In 2015 I developed a special devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. It was my first November attending the Traditional Latin Mass at a Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) apostolate—and my first exposure to the Church’s rich heritage of prayers and practices for the “Month of the Holy Souls”, long-forgotten by many. Our FSSP priests offered the somber, heavily incensed Requiem Mass; they organized and led cemetery visits to pray for the dead and earn indulgences for them; they taught us to recite the ancient penitential psalm, De Profundis (“out of the depths”); and they provided solid catechesis on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.
By comparison, at my previous novus ordo parish, November was a fast-fading tribute to the faithful departed, kicked off with Mass on All Souls Day, quietly commemorated throughout the month by the presence of the Book of the Names of the Dead on the altar, and all but forgotten by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. The FSSP experience profoundly changed my view.
Befriending the holy souls.
I’ve always been drawn to old cemeteries, pondering the dates and epitaphs engraved on the headstones of the deceased, and imagining the lives they led. During that November of several years ago, I began reading deeper into Church teaching on Purgatory, and, the more I learned, the more my compassion grew for the Church Suffering.
I began a simple devotion of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily and offering up small sacrifices for these poor souls, along with the souls who will die that day, especially those whom no one remembers to pray for. As I wrote in Part One of this series, our brethren in Purgatory have literally run out of time to atone for their sins; they need our earnest and ongoing prayers and sacrifices to hasten their entry to Heaven.
But it’s not a one-way relationship. The poor souls want to pray for us, too!
The best thank you gift ever.
“In the communion of saints,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second edition, “a ‘perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory, and those who are still pilgrims on earth.’[i] Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.”
Said another way, we scratch their backs, they scratch ours. But an 18th century bishop perhaps said it best (emphasis mine):
“These destitute, suffering souls do not wait until they enter heaven to exhibit their gratitude towards their benefactors: while they still languish in purgatory, they pray without intermission for the welfare of soul and body, obtain for them recovery from disease, assistance in poverty, help in necessities, counsel and protection on journeys and in danger, preservation and increase of their temporal goods, aid them in the salvation of their souls, and, above all, come to their relief in the agonies of death and before the judgment seat of God.”
Now that is well worth 15 minutes each day of prayer for God’s mercy on the Holy Souls in Purgatory!
Praying it forward.
Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory by Susan Tassone is a most useful aid in praying for the dead. For each day of the year, she provides a one-page meditation along with insights and true accounts to inspire your devotion to the faithful departed. The January 30 entry, for example, is entitled “Gifts from the Grateful Souls” and provides the quote I just cited from 18th century German Bishop Joseph Colmar of Mainz, Germany.
My copy of Day by Day is worn and dog-eared. I use it to record the names of deceased relatives, friends and even some celebrities and newsmakers (who tend to be praised but not prayed for) on the pages that coincide with the anniversaries of their deaths. Each morning as I read the day’s reflection, I remember especially any souls whose names I’ve inscribed beneath it.
In the last week, I’ve added three names to my book, including that of my mother who passed away January 27 after a long illness. As I discussed in in Part Two, we can also help the dead by praying for them as they die. In any case, they will be eternally grateful for our efforts, and we can count on their prayers for us.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
[i] Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5