In the Roman Catholic Church, November 2 is All Souls’ Day. The Eastern Churches have several days dedicated to the Faithful Departed including the last Saturday before the feast of Pentecost. In Spanish-speaking countries, All Souls’ Day is called the “Dia de los Muertos”. This memorial is not observed by most Protestant denominations because of the dispute over the existence of Purgatory.
All Souls’ Day is a special day of prayer for the souls of those who may not yet be in Heaven. Catholics believe that, after death, a soul can go to one of three places: Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Those who go to Purgatory can never be sent to Hell. This is why they are often referred to as the “Holy Souls”. The Holy Souls are those who died while still stained by sin. They must do penance for these sins because, as Revelation 21:27 says of Heaven: “nothing unclean will enter it, not anyone who does abominable thing or tells lies”.
Dante’s Divine Comedy has, unfortunately, given many people a rather bad impression of Purgatory. It is widely thought that the worst torment the Holy Souls undergo is the knowledge that they are still separated from God. It is, however, a joyful pain. Those still on earth can help the Holy Souls by offering prayers and sacrifices that they might enter Heaven sooner.
On November 2, those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours pray the Office for the Dead. Also, on this day, priests are allowed to offer three separate Masses: one for the intentions of the Pope, one for all the Faithful Departed, and one for the particular intentions assigned to that Mass (e.g. the Faithful Departed of a particular parish). This gives the parishioners more opportunity to attend and spend time in prayer.
Traditions of All Souls’ Day include visits to the graves of loved ones to leave fresh flowers and offer a special prayer. Many parishes also collect the names and/or pictures of the deceased and place them near the altar during the entire month of November. It is also a good idea to make time to pray for the souls of those who have no one to pray for them.
Sources: De Sola Chervin, Ronda and Carla Conley “The Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions”
New American Translation of the Holy Bible