I stood at the cemetery yesterday and looked up at the branches of a tree stretched out across the November sky. Only a few leaves hung on; the rest had scattered to the ground. And it seemed to me, in that moment, that the leaves still hanging on to the branch represented those of us still here on earth, while all the leaves that had fallen were the family and friends who have passed away over the years. I thought of those I have lost, and I felt the loneliness of being one of the ones left behind, still hanging onto that branch without them near me.
Like many people, I have suffered great losses in my life, especially this year. And while that moment under the tree felt lonely because death has taken the people I love, the truth is that I am not alone. My loved ones are with me still. And I am deeply grateful to be a part of a Church that recognizes the depth of our connection with the souls of those who have died and remembers them in a special way in November.
There in the cemetery, I was surrounded by the graves of people who once walked the earth as I do now. People who drank coffee and laughed around the dinner table and played lullabies for their children. People who went to work in the morning and sang hymns in church and read books by firelight. They lived, and their souls were not extinguished when they died. Their souls are eternal.
Some might have gone to heaven on the day they died. Others probably spent some time in purgatory first. Some of them might still be there. It is a comfort to us on earth to believe that the people we love go straight to heaven; but if their souls are being perfected in purgatory first, they wouldn’t want us to prematurely canonize them—they would want us to pray for them.
Thanks be to God that our Mother, the Church, gives us a way to help these souls reach heaven sooner through our prayers. Even if we are praying for someone who doesn’t need those prayers because that person’s soul has already reached heaven, our prayers will be applied to other souls in purgatory who do need them. No prayer is ever wasted. The souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves; they are entirely dependent on our prayers. And in return, they pray for us.
Extension of Time Frame for Indulgences in 2020
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about a special gift the Church gives us from November 1-8 each year, when the faithful can gain plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory by visiting a cemetery and praying there for the dead. There is also another plenary indulgence available each year, on November 2, All Souls’ Day, for those who visit a church or oratory and piously recite an Our Father and a Creed.
After the article was published, I found out that, because of the circumstances in the world right now, the Church is offering an extra gift this year: In 2020, the opportunity to gain these indulgences for the souls in purgatory is extended for the entire month of November.
In order to obtain the indulgence, a Catholic in the state of grace must have the intention to obtain it and fulfill the following conditions:
- (a) visit a cemetery and pray there for the dead, even if only mentally (for the indulgence traditionally offered Nov. 1-8, now extended through November 30); or visit a church or oratory and piously recite an Our Father and a Creed (for the indulgence traditionally offered Nov. 2, now extended through November 30)
- (b) make a sacramental confession (a single confession, within about 20 days before or after, will suffice for all the indulgences a person obtains within that time period)
- (c) receive Holy Communion (once for each indulgence obtained)
- (d) recite at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the Holy Father
- (e) be free from attachment to all sin, including venial
One plenary indulgence may be obtained each day. The indulgence becomes partial if the conditions are partially fulfilled.
The special conditions for this year also provide for those who cannot leave the house for serious reasons. The homebound can obtain the indulgences by reciting prayers for the dead before an image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, while spiritually uniting themselves with other Catholics, with the intention of fulfilling the ordinary conditions as soon as possible.
The Power of St. Michael’s Intercession for the Holy Souls
Those who pray for the souls in purgatory can also greatly assist them by invoking the patronage of St. Michael the Archangel, who has been called “the guardian of the souls in purgatory.”
The book St. Michael and the Angels tells of a Cistercian monk who once appeared to a priest friend and told him that he would be delivered from purgatory if the priest would ask the intercession of St. Michael during holy Mass. The priest did as he was asked, and he and others present witnessed the soul of the Cistercian monk taken up to heaven by St. Michael.
Another priest, as told in the same book, was offering the Mass for the dead one day and then prayed for them with the words: “May the Prince of the angels, St. Michael, lead them into the glory of heaven.” In that instant, the priest saw St. Michael descend from heaven into purgatory, whence he delivered the souls and brought them into heaven.
One beautiful way to ask St. Michael’s intercession for the souls in purgatory is through these words from the Mass for the dead: “May the standard bearer, St. Michael, lead them into the holy light.”
Let us never forget them, and they will never forget us.