Pray for the Souls of those in Purgatory

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Throughout the month of November, our minds turn toward the Holy Souls in Purgatory. In fact, praying for the living and the dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy. We hope that these prayers and Scripture verses help you pray for your loved ones – or even those you have never met – who are now in Purgatory.

Does the Catholic Church still believe in Purgatory?

From the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have believed in a place of final purification for the faithful who died. Those who died a martyr were recognized as already with God, since they were perfectly conformed to Christ and His Cross by their martyrdom. For the many believers who never had the opportunity to give such a public witness, the Church offered prayers, especially the Mass, that having been purified from every imperfection they would enter into Heaven. This can be found in many ancient texts, as well as the witness of the catacombs and of tombs. In the Middle Ages the theological explanation was developed and the name Purgatory began to be used, since it aptly describes the belief of the Church from the beginning up until today.

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. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect…. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030-1031)

Is Purgatory Biblical?

While the word Purgatory does not appear in Scripture, the possibility of purification after death certainly does in undeveloped form. For example, in the book of Maccabees, Judas Maccabee sends an offering to the Temple on behalf of his fallen men who had committed a superstitious act (2 Macc. 12:39-45). While this Catholic biblical text is not in the Protestant Bible, owing to its removal by the Reformers, it nonetheless witnesses to the faith of Israel in the 2nd century B.C.

In the New Testament, Our Lord advises us to settle our affairs before going before the judge, or else we may be thrown into prison, where we remain until our debt is paid.

Mt. 5:25-26 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

This is a basic principle of justice, debts of justice must be paid. We cannot pay our debt to God, it is infinite. Christ paid that debt, uniting our nature to His Divine Nature, and we receive forgiveness when we turn to Him in repentance through those whom He appointed for this purpose (John 20:21-23; 2 Cor. 3:5-6). The temporal guilt, due to the consequences in us, in others, in the good order of society, remain, and we must settle them to the extent we are able—returning stolen money, correcting injury to someone’s good name, asking forgiveness of someone we hurt, physically, emotionally, morally and so on—if not in this life, in the next. It is these debts within our power to repair we cannot simply set aside, whether in life or in death.

“Every time you pass a cemetery, it’s time for a little prayer: ‘Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.’ It’s just common sense that you help some of them get out of Purgatory.” – Mother Angelica

What is the origin of All Souls Day?

The Church had an early practice of remembering the souls of the departed in the Mass. This included inscribing their names on tablets. A version of this is in every Mass today, in the prayer for the faithful departed in Christ known as the Memento of the Dead, as well as in the practice of offering Mass for particular individuals. The celebration of a special day began in some monasteries in the 6th century, and by the 10th century spread to dioceses, becoming fixed in some places to November 2nd, the day after All Saints Day. This date was itself adopted at Rome in the 13th century.

Is All Saints Day the same as All Souls Day?

All Saints Day, on November 1, is in honor of the faithful who are in Heaven.

On November 2, All Souls Day, we pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory who are being purified before entering Heaven.

What does one do on All Souls Day?

Even though this is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is a good idea to attend Mass on All Souls Day. Also, the day should be spent, at least in part, in prayer for the souls of our loved ones, as well as those who have no one who will pray for them.

It is an honored custom, as well, to visit the graves of our deceased on this day, both to pray at the place where their bodies, hallowed in life by the sacraments, await the General Resurrection, and to leave some mark of esteem, such as flowers, to adorn their graves.

"I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but without effect for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them do not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God . . . [I heard an interior voice] which said, My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it." — St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 20)

Who goes to Purgatory?

Those who die in the state of grace, yet without having being purified of all of their attachment to sin, go to Purgatory. Christ admonished us to “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48), and so the purification of all imperfections, which even the good often still have at death, is necessary before entering the Father’s Presence.

What is it like in Purgatory?

