On the evening of All Souls Day, November 2, 1936, St. Faustina went to the cemetery. After praying there for a while, she went to the chapel and prayed to “gain the indulgences,” as she writes in her Diary (748).
The indulgences for which she prayed are a special gift the Church offers every year in the beginning of November, when the faithful can gain plenary indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.
The day after St. Faustina prayed in the cemetery, during Mass she saw “three white doves soaring from the altar toward heaven.” She understood that those three souls, along with many other souls, had gone to heaven.
Three years earlier, in 1933, St. Faustina was visited by the soul of a religious sister from her order who had died two months previously. The sister “was in a terrible condition, all in flames with her face painfully distorted,” and St. Faustina increased her prayers for her. The next night, St. Faustina was astonished to see the sister come again, in an even worse state, surrounded by even more intense flames, with despair “written all over her face.”
“Haven’t my prayers helped you?” St. Faustina asked.
The sister answered that her prayers had not helped, and that nothing would help her.
“And the prayers which the whole community has offered for you, have they not been any help to you?”
The sister said no, these prayers had instead helped other souls.
“If my prayers are not helping you, sister, please stop coming to me,” St. Faustina responded. The soul disappeared at once.
Still, St. Faustina kept praying.
Some time later, the sister returned during the night. This time, though, her appearance had been completely altered. The flames were gone, and “her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy,” St. Faustina writes in her Diary (58). The sister told St. Faustina that she had a true love for her neighbor and that many other souls had benefited from her prayers.
“She urged me not to cease praying for the souls in Purgatory, and she added that she herself would not remain there much longer,” St. Faustina writes. “How astounding are the ways of God!”
Even though this sister was still in Purgatory the third time she visited St. Faustina, her level of suffering was entirely changed. Through St. Faustina’s unfailing hope and prayers, she had gone from agony and despair to radiance and joy. She wasn’t in heaven yet, but she was on her way.
“Only We Can Come to their Aid”
In 1926, about a decade before St. Faustina saw the three souls fly up to heaven during Mass, she asked the Lord one night for whom she should pray. Jesus told her that on the following night, He would let her know. The next night, she saw her Guardian Angel. He took her to “a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls.”
“They were praying fervently,” writes St. Faustina in her Diary (20), “but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid.”
She asked what their greatest suffering was, and in one voice they answered her that their greatest torment was longing for God.
Then St. Faustina saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory and bringing them refreshment. After that, her Guardian Angel led her out again.
“Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls,” she writes.
As St. Faustina saw in her vision, the souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves. So even if the deceased sister who visited her in 1933 had prayed as hard as she could to be delivered from the flames and despair, her prayers would not have been effective. In God’s mysterious plan, the sister needed the prayers of the faithful on earth in order to be freed from her suffering.
In the same way, all of the souls in Purgatory at this moment desperately need our prayers, for no matter how hard they pray for themselves, their own prayers won’t help them. Ours will.
Even though the souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves, they can pray for others. And in a beautiful reciprocal act of mercy, if we pray for them, they can pray for us. The Catechism (958) says that “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
Our prayers for them are the key that unlocks their prayers for us!
An army of prayer warriors is waiting for us in Purgatory. When we pray for them, we can then ask them to intercede for us, so that we may receive the great blessing of their prayers in return.
Every single prayer, big or small, for the souls in Purgatory helps them. Even if a prayer is offered for someone who has already reached heaven, then that prayer will be applied to another soul. No prayer is ever wasted. No act of love for the holy souls goes unanswered. No offering will fail to bring comfort, consolation, and the radiance of heaven to these dear suffering souls.
Plenary Indulgences in Early November
In early November, the faithful can obtain plenary indulgences for the souls in Purgatory, as St. Faustina did, by visiting the cemetery from November 1-8 and praying there for the dead, or by visiting a church or oratory on November 2 and reciting an Our Father and Creed. On other days, the indulgence is partial.
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:
- From Nov. 1-8, visit a cemetery and pray there for the dead, even if only mentally; or, on Nov. 2, visit a church or oratory and recite an Our Father and Creed
- 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)
- Receive Holy Communion (once for each indulgence obtained)
- Recite at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the Holy Father
- Be free from attachment to all sin, including venial*
One plenary indulgence can be obtained each day. The indulgence is partial if the conditions are partially fulfilled.
*A note about the last condition: Sometimes people wonder whether it is possible for them to be completely detached from venial sin. I believe the answer to this is found in Mark 10, when Jesus tells his disciples how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God, and they wonder who then can be saved.
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God,” Jesus tells them. “All things are possible for God.”
Even if it would be impossible for us to be completely detached from sin, it is not impossible for God. As Matthew 7 reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given you;” for our Father in heaven gives “good things to those who ask him.” Let’s ask Him, then, for the grace to be detached from all sin. My friend Suzie suggests adding this little prayer to the prayers for the indulgence: Dear Holy Spirit, if I am not detached from all sin, please make me detached now, so that I may gain this plenary indulgence that my Mother, the Church, offers to me, Her child.
God is on our side. He wants us to be able to obtain this indulgence as an act of charity for the souls in Purgatory, and He will help us fulfill the conditions if we only ask.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this article, we also recommend the following articles which will give you more information about purgatory and praying for the dead:
- Where Do We Find Purgatory in the Bible?
- What the Angelic Doctor Taught on the Nature & Purpose of Purgatory
- Padre Pio, Purgatory, & Plenary Indulgences for the Holy Souls
- The Saints On Purgatory & Hope in the Afterlife
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