Have you lost a loved one who passed away, or know someone who has? Prayers for souls in purgatory can help them! While we can derive great comfort from the hope that our loved ones are enjoying Eternal Life with God, it never hurts to pray for their souls in any case.
In purgatory, the souls of many of those who have died in God’s grace undergo purification so that they may enter heaven.
The Prayer of St. Gertrude, below, is one of the most famous of the prayers for souls in purgatory. St. Gertrude the Great was a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived in the 13th century. According to tradition, our Lord promised her that 1000 souls would be released from purgatory each time it is said devoutly. Whether or not this is actually the case, this is a great prayer for focusing on helping the Holy Souls in Purgatory nonetheless:
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
Many of the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, considered prayers for souls in purgatory to be essential. The church has endorsed the doctrine of purgatory from the Councils of Florence and Trent in the 15th and 16th centuries right up through Vatican II in the 1960’s.
The most famous scriptural reference, among others, concerning these prayers comes from the Old Testament where it is called “a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Macabees 12:46).
November is traditionally an especially important month to pray for those in purgatory, and many visit the graves of the departed on All Souls’ Day, November 2nd.
While the sacrament of penance (confession) is essential for the forgiveness of sins, purgatory may still be necessary for many of us to satisfy the temporal punishment still due for venial and forgiven mortal sins.
To get a better handle on what this means, think of a kid who breaks a window while playing ball. He can, and should, apologize to the person whose window has been broken, but either he or his parents, (or both!) still have to pay to fix it!
While the souls in purgatory can do nothing for themselves, their purification “pays for the damages” of their sins. It makes whatever restitution remains for these sins to God.
For another good way to look at it, think of your soul at baptism as being bright white. In your daily life it picks up bits of grime from sin, much like snow in a city a few days after a winter storm.
Even with frequent confession many of us still need purgatory to really get our souls really spotless. Purgatory is more than just some sort of Divine Detergent, however. It prepares souls for their heavenly home!
Purgatory has been described, at times rather poetically, as a “cleansing fire” that burns away the dross of sins on our souls. St. Paul wrote those of being saved “yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15), and whether or not the soul endures a literal fire, its purification does involve suffering.
Thus, when it comes to purgatory the expression “No pain, no gain!” seems apt. The time each soul spends there, and the severity of the pains it experiences, varies.
However, our prayers for these souls can help alleviate their sufferings and help them reach heaven more quickly. Although they can no longer pray for themselves, they can and do pray for us as well out of gratitude!
In addition to saying prayers for souls in purgatory, we can help them by having masses said for the departed and by engaging in works of charity and sacrifice on their behalf.
Speaking of charity, this prayer below, known as the Heroic Act of Charity is especially powerful, calling to mind as it does an especially powerful intercessor with our Lord, His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Heavenly Father, in union with the merits of Jesus and Mary, I offer to You for the sake of the poor souls all the satisfactory value of my works during life, as well as all that will be done for me after death. I give You my all through the hands of the Immaculate Virgin Mary that she may set free whatever souls she pleases, according to her heavenly wisdom and mother’s love for them. Receive this offering, O God, and grant me in return an increase of Your grace. Amen.
Also, the degree of grace with which we bear our own misfortunes, offering them up to God for the forgiveness of sins, can shorten whatever time in purgatory we ourselves might face.
Here are two other good prayers for souls in purgatory:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen
O Lord, who art ever merciful and bounteous with Thy gifts, look down upon the suffering souls in purgatory. Remember not their offenses and negligences, but be mindful of Thy loving mercy, which is from all eternity. Cleanse them of their sins and fulfill their ardent desires that they may be made worthy to behold Thee face to face in Thy glory. May they soon be united with Thee and hear those blessed words which will call them to their heavenly home: “Come, blessed of My Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Keep in mind, however, that for the souls in purgatory there is great joy as well as pain. They know for certain they are bound for heaven! St. Catherine of Genoa wrote of the “flame of love” in purgatory removing what she called “the rust and stain of sins” and filling souls there with an intense longing for God’s eternal embrace. Talk about a burning desire!
Remember that our prayers for souls in purgatory, along with our sacrifices and sufferings bared with grace, can shorten their time there (and perhaps ours as well). Christmas is known to be one of the biggest days of the year for the release of souls from purgatory to heaven. What better gift can we give them than our prayers?