Pope St. John Paul II in three addresses on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory explained how the essence of these realities is not a “place,” such as exists in space and time, but the relationship of the soul to God, Who is Love. On His part He is always offering it. On our part, we choose to accept it perfectly, or, we choose to accept it though imperfectly. We can also choose to reject God’s offer of Love.

Our choice, whichever it is, becomes fixed at death when the possibility of moral choice ends. This determines our eternal relationship with God. The love of God in the blessed soul is experienced as joy, and in the longing of the soul being purified as fire, mitigated by the knowledge that it will one day be with God, and, by the comfort of the angels, saints and souls on earth praying for it.

St. Paul speaks of the fate of the Just when he speaks of the Last Day of human history.

1 Cor. 3:12-15 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

For most of the human race, their “Day” of judgment will be the last day of their life, not the Last Day of history. What Christ has reserved to purify the Just who survive to the End, will purify the Just who die before it, as well; as it will punish the unjust, also by fire.

Devotionals

Remember to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

What do the Scriptures say about Purgatory?

2 Maccabees 12:41-45 (representing 2nd Century B.C. Judaism)

So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

Matthew 5:25-26 (Christ on Himself as Judge and His standard of Justice)

Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 12:32 (Christ on forgiveness in the age to come)

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 5:48 (Christ on the Holiness of the Father)

You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Rev. 21:26 (St. John on the holiness of the Heavenly Jerusalem)

[T]hey shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 (St. Paul on Purification of our acts by God)

Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

“My love urges Me to release the poor souls. If a beneficent king leaves his guilty friend in prison for justice’s sake, he awaits with longing for one of his nobles to plead for the prisoner and to offer something for his release. Then the king joyfully sets him free. Similarly, I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from Purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer!” – Our Lord to St. Gertrude

What does repose of the soul mean?

Scripture uses the expression “falling asleep” for death in Christ (1 Cor. 15:20). Thus, repose of the soul means its resting in God until the day of the General Resurrection

Can you pray for the dead?

The Holy Souls cannot pray for themselves, and they are in need of our prayers. We should never assume a person went immediately to God, and even people who went on to be canonized died wanting Masses and prayers to be said for them.

While the Church does not pray liturgically for those who lived and died scandalously, family members and friends certainly may pray for them, hoping that their loved one made a last minute conversion. If their prayers can’t help the person, they are still meritorious for the one who prayed.

It is unnecessary, of course, to pray for canonized Saints, and those who are in Hell are beyond our reach and God’s mercy.

Can the dead intercede for the living?

Yes, just souls can, whether in Heaven or Purgatory. All the faithful, whether on earth (the Church Militant), in Purgatory (the Church Suffering), or in Heaven (the Church Triumphant), form a “Communion of the Saints” in God, for “He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him” (Luke 20:38).

So, while the Holy Souls cannot pray for themselves, we will obtain powerful intercessors and please the Lord with our prayers for them.

St. Paul of the Cross once said, “If, during life, we have been kind to the suffering souls in Purgatory, God will see that help be not denied us after death.”

Videos on Purgatory

What are indulgences?

Indulgences are a sharing in the treasury of the merits of Christ and the Saints, which the Church applies to the remission of the temporal guilt of sin, whose eternal guilt has already been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (by the merits of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection).

Even forgiven sins can still have temporal guilt that requires reparation to justice. If not satisfied in life, it will need to be satisfied in Purgatory (Mt. 5:25-26). The Church therefore speaks of indulgences as an effect of the tribunal of mercy, the Sacrament of Penance (CCC 1471). An indulgence is a mercy given by Christ through the Church, when we do certain acts of prayer, penance or charity specified by the Church. Besides the intrinsic value of the act before God in remitting temporal guilt, the Church attaches an additional value through the power of the keys given to St. Peter (Mt. 16:13-18).

A Catholic may gain an indulgence for his or herself, or for the Poor Souls, but not for another living person—whose will alone determine their receptivity to God’s mercy.

What are the two types of indulgences?

