The Catholic Church teaches after death; the holy souls can no longer earn merit through prayer or good works; therefore, 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 our duty and privilege to be able to assist the dearly departed 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 do this anytime, November is explicitly dedicated to praying for the dearly departed. After being a Catholic for more than 30 years, when I thought I knew all things Catholic, I was introduced to a magnificent devotion. This devotion, which includes a plenary indulgence applicable to the souls in purgatory, gained from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8, by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the Requiem (aka the Eternal Rest Grant Unto Thee, O Lord) prayer for the souls of the departed. The indulgence may also be gained on November 2nd by making a pious visit to a church to pray: the Our Father and the Apostles Creed.
Fascinated by this important spiritual work of mercy, I pushed past my uncomfortable feelings around death and cemeteries, rounded up my family, and made daily pilgrimages during the first week of November to local cemeteries to pray for the dead. It was incredibly moving to be walking among the graves, reading names of the people we knew and those we did not know. To pray for people who died long before our lifetimes or a few whose lost was still fresh upon our hearts.
The grace of offering these eight November days of prayer for souls changed my faith life forever. My once gripping fear of death was replaced with overwhelming compassion for these precious souls and compelled me to this day to pray daily for the dead. This devotion, according to many saintly accounts, 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 build 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.”
IDEAS FOR PRAYING FOR THE HOLY SOULS:
- Attend Mass, as many of the days you are able to, from November 1st through the 8th, to pray for the Holy Souls.
- Visit a cemetery a day from Nov. 1-8 to pray for the Holy Souls there. My family makes field trips out of this devotion, visiting a different cemetery each day. We will travel (usually on the days that fall during the weekend) to cemeteries uncommon in our area such that honor the military, primarily serve non-Catholics, or just because we thought it was architecturally fascinating.
**Maybe it shouldn’t be fun, but I look forward to it every year — maybe it just feels good to be helping someone who needs it, even if you will never met. Though I do wish to met them all when it comes my time to face my judgment at Heaven’s gate. I once read that all the souls who are comforted by our prayers, those who are blessed to enter Heaven, will come to greet us upon our death. This saint said they will plead our case for entry into our heavenly abode. My plan, to pray for so many Holy Souls, they overwhelm St. Peter at the gate, and I can just sneak in behind the holy wall of saints!
- Attend Mass Nov. 2, the Feast of All Souls’ to pray for deceased family members, for those who have no one to pray for them, and for those who will die in the upcoming year.
- Pray the rosary during the entire month of November for the Holy Souls.
- Pray the novena for the Holy Souls, written by St. Alphonsus Liguori, followed by the Prayer to Our Suffering Saviour for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
My love for praying for the Holy Souls, and building my saint posse, runs deep maybe even obsessive. Best illustrated by my visit to Hollywood in 2013—offered the choice between shopping on Rodeo Drive or visiting the Hollywood Forever cemetery; not only did I CHOOSE the cemetery but I can honestly say it was one of the HIGHLIGHTS of my trip! It is not every day you get the opportunity to pray for Santa Claus, aka Mickey Rooney!!
From the Pieta Prayer booklet, I found this gem for praying at cemeteries which I have done for years! I personally like to walk up and down the rows, looking prayerfully at each name while I recite:
- 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.