Traditionally, in the month of November we dedicate our prayers to the faithful departed, as we learned from the parable of poor Lazarus and the rich man who feasted (Lk 16:19-31). The souls in purgatory cannot achieve their purification on their own, so they depend on our prayers, Masses, penance and almsgiving for them.
With this intention, in 1967, St. Paul VI, pontiff at the time, established partial and plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory. He even determined the week of November 1 to 8 as the “week of the souls”, in which we can earn plenary indulgences for them. All you have to do is go to confession, receive Communion, pray for the Pope (Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be to the Father) and visit the cemetery to pray for them.
In response to this act of charity, St. Catherine of Siena affirmed that the souls in purgatory who have been freed from their sorrows will never forget their benefactors on earth, will intercede for them before God and will receive them when they arrive in heaven.
On this occasion, in view of the reality of purgatory, it is worth remembering what Catholic doctrine teaches about the fate of man after death. It states that there are two definitive abodes, heaven for the righteous and hell for the wicked.
On the other hand, purgatory is not a third destination, but a transitory reality, a place of final purification for those who “die in the grace and friendship of God, but are not completely purified, although their eternal salvation is guaranteed”.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1031), the Church formulated the doctrine of the faith concerning ‘Purgatory’ above all at the Council of Florence and Trent, and in observance of certain texts of Scripture, such as the passage from the Book of Maccabees which recounts Judas Maccabaeus’ sacrificial offering for those who had died, so that they might be absolved of their sins.
This month, let’s be generous and help the souls in purgatory by offering our prayers, penances and communions in suffrage for their salvation.
The souls themselves cannot achieve their purification; they depend on our prayers, Masses, alms, penances, etc. for them.
Why purgatory is a place of hope
The promise of purgatory can bolster our hope in the future, showing the beauty of God’s love for us.
Purgatory isn’t always portrayed as a hopeful place. For many, purgatory is depicted as a place of purification, where we experience a great deal of suffering before entering the courts of Heaven.
This description can be misleading, as it can almost make it seem like a type of Hell.
Pope Benedict XVI reiterated that purgatory is meant to be a place of hope, mentioning it in his encyclical on hope, Spe salvi.
At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy … The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace … If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all … grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate.”
The existence of purgatory can give us hope during our life on earth, affirming to us that God is a just Judge, an “advocate,” rather than an arbitrary dictator. He wants to clothe us with his love, not only in this life, but also in the next. This love spurs us on, giving us hope that all the good we do is not in vain.
Furthermore, purgatory has another dimension that should give us hope. It is a place where we are still united to the Church on earth.
The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today.
Pope Benedict is referring to the ability to pray for the souls of the faithful departed, having a real impact on their experience of purgatory.
In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
If we are in need of more hope in our lives, think about purgatory and the great gift Jesus has given us in that middle place. Souls cannot achieve their purification by themselves; they depend on our prayers, Masses, almsgiving, penance, etc. for them.