I first learned of the importance of praying for the souls in Purgatory as a child from my mother. She prayed every day for all the people she loved who had died, for all the souls in Purgatory, and for the most forgotten souls who have no one to pray for them. She arranged for Masses to be offered for deceased relatives, and every November, she sent a list of the names of people to be remembered in the annual Masses for the poor souls offered by some of the religious orders she regularly supported. Whenever anyone she knew had a family member die, she would give them a Mass enrollment card. As an adult, I continue all these practices.
It is important to pray for the souls in Purgatory as they cannot pray for themselves. Our prayers can console them in their suffering and help shorten their time there. Another practice is to offer our indulgences for them. Unless a person has been beatified or canonized by the Church, we cannot know for certain whether he or she is in Purgatory or Heaven. Therefore, we should continue to pray for our deceased family members and friends for the rest of our lives. Our prayers will either assist them if they need it, or assist other souls if the people we are praying for are already in Heaven. I like to think that the people we pray for know that we pray for them and it is another way we can stay close to them until we are hopefully, one day reunited in Heaven.
November begins with the beautiful solemnity of All Saints Day, a day to remember everyone in Heaven, not only canonized saints. The next day, on All Souls Day, we remember all the souls in Purgatory: the Church Suffering. They are called “poor souls” and “holy souls”. When I asked a priest I am friends with why these two different terms are used, he explained: “They are poor because they haven’t reached the richness of the Presence of God, but they know they are on the road there. They are holy because they have already been saved and now, they are being cleansed before they can go to Heaven.”
We continue to pray for the poor souls every day throughout the month of November. While it is important to pray for them all year, having a month dedicated to them gives us a special awareness of their presence in the Church, and their need for our prayers. I like that the entire Church is united in praying together for the souls of all who have died. I think this time of remembering everyone who has died can also bring consolation to people who are mourning. I experienced this consolation myself when my mother died in 2008. She died on October 25, right before the month of November. She was getting a list of names ready to send to the religious order novenas a few days before she went to the hospital. Without knowing that she would die soon, she talked to me about the necessity of praying for people who died, and that she hoped family members would pray for her someday. I assured her that I would always pray for her and for the souls in Purgatory. After my mother died, I found it very comforting that the Church would be praying for her and all the departed souls during the whole month of November. I felt that the other members of the Church were united with me in prayer and it made me feel I was not alone. I really think that this special month of November was very helpful to me as I grieved. My mother may be in heaven now; nevertheless, I pray for her every day as she requested and arrange for Masses to be offered for her.
In recent years, I became close to some senior priests who have since died. I continue to pray for them. Every year, the organization I founded, the Community of Mary, Mother of Mercy, has an annual memorial Mass for the souls of all deceased priests. In the prayer of the faithful, we pray by name for the diocesan and religious order priests who served in our diocese who died within the last three years. I wish that every parish in every diocese had an annual Mass to pray for the souls of priests. It would remind Catholics that these priests are still part of our family in the Church and that we need to pray for them.
One of the corporal works of mercy is to bury the dead and one of the spiritual works of mercy as to pray for the living and the dead. We can do these works of mercy by praying for the poor souls, arranging for Masses to be offered, offering up our suffering, and offering up sacrifices for them –not only in the month of November, but throughout the year.
Image: Antonio María Esquivel, “Ánimas del Purgatorio”, 1850 (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)