Helping the Holy Souls

Purgatory_MassThe Church teaches that the Holy Souls cannot help themselves, but that we can gain indulgences, have Masses said, offer our sacrifices, prayers, works of mercy and almsgiving for their release from Purgatory. We can, and indeed should, help the Holy Souls at all times, but All Souls Day and the whole of the month of November are especially dedicated to them.

Although the Holy Souls cannot pray for themselves, they can intercede most powerfully for us.

Saint John Vianney wrote: “If we knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them; they will pray for us.”

Thanks to Father Z, here’s how you can draw from the treasury of the Church to help the Holy Souls in Purgatory on All Souls Day:

From the Handbook of Indulgences

Visiting a Church or an Oratory on All Souls Day

A plenary (“full”) indulgence, which is applicable only to the souls in Purgatory is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a church or an oratory on (November 2nd,) All Souls Day.

Will you not, for love, try to gain these indulgences?  Make a plan.

Requirements for Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on All Souls Day (2 Nov)

  • Visit a church and pray for souls in Purgatory
  • Say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed” in the visit to the church
  • Say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s intentions (that is, the intentions designated by the Holy Father each month)
  • Worthily receive Holy Communion (ideally on the same day if you can get to Mass)
  • Make a sacramental confession within 20 days of All Souls Day
  • For a plenary indulgence be  free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin (otherwise, the indulgence is partial, not plenary, “full”).

You can acquire one plenary indulgence a day.

A partial indulgence can be obtained by visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed.  You can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between 1 November and 8 November. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.

A plenary indulgence, applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when you visit a church or a public oratory on 2 November. While visiting the church or oratory say one Our Father and the Apostles Creed.

A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be obtained when saying the “Eternal rest … Requiem aeternam…” prayer.

Do you know this prayer?

Requiem aeternam dona ei [pl.eis], Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei [eis]. Requiescat [-ant] in pace Amen. 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.

It is customary to add the second half of the “Eternal Rest” prayer after the prayer recited at the conclusion of a meal.

Gratias agimus tibi, omnipotens Deus, pro universis beneficiis tuis, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum.

Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

We give Thee thanks, almighty God, for all Thy benefits, Who livest and reignest, world without end.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Go here to read the whole of Father’s instructive post.

This entry was posted in Catholic Prayers, Church Teachings, Devotion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Helping the Holy Souls

  1. I live only about a mile’s walk away from a cemetery, but it’s a cemetery next to an Anglican church. Does that make it an Anglican cemetery? My brother is buried there though and of course he was a baptised Catholic so does that mean that Catholics and Anglicans can share cemeteries?
    Does it make a difference if it’s a ‘mixed’ cemetery? I mean, are Anglicans included in the ‘faithful’? I’m guessing not, yet we should pray for their souls even more in that case, no?


  2. mmvc says:

    ragazzagallese, as I don’t have the answers to your questions, I googled around a bit and found this Q&A post on the National Catholic Register site:
    I hope it helps.
    Totally agree with you that we should pray even more for the souls of non-Catholic christians as it is not as much in their tradition to help the Holy Souls as it is in ours.

    I will add your brother to my November prayer list.


  3. Thank you, that’s very helpful! I will visit that cemetery and pray for all the souls there then 🙂

    It’s very kind of you to think of my brother, but he died when he was only 8 months old (before I was born), so he is praying for us, I think! We have a saint of our own in heaven. All the same, thank you.


  4. mmvc says:

    You are right, RG, your little brother will be beyond needing our prayers and will surely be interceding for us from his heavenly home.

    More generally though, I was once told by a priest that if we pray for someone who is already in heaven, the graces obtained by that prayer will benefit another needy soul.


  5. GC says:

    Saint John Vianney wrote: ”If we knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them; they will pray for us.”

    I have been wondering about this off and on for quite some time, ever since we lost our mother more than two years ago.

    My question is, “can we pray to the Holy Souls?” as we do the saints in heaven?

    Monsieur le Curé seems to think we may. I’d certainly like to know (I must confess that I do it.)

    Or is it more that if we pray for them they will pray for us when they are ” promoted”, all the more expeditiously due to our prayers?


  6. mmvc says:

    That’s an interesting question GC. Had to hunt around a bit for an answer here too. I also pray to my loved ones who have died even though it would seem that theological opinion is divided and that there is no definitive pronouncement from the Church on this.
    Here’s an interesting excerpt I found on a discussion forum from a 1923 book by Right Rev. PW Keppler D.D. called ‘The Poor Souls in Purgatory, A Homiletic Treatise with some specimen sermons’ which might shed some more light:

    Chapter XII
    The Poor Souls And We
    Life in Purgatory, to our mind, must be a time continual prayer, uninterrupted even by pain and grief. It is a life of love, of spiritual, though not yet beatific, union with God. We can scarcely assume that the love which those Holy Souls have for God is weaker than ours, or that they are condemned to silence and inertia. God certainly did not deprive them of the language of prayer, or of the possibility of holding converse with Him, even though their prayer, as we saw, is not meritorious, no matter how strong or fervent it may be.

    Can the Poor Souls pray for the living on earth, and is their prayer efficacious?
    Those who answer this question in the negative quote St. Thomas in their favor.