Every indulgenced work is specified by the Church as capable of obtaining either a Plenary Indulgence or a Partial Indulgence, that is, the full or partial remission of the temporal punishment of sin.

How do you receive the indulgence on All Souls Day?

During November, the Church provides opportunities for Catholics to obtain plenary indulgences for the Holy Souls, in the hope of satisfying all of the temporal guilt for which they are suffering. The work, or act to be done, includes visiting a church on All Souls and praying for the Poor Souls, by at least the Creed and an Our Father, or, during the 2nd to the 8th of November, visiting a cemetery and praying for the Poor Souls.

For either of these indulgences, the normal conditions apply for receiving any indulgence: being a Catholic in the state of grace, going to Confession (within 20 days before or after), receiving the Eucharist, preferably on that day, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father. If the person seeking the Plenary Indulgence is completely detached from all sin, full remission is obtained. A defect in this detachment still obtains a partial remission or indulgence.

The Church allows only one Plenary Indulgence per day. However, there is no limit to the Partial Indulgences which can be obtained each day, and there are many ways to obtain them. In addition to specific acts to which the Church has attached a Plenary or Partial Indulgence, Pope St. Paul VI also established three general grants. Any pious prayer, any penitential act and any charitable act can be done for the intention to gain a partial indulgence.

What do the Days and Years Indulgence on some prayers mean?

For centuries the Church has accounted partial indulgences as equivalent to the value before God of the rigorous penances of the early Church. The meaning of this was always equivocally, a relative value – one indulgence to another, since we do not know what value they had, either with respect to the early practice or the dispositions of the one doing the indulgenced act.

In reforming the laws on Indulgence, therefore, Pope St. Paul VI abolished the practice of assigning a temporal value to indulgences. Each partial indulgence today is given as “a partial indulgence,” leaving judgment of the other considerations to God.

Thus, any prayer in a prayer book, or on a holy card, with days or years indulgence attached to it, is only a “partial indulgence” today. Even though some such prayers have not been re-promulgated as specifically indulgenced in the new collection of indulgences (Enchiridion), they would today continue to obtain a partial indulgence under the General Grant of Indulgence mentioned earlier. So, whether specifically re-promulgated or not, they can obtain a partial indulgence.

“If only you knew with what great longing these holy souls yearn for relief from their suffering. Ingratitude has never entered Heaven.” – St. Margaret Mary

How do you pray for the departed soul?

Throughout the year, we can have Masses said for the souls in Purgatory, include them in our daily prayers and Rosary intentions, and pray for them when we’re near a cemetery. Mother Angelica said, “Every time you pass a cemetery, it’s time for a little prayer: ‘Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.’ It’s just common sense that you help some of them get out of Purgatory.”

Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “As we enter Heaven, we will see them, so many of them, coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say ‘a poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.’”

What are other ways to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory?

We can have Masses said for the souls in Purgatory, include them in our daily prayers and Rosary intentions, and pray for them when we’re near a cemetery.

What is a “Holy Soul” in Purgatory?

A Holy Soul is someone who is now in Purgatory. They are also referred to as Poor Souls. The use of “Holy” emphasizes the state of justice in which they died; the use of “Poor” their need for our prayers, given the purification they are undergoing.

How long does your soul stay in Purgatory?

The degree of imperfection in each soul which needs purifying is really known only to God. It can also be mitigated by Masses, prayers, indulgences, etc., as described earlier. This means that although relatively speaking different souls will require different degrees of purification that will determine their “time” in purgatory, we cannot know how “long” that will be.

Complicating this is the fact that while the extent of purification might be compared with time, time is at best an analogy for our benefit. Purgatory is not in space and time, and therefore, while it fits our experience to speak of it that way, it doesn’t fit the reality. Thus, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the condition of the angels, the saints and the poor souls as being aveternity (a condition between time and eternity). This term expresses that unlike God who is always changeless (eternal), some things in the saints and angels do change (they grow in knowledge of God, for example). The saints and angels, therefore, experience both realities, God and their creaturehood.