Praying for the departed in November and gaining Indulgences
What is an indulgence?
When we are sorry for a sin, that sorrow means that we regret doing the sin, that we intend with God’s help to do the best we can not to do the sin again, and that we have the intention to make up for the sin. The intention to make up for sin means that we have to be willing to right the wrong that we did. For example, if we steal $500 from someone, then repent of it, we ask forgiveness from God and from the person from whom we stole, but that is not the end of it. If we are truly sorry, we must give the $500 back.
Now, every sin is this way. With every sin, we hurt someone. Indeed, we hurt the whole body of Christ. So, our sorrow for sin must include an intention to make up for the wrong to the whole body of Christ that we have done. Jesus forgives us freely. That is why He died on the cross for us so that our sins could be forgiven, but, once forgiven, we are asked by God to make up for the wrong that we did. Therefore, we are called to live a life of penance. By our prayers, reception of the sacraments, sacrifices and so forth, we make up spiritually for the sins that we committed. Spurred on by God’s grace and dependent on God’s grace, good works mystically “repair” the body of Christ from the sins that we have done.
However, our sins do great damage to individuals and to the body; more damage, maybe, than we could ever make up in this life. So, God in His great love and mercy has provided a way for the damage that we have done to be made up for. That is what an indulgence is. God “indulges” us: that is, He wipes clean even the damage that our sins have caused. Through an indulgence, God uses the infinite good offered Him by Jesus, Mary and the saints, and applies that good to us as a making up for our sins. What a beautiful sharing in the mystical body of Christ!
Who determines how one gets an indulgence?
By virtue of the power and authority that Christ gave to Peter and his successors, the pope is the one who determines by what good acts one can receive an indulgence.
There are two kinds of indulgences: partial and plenary. Partial indulgences make up partially for the damage our sins have done. To get a partial indulgence one simply has to do the prescribed act with a sorrowful heart for their sins and with the intention to receive the indulgence. For example, a partial indulgence is attached to saying the act of contrition.
Plenary indulgences make up fully for the damage that our sins have done. To get a plenary indulgence five conditions must be met. One must go to sacramental confession within 20 days of doing the good act necessary for the indulgence; one must receive holy Communion on the same day as that good act; one must offer prayers for the intention of the pope on the same day as that good act; one must do the act itself; and one must be completely free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. If the last condition is not met (it is difficult for one to be completely free from all attachment to sin), one does not receive the plenary indulgence, but a partial indulgence is still received.
So, for example, a plenary indulgence is attached to a half-hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. If one were to do this with the intention of receiving the indulgence on the same day as having received Communion and within 20 days of having gone to confession and having prayed for the pope’s intention, then one would receive a plenary indulgence if one is completely detached from all sin.
A plenary indulgence for the dead can be gained from Nov. 1-8 by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead in some manner and fulfilling the other conditions mentioned above.
Steps To Obtain A Plenary Indulgence For Souls In Purgatory This November:
1) Pray At A Cemetery
The 2020 decree asks the faithful to “visit a cemetery and pray for the deceased, even if only mentally.” Some suggested prayers include the Prayer of St. Gertrude or the Eternal Rest prayer.
2) Go To Confession & Receive Holy Communion
In order for one to obtain a plenary indulgence, whether it be for the poor souls or for oneself, the person must detach oneself from all sin. If the soul is not detached, a partial indulgence will be applied.
However, for the sick, elderly, homebound, or those who cannot go out, they can “unite themselves spiritually to other members of the faithful.”
The decree encourages this prayer “before an image of Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary, reciting pious prayers for the deceased, for example, Lauds and Vespers of the Office of the Dead, the Marian Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, other prayers for the deceased dearest to the faithful, or occupy themselves in considered reading of one of the Gospel passages proposed by the liturgy of the deceased, or perform a work of mercy by offering to God the sorrows and hardships of their own lives.”
The individual must also have “the intention of complying as soon as possible,” to the three conditions (sacramental confession, holy communion, and praying for the Holy Father).
3) Pray For The Intentions of the Pope
The Church suggests that the faithful pray one ‘Our Father’ and one ‘Hail Mary’.
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