How appropriate, then, that the Catholic Church offers us November, which begins with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, as the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory--those who have died in grace, yet who failed in this life to make satisfaction for all of their sins.
In recent years, perhaps no Catholic doctrine has been more misunderstood by Catholics themselves than the doctrine of Purgatory. Consequently, we tend to downplay it, even seem a little embarrassed by it, and it is the Holy Souls who suffer because of our discomfort with the doctrine.
Purgatory is not, as many people think, one last trial; all of those who make it to Purgatory will one day be in Heaven. Purgatory is where those who have died in grace, but who have not fully atoned for the temporal punishments resulting from their sins, go to finish their atonement before entering Heaven. A soul in Purgatory may suffer, but he ultimately has the assurance that he will enter Heaven when his punishment is complete. Catholics believe Purgatory is an expression of God's love, His desire to cleanse our souls of all that might keep us from experiencing the fullness of joy in Heaven.
As Christians, we don't travel through this world alone. Our salvation is wrapped up with the salvation of others, and charity requires us to come to their aid. The same is true of the Holy Souls. In their time in Purgatory, they can pray for us, and we should pray for the faithful departed that they may be freed from the punishment for their sins and enter into Heaven.
We should pray for the dead throughout the year, especially on the anniversary of their death, but in this Month of the Holy Souls, we should devote some time every day to prayer for the dead. We should start with those closest to us--our mother and father, for instance--but we should also offer prayers for all the souls, and especially for those most forsaken.
We believe that those Holy Souls for whom we pray will continue to pray for us after they have been released from Purgatory. If we live Christian lives, we too will likely find ourselves in Purgatory someday, and our acts of charity toward the Holy Souls there now will ensure that they remember us before the throne of God when we are most in need of prayers. It's a comforting thought, and one that should encourage us, especially in this month of November, to offer our prayers for the Holy Souls.
(Two gravestones in Saint Mary and Saint James Cemetery in Rockford, Illinois. Photo © Scott P. Richert)
Prayers for the Faithful Departed:
- Weekly Prayers for the Faithful Departed
- Eternal Rest
- Eternal Memory
- Prayers for November: The Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory
More on Purgatory:
- On the Last Things and Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven - Lesson Thirty-Seventh (from the Baltimore Catechism No. 2)
- Reader Question: Prayer for the Dead
- Reader Question: What Happened to Purgatory?
- Reader Question: Does the Church Still Believe in Purgatory?
- Reader Question: Is There a Scriptural Basis for Purgatory?
- Reader Question: Was Christ's Death Enough?
- Reader Question: Why Do Catholics Believe in Purgatory?