Have you visited a cemetery yet this month? If not, maybe you should! November is the month of the Holy Souls. It is a time in the Church’s calendar where we especially remember to pray for our faithful departed.
Our family loves this new tradition we have made of visiting a cemetery on All Souls Day. Last year we learnt about the indulgences available for the holy souls so we brought our boys along to visit the graves and learn about death and purgatory. Our oldest had a blast these past couple of years, running to each grave, asking their name and praying the ‘Eternal rest grant…’ prayer for each person. He had it memorised pretty quickly and seemed to grasp the concept of what we were doing.
Explaining the concept of death to children at such an early age and wandering around a cemetery praying for strangers may seem a little bit odd! Our culture tends to have a confused view of death – either we glorify it with violence in our media, or we ignore the reality of it. More recently we have been seeing laws come into place to help us try to control death itself and to experience it on ‘our terms’.
However as Catholics death is not something we should shy away from. Our faith teaches us “Memento Mori” – remember you must die. We do not want our children to have an unhealthy fear of death. Remember Christ conquered death, and in the words of St Thomas Aquinas:
“Christ died so that by dying he might deliver us from the fear of death.”
For us and those we love, it will happen and it is a part of life. In fact it is something to look forward to – in God’s time of course – because we have the hope of eternal life in Heaven with God.
Why is it important to pray for the dead?
While we should not make assumptions about whether a loved one has gone straight to heaven or hell upon their passing, we should always have hope and pray for them. Our prayers for the holy souls in purgatory are efficacious. The holy souls cannot pray for themselves so they rely on us. Our prayers can bring them real comfort and bring about their release from that final purification into the arms of the Father.
It is also a great help for those of us who are left behind. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us that we need not “grieve as others do who have no hope”. Of course we will grieve for our loved ones, but these prayer can bring us great comfort in the hope of reuniting with them one day in Heaven.
This has been especially comforting to me. I know I still wish I could have been there one last time with my grandmother and my cousin when they passed in Malaysia several years ago. I know I wish I could have met my two grandfathers and other family members who passed before I was born. Yet it is such a beautiful thought to know I can still incorporate them into my life by praying for them and looking forward to meeting them again one day.
So what is Purgatory?
“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.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned…”
“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." From the beginning the Church has honoured 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. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead…” (CCC 1030-1032)
I don’t know about you but if I’m turning up to an important event, I would never wear an outfit with stains or blemishes. I would prepare in advance, having my dress dry-cleaned, selecting the perfect shoes and accessories. I would want to look the part. How much more so should we want our souls to be spotless upon meeting our Heavenly Father?
This reminds us of the parable of the wedding banquet – the king took one look at the man who turned up without an appropriate wedding garment and had him bound and thrown out into the darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Scripture also tells us in Rev 21:27 that nothing unclean will ever enter Heaven. I see purgatory as a great gift to the faithful in this respect. A chance for us to meet our King of Kings in a manner which befits Him.
Ways to pray for the Holy Souls
Did you know that praying for the dead is a Spiritual Work of Mercy? Here are some ways in which you can pray for the Holy Souls this month.
You can pray for a specific person by name by using the prayer for eternal rest (requiem aeternam). A partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, can be obtained every time we say it: Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Offer a Holy Mass – this is easy to do whenever you attend Mass. Simply place this as an intention, as your offering, upon the altar. Pray for them when you receive communion. You can even contact the priest to have a Mass said specifically for this intention.
The Mass is the highest form of prayer in the Church, and the most effective prayer that could be said on behalf of those who have gone before us. In Masses for the dead, and especially funeral Masses, “the Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ’s Pasch for the dead so that, since all the members of Christ’s Body are in communion with one another, what implores spiritual help for some, may bring comforting hope to others.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 379)
Obtain indulgences which can be applied directly to the Holy Souls in purgatory – the available plenary indulgence is very easy to obtain. It simply involves visiting a cemetery and praying devoutly for the faithful departed. And of course meeting the usual conditions for an indulgence. This indulgence is normally available during 1-8 November, however this year it has been extended to the entire month of November due to the pandemic.
· Another beautiful prayer for the Holy Souls has been given to us by St Gertrude the Great. It has been believed to come with the promise that 1,000 souls will be released from purgatory upon devout recitation of this power prayer: Eternal Father, I offer You the most Precious Blood of Your Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for all sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
Let us join together with the universal Church as we pray for our faithful departed in a particular way this month. Perhaps you will be inspired to continue this practise throughout the year with your family. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself to a cemetery!