The Catholic Church dedicates the entire month of November to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. November 2nd is All Souls Day, sometimes called the Day of the Dead. During this entire month we pray for the souls of the faithful departed, especially those whom we have known and loved.
Scriptural basis for Prayers for the Dead
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us about the purpose of purgatory and the importance of praying for the dead:
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. 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:
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.
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." (2 Macc 12:46) 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. The 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.
Pope Francis on praying for the souls in purgatory
Pope Francis teaches that:
Even now we experience a communion between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven through our union with those who have died. The souls in heaven assist us with their prayers, while we assist the souls in purgatory through our good works, prayer and participation in the Eucharist. As members of the Church then, the distinction is not between who has died and who is living, but rather who is in Christ and who is not …
There is a deep and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world — us — and those who have crossed the threshold of death and entered eternity. All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in intercessory prayer.
Teachings of Pope St. John Paul II on the souls in purgatory
Pope St. John Paul II also encouraged prayers for the dead:
Joined to the merits of the saints, our fraternal prayer comes to the aid of those who await the beatific vision. Intercession for the dead, just as the life of those living according to the divine commandments, obtains the merits that serve the full attainment of salvation. It is an expression of the fraternal charity of the one family of God, by which “we are faithful to the Church’s deepest vocation” (Lumen gentium, n. 51): “to save souls who will love God eternally” (Thérèse of Lisieux, Prayers, 6; cf. Manuscript A 77rº). For the souls in purgatory, waiting for eternal happiness and for meeting the Beloved is a source of suffering, because of the punishment due to sin which separates them from God. But there is also the certitude that once the time of purification is over, the soul will go to meet the One it desires (cf. Ps 42; 62) …
I encourage Catholics to pray fervently for the dead, for their family members and for all our brothers and sisters who have died, that they may obtain the remission of the punishments due to their sins and may hear the Lord’s call: “Come, O my dear soul, to eternal repose in the arms of my goodness, which has prepared eternal delights for you” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, 17, 4)”
Ten Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
It is appropriate to commemorate All Souls Day by praying for those who have gone before us in faith. Here are ten ways we can pray for our deceased friends and relatives, and for all our brothers and sisters who have died in Christ.
- Pray the Novena to the Holy Souls by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
- Offer up your Holy Communions for the souls in purgatory.
- Have Masses said for your departed loved ones, especially on the anniversary of his or her death.
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the intention of the Holy Souls.
- Eucharistic Adoration: visit the Blessed Sacrament to make acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on behalf of those in purgatory.
- Sacrifices: practice small acts of self-denial throughout your day and offer these penances up for the poor souls.
- Give alms: The giving of material assistance to the poor has always been considered a penance that can be offered for the Holy Souls. “For almsgiving saves from death, and purges all sin” (Tobit 12:9).
- Ask for the intercession of saints who were known to be great friends of the Holy Souls during their lifetime to join you in prayer for the faithful departed: St. Nicholas of Tolentino, St. Gertrude the Great, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Padre Pio, St. Philip Neri, St. John Macías, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Joseph, Our Lady, and others.
- When passing by a cemetery: Pray the short Eternal Rest prayer: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
- Pray to earn indulgences for the holy souls: On all the days from November 1 to November 8, a plenary indulgence, applicable only to the Poor Souls, is granted to those who visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed (standard requirements for indulgences apply*). Partial indulgences are granted to those who recite Lauds or Vespers of the Office of the Dead, and to those who recite the prayer, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace”.
* The usual conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence apply, including sacramental confession, the reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father, as well as complete detachment from all sin, even venial sin (for more on indulgences, see the “Appendix” to Popular Devotional Practices).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1030-1032