    In dealing with the objection:

    “The Poor Souls are above us, like the Saints; but the former do not pray for us, so neither do the Saints” (S. Th., 2a 2ae, quo 83, a. 11)

    the Angelic Doctor refutes only the deduction, not the premise. From the fact that the Poor Souls do not pray for us, he says, it can not be inferred that the saints do not pray for us either, because they [the Poor Souls] are in an altogether different state, and even though they are above us on account of their freedom from sin, they are below us on account of their penal suffering.

    This argument, it is true, presupposes that the Poor Souls do not pray for us. But St. Thomas does not examine this statement here; he merely touches upon it in passing. In another passage he admits that the departed sympathize with the lot of their friends on earth, even though they have no detailed knowledge of them, just as we intercede for them although we do not know their exact condition in the beyond. (S. Tk., la, quo 89, a. 8).
    Suarez and Bellarmine who closely studied this question, arrived at the conclusion that the Poor Souls can and do pray for the living. Most modern theologians agree with them. The reasons are convincing. Charity towards others can not have ceased in these souls at their entrance into Purgatory, nor can it have been condemned to complete impotence and silence. Their own penal state does not necessarily prevent from lending assistance to others. The Poor Souls enjoy divine grace and are God’s friends, and hence their intercession is pleasing to Him and certain to be heard, because and in as far as they correspond with the divine plan of salvation.
    Another question presents itself here: Have the Poor Souls in Purgatory that knowledge of our circumstances and necessities seems to be a necessary condition for effective help. They do not, like the Saints, participate in the vision and knowledge of God. But, on the other hand, they are disembodied spirits whom we must not imagine as being hermetically locked up or secluded.

    They can, moreover, gain knowledge from the Saints, with whom they converse, from their Guardian Angels, and from new arrivals in Purgatory. That the angels have access to Purgatory may be assumed as certain. It is inconceivable that they should no longer be solicitous about their proteges, or that Purgatory should be closed against them.

    “Physicians and priests are admitted even to the worst criminals.”

    But why does the Church in her liturgical prayers turn to the Saints in Heaven, and not to the souls in Purgatory, for their intercession?
    The Saints, who no longer need help and prayers for themselves, but are happy in God and gloriously reign with Christ, are our principal helpers and intercessors. The Poor Souls are still in need of help. Their intercession resembles the prayers which the faithful on earth offer for one another. The Church has embodied neither the mutual prayers of her children on earth nor the prayers addressed to the Poor Souls into her liturgy, but leaves them to private devotion.

    It is remarkable, however, that the early Christians, as can be seen from invocations on ancient monuments, called upon the departed for their intercession.

    St. Catherine of Bologna testifies:

    “Whenever I am eager to obtain a certain grace, I appeal to these suffering souls to present my prayers to our common Father, and, as a rule, I feel that I owe the granting of my petition to their intercession.”

    The Blessed Cure of Ars used to say:

    “Oh, if all of us but knew what a wonderful influence these Holy Souls have over the heart of God, and what graces we can obtain through their intercession, they would not be so utterly forgotten; we must pray much for them, so that they may pray for us. ”

    Confidence in the Poor Souls and the practice of invoking them in special needs is deeply rooted in the hearts of our Catholic people. We should not prevent, but promote this practice.

    We should, according to a decree of a provincial council of Vienna (1858), teach the people that the Poor Souls, even while still in Purgatory, are able to help and benefit us by their intercession. The fruit of this faith and practice is a valuable and blessed exchange of mutual giving and taking between these Holy Souls and ourselves.

    “We owe unspeakable gratitude to God, therefore, for allowing us to do more for our departed friends and relatives than to merely mourn over their graves. For by helping them, we obtain for ourselves a right to the special protection of God, and the angels and the saints, who rejoice whenever they can welcome a newcomer into their midst. Most of all, however, we gain friends among the Holy Souls themselves, and when they reach heaven, they will surely remember and help us.”


  7. kathleen says:

    Thank you so much for this illuminating comment. It answers so many questions I, like most people, have about the Holy Souls in Purgatory.


  8. GC says:

    Yes, thanks indeed, mmvc, for that very informative and relevant article. I fear that one day you might replace me as Toad’s research assistant! (Where is that fellow? Maybe enjoying the holiday period in Spain for Todos Los Santos and Todas Las Almas.)

    In the article it looks fairly positive for praying to the Souls in Purgatory, at least as a “private devotion”. I really believe I have benefited from it, which brings me to my next point.

    Canonisation of a person depends on the occurrence of a miracle through the intercession of that person. However, before that can happen we must petition the person to intercede. But when we do pray to that person to intercede, we do not know whether he or she is in Heaven, Purgatory or God forbid, in the other place. God knows, but we don’t. Thus at the time of praying we could well be praying to a soul in Purgatory! Which sort of supports the idea of praying also to the Holy Souls there.

    I take this opportunity also to note that johnhenry has still not sorted out the possibility of there being “time” in Purgatory.


  9. mmvc says:

    Kathleen and GC, I’m glad you found the article as helpful as I did.

    GC, I like your observation about petitioning souls in the process of canonisation. It never ceases to amaze me how much there is still to learn about our wonderful faith.


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