 1st. On the 2nd – “commemoration of the faithfully departed” and asking for mercy for all souls. I presume that in the highly-traditional view of the matter, everyone who at their death is anything other than a Catholic, goes to Hell for all eternity (with maybe an infinitesimally few special-case exceptions): so, no hope for them and no point in praying for them. Only Catholics can even get to Purgatory, with heaven at the end of their – however long – sentence.

So: how does what Catholics here on Earth are doing on the 1st, differ from what they’re doing on the 2nd? It could be that readers here, will find this a supremely foolish question; but I’d be grateful if someone would indulge me, and set me straight re this whole business of the two days.

All Saints Day on November 1 is a day dedicated to honoring all of the “unknown” saints who are in heaven.

There are many named saints in the Catholic Church (St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, St. Benedict, etc) who the church has officially canonized. Being canonized a Saint is just the Church recognizing that that individual is in heaven.

The Church also recognizes that there are untold millions of people in heaven that the church hasn’t officially canonized. All Saints Day is a day to honor them.

All Souls Day on November 2nd is a day set aside to pray for the souls that are still in purgatory and awaiting entrance into heaven. Obviously, souls who are already in heaven do not need prayer, and souls in hell cannot be helped, so it only makes sense to pray for those in purgatory.

The bit about “any and all souls briefly revisiting the Earth” isn’t a part of Catholicism.

For the actual Catholic stuff, what EscAlaMike said.

The only addendum is that ‘Saints’ simply refers to anyone in Heaven. When we talk about St. Joseph or Ste. Catherine, what we’re talking about are people that the Church officially recognizes as being in Heaven. That’s why they require the two miracles or martyrdom. If you don’t have those, then the jury is still out. So the term saints most likely refers to many, many, many more people than the 10 thousandish people (The number seems high because of bulk canonization of mass religious genocide victims like the 800 people killed in Otranto for refusing to convert to Islam) officially acknowledged by the Church.

Thanks, all. You’ve made it a great deal clearer to me, than the official Catholic site which I consulted, did !

That was suggested by someone on the MPSIMS thread – so, right, they would seem to have got things cockeyed.

Purgatory is somewhat deprecated in modern Catholic doctrine in that it still exists but it sorta got a bad taint with all those indulgences, and the idea that we can pray people out of it and into heaven. As a fairly recent convert (25 years ago), it hardly came up as a concept. Modern doctrine tends to emphasize that other people’s faith, and their status at death and beyond, is known to God alone. But of course prayers never come amiss.

All Saints: honoring all the saints known and unknown.
All Souls: honoring everybody who has died.

That is pretty much it. The entire month of November is dedicated to the remembrance of the dead. When I was in charge of the liturgical environment for my parish I had a shrine set up near the tabernacle (i.e. where the blessed Host is kept, at which people often pray privately), where you could write the names of your own dead on small river cobbles and set them in place. It was very popular. Some people would write the names of their deceased pets, even. At the end of November I would haul them to the river and let them go back to the water.

In the two major languages of the parish, Spanish and English (we also spoke Portuguese, Italian, and Tagalog but my ambition did not reach so far), I had one of the standard Catholic prayers for the repose of the souls of the dad posted there:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls
of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Note that it’s not just Catholicism that has these two days. They’re also on the Anglican calendar.
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I was aware that Catholicism nowadays “soft-pedals” Purgatory – was, as mentioned in my OP, looking at (my idea of) a possibly “caricature” very old-fashioned image of Catholic ideas; with the – rather bound-up with folklore – whole “All Saints’ / All Souls’ Day” thing, seeming to me to tie in with a strong awareness of, and taking-very-literally of, Purgatory.

To be honest, if I were to become a Christian, I would not become one of the Catholic sort (just a matter of what is and isn’t right for me – no pontificating about what is and isn’t right for other folks): I just find a good deal about Catholicism, interesting for its own sake. In a whimsical sort of way, I rather like the idea of Purgatory, and its particular take on the possibility of setting things right, and salvation, for even highly-“unsatisfactory” sorts of folk.

Northern Piper – I think I was kind-of aware that All Saints’ and All Souls’ feature on the Anglican calendar. However – with the Anglican Church spanning a wide range of essentially Protestant Christianity from, as it were, far-right to far-left; all Anglican circles I’ve had first-hand dealings with have been very definitely on the Church’s evangelical wing, thus inclined to very much play down anything smacking of “Papistical flummery and mummery”.

In Catholic theology, anyone who gets to purgatory has already had things “set right”, as you say. They are just proverbially wiping their muddy boots on the doormat prior to entering heaven.

Pretty much all that the Catholic church teaches about Purgatory nowadays is that it exists, Heaven is far preferable to it, and it’s worthwhile to pray for those who are in Purgatory (specifically, to pray that they go from Purgatory to Heaven).

