The recent loss of a dear friend of mine was a timely reminder that we are nearing the beginning of All Souls Month. The Catholic Church in its wisdom and love has set aside the entire month of November for us to pray in a special way for our loved ones who have gone before us. This ancient pious practice has been lauded throughout the ages and is rooted in the teachings ofSacred Scripture and Church tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611
The practice of praying for the dead has also been widely promoted by the Church Fathers, the doctors of the Church and the saints. The beautiful testatment of St. Ephraem entreats us to act with charity towards our departed loved ones by remembering them in our prayers and sacrifices.
Lay me not with sweet spices,
For this honor avails me not.
Nor yet use incense and perfumes,
For the honor benefits me not;
Burn yet the incense in the holy place;
As for me, escort me only with your prayers.
Give ye your incense to God,
And over me send up hymns.
Be mindful of me in your intercessions.
What can goodly odor profit
To the dead who cannot perceive it?
Bring incense to burn in the holy place,
That they who enter may smell the savor.
Wrap thou not the fetid carrion
In silk that profits it nothing;
Cast it out upon the dunghill,
For it finds no comfort in tributes of respect.
Come, my brothers, and lay out my remains; the decree has gone fort that I can tarry no longer.
Give me, as provision for my journey,
Your prayers, your psalms, and your sacrifices.
When the number of thirty days is complete,
Then, O my brothers, make remembrance of me.
For the dead truly derive succor,
From the sacrifices offered up by the living.
Say you that the dead benefit not?
Hearken to the words of the Apostle.
“If the dead do not rise again,
Why should we be baptized for the dead?”
What of the men of the family of Mattathias
Who discharged their pious office of mercy?
As you have read, in that time of war?
They atoned by their sacrifices for the sins
Of those who fell in the battle,
And who had followed the way of the heathen.
Much for the Priests of the Son of God
Shall avail to purify the dead,
By the sacrifices which they offer
And by the prayers of their mouth.
We invite you to pray with us for our beloved dead by adding your loved one to our Novena for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. A donation is requested but not required. You can also find several beautiful resources written by Susan Tassone, a valiant supporter of the cause of the Holy Souls in Purgatory on our website.