November is already here. Hard to believe, huh? Well, you know what they say…Tempus volat.
You know, we begin each November with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, and the entire month is dedicated to remembering (and praying for!) the dead.
And since we will all one day be dead (lovely thought, huh?), let’s reflect for a moment on Purgatory.
[Incidentally, I have produced two episodes on Purgatory: CF95 – Spirits and Souls of the Just, Bless the Lord and CF45 – Soul Food.]
Unfortunately, we live in a very confused culture today. On the one hand, we glorify death and violence (in books, movies, music, video games, etc). But, on the other hand, we ignore the reality of death, particularly the fact that I will one day be dead.
Autumn is a great time of year for death. Or I should say a great time to think about death. The leaves are falling, the plants are dying, the days grow shorter. Halloween was traditionally a great reminder of death. Unfortunately, it’s been hijacked by witches and commercialized by big businesses. Too bad. Because the saints have often reminded us that “Memento mori” is a good thing. It is good to remember one’s death. Ideally, remembering the fact that we will die would help us to live a good life.
Forgetting the inevitability of death is not good for us. Nor is it good for those who have already died. If we do not remember death, then we won’t remember to pray for the dead. And the dead desperately need our prayers. That is why we often refer to the dead in Purgatory as the Poor Souls.
So what is Purgatory?
“All who die in God’s grace and 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” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030).
“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned….”
“This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: ‘Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.’ From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1031-1032).
Traditionally, we liken Purgatory to a purifying fire:
“But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” – 1 Cor. 3:15
“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:7
“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” – Matt. 12:32
“It was a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” – 2 Maccabees 12:45 (Douay-Rheims version)
The reality of Purgatory, and all that we know about it from tradition and from the visions and revelations of the saints, illuminates the predicament of the dead who are there and their absolute dependence on our help.
How can we help the Poor Souls in Purgatory?
There are many ways, all of which involve prayer and sacrifice. But, for today, I will mention only two very simple ways that we can assist the Poor Souls.
First, we can offer Holy Mass for them. The Church affirms that the Eucharist is the “Source and Summit” of our Faith. The Mass is the highest form of prayer. During the Mass the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary is “re-presented.” That means it is as if we are present right there at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady and St. John. This is why it is so important that we pay attention and pray during the Mass. We can bring our own petitions to Lord at the very moment of his greatest act of love. It is a praiseworthy tradition to offer the Mass (and one’s reception of Holy Communion) for the intentions of the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
In addition to praying at Mass and offering up one’s communion, you can also have Masses said for the Poor Souls. Contact your parish church to have this done. Every parish keeps a calendar of Mass intentions. For a small stipend (usually $5), you can reserve dates on which the Masses will be offered especially for the souls in Purgatory. If your parish’s calendar is full, then you can contact the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. There are many missionary priests who are able to offer Masses for your specific intentions.
A second way that we help the Poor Souls as a family is by praying for them before meals and during our rosaries. Though I often write spontaneous Before Meals prayers that I share on the Catholic Foodie, my family usually prays the traditional “Bless us, O Lord” prayer. We end it by asking God to bless each one of us around the table, adding, “May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.” Simple, huh? But powerful. We remember them at every meal. We also remember them when we pray the rosary together. That’s another powerful way to help the Poor Souls.
Perhaps during the month of November, I can share more on the show about indulgences and how they can be applied to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
“Eternal rest grant to 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.” AMEN!