The traditional conception is of a place of extreme torment, where the dead must suffer until they’ve been cleansed of their Earthly sin, until after some amount of time (presumably dependent on the amount of sin and the amount of suffering in this life) after which they’re admitted to Heaven. You’ll sometimes hear an old Catholic (especially a parent), after going through some ordeal on behalf of a loved one, comment that they’ve just spared themselves a few years in Purgatory. The modern church doesn’t actually contradict this traditional view, but neither do they actually promote it, either.

Here’s the passage on Purgatory from the current, official Catechism of the Catholic Church

*III. The Final Purification, or Purgatory

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.604 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. the tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:605

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.606

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."607 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.608 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.609*

Really? Where do you live? Here in the states, Episcopalians (the largest Anglican Community body in the US) are probably the most left denomination in the country. They are pretty much the exact opposite of Evangelicals in nearly every way. Their liturgy is completely smells and bells and their politics generally trend so far left that they make Kamala Harris look like a jack-booted Nazi.

To attempt to clarify: I’m in the UK (lifelong citizen / resident) – I do gather that the Protestant-Christian “map” is considerably different here, vis-a-vis the US.

My reference to “right” and “left” seems to be the opposite of how you construe same: my meaning was “right” = toward Catholic end of the spectrum, “left” = toward plain-Protestant / evangelical end ditto (this makes sense over here, in terms of British history – our Civil War in the 17th century, inter alia). The Church of England in my part of the world, pronounces itself to be a “broad church” – on one extreme end, has the “Anglo-Catholic” thing, which I know little about, except that it’s the church’s closest approach to actual Catholicism without in fact embracing same; on the other extreme ditto, hyper-evangelicalism nudging on Puritanism and / or Pentecostal stuff; and “all-sorts-of-all-sorts” in the middle.

It is, I think, more divided between “traditionalist” and “modern / progressive” theology – not necessarily corresponding to the “almost-Catholic / almost-opposite-whatever” extremes – than between matters of secular political attitudes. The thing which in recent times seems to have caused heated tempers and possibility of the Church splitting, more than anything else, has been the controversy over ordination of female clergy. I suspect that the C of E overall, is ruefully aware that the very great majority of English folk anyway (our Celtic neighbour nations have a stronger religious streak) have not the slightest interest in religion: and that C of E adherents of any kind are a definite minority – makes sense for them to sink differences and get together, rather than fall out.

I hope the above is anyhow, vaguely sense-making. Am not an impassioned follower of this stuff – just interested on-and-off – I fear that Kamala Harris is totally unknown to me.

I always understood that All Saints/All Souls days were placed where they were out of a sort of syncretic desire to offset/co-opt Samhain, just like why Christmas and Easter are where they are in the calendar.

Makes sense; if you’re trying to compete with a pagan festival where the boundary between our world and the Otherworld gets porous and the spirits of the dead come to visit, then it makes sense to make your corresponding religious rites center on those same dead- be they saints, and clearly already in Heaven, or souls, and needing prayers while in purgatory.

And FWIW, the Episcopal Church seems to be where the Catholic Church would be, if it didn’t have 2000 years of tradition weighing on everything they do. Beyond that, the church services are very similar overall to Catholicism- more so than any other church I’ve attended, which include Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic and Evangelical.

Growing up in the 60’s, I don’t recall there was a great concentration on the minutiae of things like purgatory (or “limbo”) except to answer the incessant questions of 8-yea-olds nitpicking every detail of what they were told. IIRC the general panalopy of saints were established by legend well before things became seriously organized - people like St. Christopher may have been apocryphal, and St. Michael? WTF? The calendar was allocated for feast days for most prominent saints (as were their causes… St. Jude, for example, or St. Christopher again.). Even before the church formalized things and began creating more saints out of contemporaries and those from recent history, plus all those extra saints from assorted regions, there was a recognition of calendar overload; so the All Saints Day was designated as the catch-all.

From what I recall, Halloween became the last chance for the evil spirits and souls of the condemned to whoop it up before some serious holy time put a damper on things for a few days. Hence, also a good time for witches to have on last consultation with the dark forces before the mass of enlightened saints gracing the world with their presence made such consorting difficult… A lot of this sort of thing was folklore and apocryphal also, not specific church doctrine, so varies from place to place.

In the US, since denominations are pretty free-moving, they take on different flavors. The three main divisions of Protestantism are Mainline, Evangelical and Historically Black. Historically Black are their own thing and even they can fall generally within the Mainline, Evangelical umbrella, so you basically get an Evangelical-Mainline split.

Evangelicals are broadly defined (though this doesn’t apply to all Evangelicals, but it’s pretty common) as groups which place strong emphasis on Biblical literalism and personal salvation. They believe that getting into heaven requires a personal commitment to God that generally manifests itself in a single moment. This moment is frequently called ‘being born again’ or ‘being saved.’ It generally consists of a prayer of contrition and an emotional and sincere commitment to living a Christian life.

Mainlines place more emphasis on means of grace and salvation as a process (though they might not even use the word ‘salvation’-they might say ‘spiritual journey’ or something similar.) They would be more likely to consider baptism the first step of receiving grace from God. They are generally not Biblical literalists and see the Bible more as a guide book.

