Why Do We Pray for the Souls in Purgatory?
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his masterpiece Life is Worth Living, says about Purgatory, among other things, that it is “where the love of Man tempers the injustice of Man.”
Purgatory is that state in which people who have died in God’s Grace, but without letting go of some of the imperfections and attachments of sin, undergo a purification before entering Heaven, which nothing unclean can enter (Rev. 21:27).
Sin has many nasty consequences. Even after we are forgiven, the wounds and weaknesses may stay with us. We may even still harbor some attachment to our forgiven sin. Those in Purgatory have died in friendship with God and through His Mercy have been given the opportunity to be made perfect.
On Earth, we can actively purify ourselves, with God’s Grace, through prayer, penance and acts of charity. In Purgatory, however, the Holy Souls, as they are called, are passive as they are purified. They are receptive to God’s actions as a patient might be with a surgeon, or a precious metal that is purified by flame.
St. Catherine of Genoa, the fifteenth century mystic, wrote a tract on Purgatory that has been titled Fire of Love, and illustrates that reality. Though she says that souls rejoice to undergo purgation, like on Earth, where spiritual growth is often born of suffering, suffering does exist in Purgatory. The Church in Purgatory is even called the Church Suffering, as suffering is one of the things that distinguish Purgatory from Heaven.
One of the beautiful things about Purgatory is that God has allowed those of us still on Earth to aid, by our prayers, the purification of the Holy Souls. Just as we can pray for our loved ones who are living, and in a mysterious way our prayers can be channels of Grace for them, the same is true for our departed loved ones in Purgatory. Our prayers can help them more speedily reign in Heaven.
This brings us back to Archbishop Sheen’s quote, that Purgatory is where the love of Man tempers the injustice of Man. How many of us have suffered at the death of a loved one over things we wish we would have said, or acts of love we wish we would have done? If only we had another chance, we wouldn’t miss those opportunities.
We do have another chance. We Catholics do not have to wallow in regret. Our acts of love do not have to stop because of the death of a loved one. Some people do very poignant things in honor of their deceased loved ones. We can do very powerful things for them as well.
We can continue acts of love for our loved ones, and offer them in place of those we didn’t do when they were with us. And whether we pray for parents or grandparents or friends, or perhaps souls we never knew in this life, when those souls stand before God in Heaven, we can be confident that they will remember us in their prayers.
One of the most beautiful things about the Church is that it is the Body of Christ. Whether it’s the Church on Earth, or in Heaven, or in Purgatory, it is all one Body, and it is all connected.
Praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory is one of the beautiful ways of experiencing that reality. We stay connected in a very real and powerful way to those who have gone before us; we help them with our prayers, Mass offerings and sacrifices; and we prepare to enjoy Heaven with them for all eternity.
The Feast of All Souls on November 2 gives us a wonderful opportunity to participate in this devotion. If we pray for the dead at a cemetery during this time (between November 1st and 8th) we can gain a plenary indulgence for them, when all the conditions are met.