In my new book, Encountering Signs of Faith, I encourage readers to consider the legacy of faith they wish to leave to their family (and the world). To celebrate my book launch and to honor one of my favorite weeks of the year—I’ve invited eight dear friends to share the legacy of faith they hope to pass along. We will also pray a Novena for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, one of the only novenas with an indulgence you can offer for someone else. We’ll begin the Novena on November 1st, All Saints Day, and pray through November 9th (I’ll be sharing my cemetery visits on my Instagram)!
Praying for the Faithful Departed
The Catholic Church teaches after our death, souls can no longer earn merit through prayer or good works; in other words—they cannot pray their way out of purgatory.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s 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” (CCC, 1030).
It is not only a work of mercy but indeed a privilege to be able to assist the departed faithful through our prayers, good works, and especially the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore, the Church has always taught us to pray for the souls in purgatory.
While we can participate in this vital work anytime, November is explicitly dedicated to praying for the dead. After being a Catholic for more than 30 years, and just when I thought I knew all things Catholic, someone introduced me to this magnificent devotion. The November 1 – 8th (though we’re going to pray through the 9th) Novena includes a plenary indulgence applicable to the souls in purgatory and can be gained on each of these days. Typically this is accomplished by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the Requiem (aka Eternal Rest Grant Unto Thee, O Lord) prayer for the souls of the departed (see more details at the end of this post). I encourage you to visit a cemetery at least once during the week. Think of it as a little pilgrimage, and I can attest to the incredible spiritual experience it can be! Note: The indulgence may be gained on November 2nd by making a pious visit to a church to pray: the Our Father and the Apostles Creed.
A Life Changing Experience
The grace of offering prayer for holy souls in purgatory changed my life forever. My once gripping fear of death was replaced with overwhelming compassion for these precious souls and compelled me to pray often for the dead—even keeping a list of names in a prayer book. According to many saintly accounts, this devotion comes with a sweet side benefit of heavenly intercessions from grateful souls. Who can’t use extra prayer and intercession support for their family?
These pilgrimages not only built up an army of intercessors but also put us in the excellent company of Saints, who also shared a commitment to this devotion. St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in “The Way”:
“Out of charity, out of justice, and out of excusable selfishness — they have such power with God! — remember them often in your sacrifices and in your prayers. May you be able to say when you speak of them, ‘My good friends the souls in purgatory.” He added in “Furrow,” “Purgatory shows God’s great mercy and washes away the defects of those who long to become one with him.” St. Jean Marie Vianney taught, “We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven.”
Our Novena Prayers for the Holy Souls In Purgatory
*May be prayed in a cemetery or from home
We’ll be using this gem I discovered in the Pieta Prayer booklet. While it is intended for praying at cemeteries (staying in your car counts), it can be done from home or at church. I have done it for years, and try to attend Mass each day as well! I love walking around the cemetery, prayerfully reading each name while I recite the following Novena Prayers:
Five Apostle’s Creeds;
One Hail, Holy Queen;
One each of the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer), Hail Mary and Glory be; &
Conclude with Requiem Prayer:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace. Amen.
Additional Resources and Information on Indulgenced Acts for the Faithful Departed
There are many indulgences, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, that can be obtained during the month of November. From the fourth edition of the Enchiridion of Indulgences, 1999:
- A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
- on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed;
- on All Souls’ Day (or, according to the judgment of the ordinary, on the Sunday preceding or following it, or on the solemnity of All Saints), devoutly visit a church or an oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.
- A partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
- devoutly visit a cemetery and at least mentally pray for the dead;
devoutly recite lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the prayer Requiem aeternam (Eternal rest).
How to Gain an Indulgence
The following norms are taken from the Apostolic Constitution of Pope St. Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 1967, the fourth edition of the Enchiridion of Indulgences, 1968, 1999, the Jubilee Apostolic Penitentiary, The Gift of the Indulgence, 2000 and the Norm of Confession for Gaining a Plenary Indulgence Apostolic Penitentiary, 2005.
An indulgence is “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due sin” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, n.1-2).
To obtain this remission there are proper dispositions and certain conditions predetermined by the Church that must be met. Firstly, one must have the intention to gain the indulgence, and perform the works at the time and in the manner prescribed.
To gain a Plenary Indulgence (only one per day), the faithful must be in the state of grace and the following conditions must accompany the prescribed act:
- have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
- receive the sacrament of confession
- receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required)
- and recite prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father (one Our Father and one Hail Mary is suggested as a minimum, but any other additional prayers may be added).
All attachment to sin, even venial sin, must be absent. If some of the above conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence becomes partial.
More details about the timing of these requirements:
It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.
Copyright, Allison Gingras 2022