From these basic differences, the two groups have developed very specific behaviors. Since Evangelicals see salvation as a single moment of choice, they also tend to see losing salvation as something that can happen in a moment. One day you’re a saint and the next day, you’re a homeless, meth addict destined for Hell. This promotes an atmosphere of constant vigilance about their lives and the lives of others in their church communities. Missteps are seen as slippery slopes towards hellfire and damnation. This promotes an extremely rigid belief system with little flexibility. Their belief in Biblical literalism also tends to cement these very rigid moral frameworks. Since Mainlines see salvation more as process, they don’t have those same fears. If say, I were to cheat on my wife. An Evangelical would see this as a horrible thing that required immediate repentance and commitment to turn my life around. They would likely shun me until I admitted I was a screw up for fear that simply being around me would normalize that behavior in their mind and drag them down with me. A Mainline would say, “That’s not nice, but those things happen. Have you considered marriage counseling?”

Politically speaking, what happens is that Evangelicals tend to be very socially conservative. They take very rigid firm lines on moral behavior and feel it’s their duty to prevent people from making these moral missteps through whatever means possible in order to bring about their moral salvation. So they take an issue like abortion and say ‘Abortion is a moral wrong. We must stop these people from going down a path of eternal damnation.’ or homosexuality and say ‘These people need to cease their sinning ways and we need to save them from themselves.’ Mainlines are more likely to say ‘Abortion is a symptom of a far-larger problem. We need to address what makes people need abortions so they don’t feel pressured to have them. A person having an abortion is already having a tough time, why pile on?’ or ‘Homosexuality is just a part of their being. If they love each other and don’t hurt others, why does God care?’ Because of that attitude, mainlines tend to be socially liberal.

(To be fair, there’s also some eschatology --study of the end times-- that has historically gone into these attitudes as well. Without getting too deep into it, Evangelicals tend to believe that Christ is going to come down from Heaven and start throwing people into Hell. Mainlines tend to believe that we’re currently in the reign of Christ and need to make the world a better place so that Christ is happy with the entire world and not just a select few who go to church weekly. So Evangelicals tend to see say a thief as someone who has fallen and God’s gonna give him some comeuppance and we best make sure we don’t fall too, so ship him off to prison, while Mainlines would say, ‘Crap, that is a blemish on God’s world and we need to mold ourselves into a society that takes care of that guy so he doesn’t feel the need to steal.’)

Anyway, all of this is to say, that Episcopalians in the United States are very mainline and tend to fall very left both theologically and politically (where left theologically generally refers not to Catholic vs Protestant, but rather Fundamentalism vs Modernism. Modernists tend to believe the Bible is not literally true, they lean towards universalism (everyone goes to heaven), they tend to not believe in Hell, they tend to deemphasize personal sin and emphasize social justice.)

As an aside, Kamala Harris is the junior Senator from California. She usually ranks within the top three or four farthest left Senators on most metrics and frequently comes in first. The comment was only to say that Episcopalians as a whole come in on the very far left politically.

The Episcopalian church in the US does have a liberal flavor but it is not the most liberal church (I’d say that would be the Unitarian Universalists, of which it is quipped that they believe that “there is at least one god” – which may be stretching it).

The Church of England is not a Protestant church as Americans think of them, and was never intended to be. In fact it is a bit hard to pin down exactly what they are, and they appear to like it that way. They use the Catholic lectionary (the readings for services which are on a two year cycle for weekdays and a three year cycle for Sundays), and much of the Catholic liturgy, as well as customs and terms derived from when England was a Catholic country (16th century). But I take it that that there is a great deal more freedom for parishes to create pronounced differences of tone than the rigidly dictated structure of a Catholic Mass – hence the High Church (following Catholic services the most), Broad Church, and Low Church (following Protestant services the most).

My daughter and her spouse have become Episcopalians and my husband & I go to Mass there at times. Not hard for a Catholic to adapt to.

It’s unclear if you’re stating Purgatory and Limbo are the same thing, or just that they come up in the same context… For clarity’s sake (for people reading this, if not you), they are not the same thing.

Purgatory is, as has already been mentioned, a place of purification, before moving onto Heaven.

Limbo is…rather iffier a thing than Purgatory. It’s where children who die unbaptized - and thus still tainted by Original Sin, and barred from Heaven, but incapable of having committed any personal sins, and thus not deserving of punishment - are supposedly sent. But official belief is that it may be empty since God can still take them into Heaven if He wants, and since God is all about love, why wouldn’t He?

md2000, what’s “WTF” about Michael? Saints are people who are in heaven. Angels (at least, non-fallen ones) are in heaven. Therefore, angels are saints.

Ulfreida, a surprising number of non-Catholic sects use the Catholic lectionary: Also on the list are the Lutherans and the Presbyterians. And while the liturgies of the Lutherans and Presbyterians are less like the Catholics than the Episcopalians are, they’re more alike than any of them is to, say, the Baptists.

Saints are people who are in heaven. Angels are not people. People don’t go to heaven and become angels. Angels are spiritual beings distinct from people.