Purgatory is part of Catholic doctrine today and always has been from the earliest days of the Church. To use a modern phrase, the bottom line is that the Holy Souls in Purgatory are not able to pray for themselves or do anything at all to relieve their suffering. Period. The fact alone is enough to call us to pray because they rely on our prayers and efforts to help them. I know this dogma is true from personal experience.
My Ukrainian grandmother, who had been in Canada for barely 15 years, died accidentally under extreme duress as a young mother of three boys, when her husband was at war. Since this occurred in the 1940’s, she was denied a Christian burial in the Catholic Church. When my grandfather returned from the war, the young family left the Catholic Church and my grandfather remarried a Protestant Presbyterian. In turn, I was raised in this Church with no knowledge of any Catholic roots, until I converted. My father pleaded with me to reconsider; his childhood memories of how the Church handled immigrants were horrific.
This is why the subject of praying for those on the other side of the veil is close to my heart. I KNOW personally, the agony of a soul who is desperate for my prayers. I have learned through personal experience, that souls in purgatory, although they cannot pray for themselves, press in on the most sensitive of their relatives for prayer.
It took years before I understood that the emotional weight I carried like a rock in my chest was not mine, but I what I felt was actually my grandmother’s guilt, shame and sense of unforgiven sin in my own emotions. I heard her negative words interiorly, and again the words I heard seemed to condemn ME. These spiritual, emotional and even physical burdens were simply the only way my grandmother could get my attention.
After two years of interceding for her, a priest (who in fact is the official exorcist of my diocese) was finally led by God to give this poor soul absolution in the name of the Church. Instantly, I mean immediately, I was free and my grandmother was filled with joy, as she literally flew into the arms of Christ. I still could burst out into songs of praise every time I think of my grandmother, and in thanksgiving for the new joy which replaces the burdens I carried for years.
The truth is we are all connected in the Body of Christ. The communion of saints, of all souls, is real, and a fact, My grandmother affected me, and I am still connected to her, just as St. Paul tells us in his letters. So, I would say that praying for the dead, especially for those we have known, is a not simply a requirement of Christian charity, but essential to our own spiritual health and well-being.
Even the Old Testament mentions the practice:
“It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” (II Macab. XII., 46).
In the modern world, when many have come to doubt the Church’s teaching on Purgatory, the need for such prayers has only increased. The Church devotes the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and participation in the Mass of All Souls Day is a good way to begin the month.
Although they cannot pray for themselves, souls in purgatory pray for us, especially for those who pray for them. St. John Vianney said: “If one 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.”
St. Theresa of Avila (Spain) said that she always obtained the favours, which she asked from God, through the intercession of the Souls in Purgatory.
Saintly Padre Pio expressed his thought on Purgatory by simply saying, “Holy Souls are eager for the prayers of the faithful which can gain indulgences for them. Their intercession is powerful. Pray unceasingly. We must empty Purgatory.”
Prayer for the dead is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform. Our prayers help them during their time in Purgatory, so that they can enter more quickly into the fullness of heaven. These prayers are especially suited for offering a novena on behalf of the dead, or for praying during those seasons of the year (November, in the Western Church; Lent, in the Eastern Church) designated by the Church as times of fervent prayer for the faithful departed.
Faithful Departed here is a link for many more prayers for the month of November
Prayer for Mercy on the Souls in Purgatory
While we know that all who are in Purgatory will enter into Heaven, we are still bound by charity to try to lessen the suffering of the Holy Souls through our prayers and deeds. While our first responsibility is to those people we have known, it is important to remember in our prayers those souls who are most forsaken.
The Heroic act of Charity : O my God, in union with the merits of Jesus and Mary, I offer Thee for the Souls in Purgatory, all my Satisfactory Works, as well as those which may be applied to me by others during my life and after my death. And to be more agreeable to the Divine Heart of Jesus and more helpful to the departed I place them all in the hands of the merciful Virgin Mary.
Saint Gertrude’s Purgatory prayer- “releases 1000 souls”
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 home, and within my family. Amen. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus “