Some people die in the grace of God as His friends but are still imperfect and require a “purification” before entering into Heaven. These “Holy Souls” are sent to Purgatory for that purification. We call them “holy” because, although they are not yet perfect, they are on the way to Heaven.
The souls in Purgatory are also called “poor souls” because they are suffering to some extent. That is, they realize they must be purified and are still not in union with God in Heaven (see Catechism, 1030-1032).
Throughout the year and, especially, during the month of November,
Catholics remember the Holy Souls who have gone before us on the journey
home, venturing through Purgatory. Just as we suffer on this earth, so they
suffer in the afterlife before being given the beatific vision.
The subject of Purgatory can be a rather abstract concept for many, especially children. I heard it explained this way: Have you ever tried to put a wrinkled dollar bill into a vending machine? You try your best to straighten it out, but the machine simply cannot receive it in its wrinkled state. But if you put in a crisp, new dollar bill the machine takes it no problem.
Purgatory is where all the “wrinkles” are purged and “ironed out.” It’s important to know that the wrinkled bill is not worth less than the new one, it just needs some help. In other words, if you’re in Purgatory (not Hell) you will get to Heaven someday, but you have a few things God has to “iron out” first.
The Church teaches that the Holy Souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves. Think of it this way: While we are living in the world, we must have great faith and practice good works in the hopes of attaining our eternal reward in Heaven. Once we die, we can no longer do this, so we must await purification (ironing out the wrinkles). In Purgatory, where Divine Justice purifies souls, the burning pain of waiting can be extinguished by suffrages, that is by the prayers and sacrifices of the living.
When we pray for these souls, the time of their suffering and purification shortens. Our prayers help them to enter Heaven sooner. It is one of the greatest acts of charity.
Did you know that although the Holy Souls are unable to pray for themselves, when they pray for others, they are heard by God? And their prayers are even more effective than ours, because they are accompanied by their suffering.
Some of the Church’s greatest saints have explained that if one only knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them. They will pray for us.
The Blessed Mother is mindful of how intensely the Holy Souls in Purgatory are suffering and how far each of them is from Heaven, since they are all her spiritual children in need. With a mother’s keen love, she knows which soul needs her attention most. That’s why she counts on the prayers and sacrifices that we bring to her to help the Holy Souls. She has repeatedly told visionaries that these poor souls need our prayers, especially the ones who have no one to pray for them. Remember not everyone believes in Purgatory. And if you don’t believe in Purgatory, you’re not going to be praying for your friends and family members who have gone on before you. That’s why we are encouraged to befriend these poor souls by praying for them. They desperately need our prayers to go from Purgatory to Heaven. And it is precisely these souls who we refer to as the Poor Souls in Purgatory, because they are not rich in the friendships that will help them reach heavenly glory.
Some of the visionaries who have had experiences of Purgatory, not the least of whom is St. Faustina, tell us that the intense sufferings are very real. But we always have to keep in in mind that the sufferings are of a metaphysical nature. They are contained in the mind and the heart of the human soul. We only have to recall a horrific nightmare to get an inkling of how such sufferings in Purgatory might well exceed any here on earth.
Given such suffering it is a great act of charity during the Christmas season of God’s peace and love to offer our prayers and sacrifices for the poor souls in Purgatory.
Significantly, the Blessed Mother has also told us that many more souls leave Purgatory and go to Heaven on Christmas Day than on any other day. What a blessing! This is why it makes good sense to increase our prayers and sacrifices for the Holy Souls during Advent.
One of the most beautiful aspects of our Catholic faith is that it’s “one
body.” Whether on Earth, in Heaven, or in Purgatory, the Catholic Church
is the One Body in Christ. We are all in communion. We are all connected.
Our ability to intercede and pray for one another is powerful across the
dimensions, and it’s part of the mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ.
How can the faithful experience the reality of Christ’s Church that
expands across death itself … Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory!
The message of Divine Mercy given through the Scriptures, Church Tradition, and the writings of St. Faustina is a message that extends to everyone in need of God’s mercy. This includes the souls in purgatory. A quick glance at the spiritual works of mercy reminds us to “to pray for the living and the dead.”
Praying for the souls in Purgatory can be as simple as lovingly reciting one “Hail Mary” for them. And while that is certainly effective, I would suggest a few other ways for praying for the Poor Souls.
First, have a Mass said for them. There is no more powerful prayer for the deceased than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And while it’s especially beneficial to pray for the repose of a soul while at Mass and to offer one’s communion for him, having a Mass itself offered for one of the deceased is the most powerful of all. It could only get better if we were to have several Masses said for him or her (contact your local parish for more information).
Second, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for them. If you want to offer your chaplet for the souls in Purgatory, the following is a beautiful reflection and prayer.
Jesus asked St. Faustina: Today bring to Me THE SOULS WHO ARE DETAINED IN PURGATORY and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me. They are making retribution to My justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.
We Pray: Most Merciful Jesus, You Yourself have said that You desire mercy; so, I bring into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls in Purgatory, souls who are very dear to You, and yet, who must make retribution to Your justice. May the streams of Blood and Water which gushed forth from Your Heart put out the flames of Purgatory, that there, too, the power of Your mercy may be celebrated.
Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls suffering in Purgatory, who are enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. I beg You, by the sorrowful Passion of Jesus Your Son, and by all the bitterness with which His most sacred Soul was flooded: Manifest Your mercy to the souls who are under Your just scrutiny. Look upon them in no other way but only through the Wounds of Jesus, Your dearly beloved Son; for we firmly believe that there is no limit to Your goodness and compassion. Amen.
Third, offer sufferings for them. We all suffer. We all have a cross to carry, daily. The important thing is that we do not waste our sufferings. They are not wasted when we unite them to the sufferings of Christ with love and offer them to relieve the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory. We can also actively choose penances to offer them, such as fasting.
“If it were but known, how great is the power of the good Souls in Purgatory, with the heart of God and if we knew all the graces we can obtain through their intercession, they would not be so much forgotten. We must, therefore, pray much for them, that they may pray much for us”
— St. John Vianney