The weather is chilly, and the leaves are falling outside my window. My dad is strong in my memory as I write this. I think of my dad, God rest him, because Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) was his birthday. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. I don’t think it is just me; autumn is a natural time for many of us to think about the people we’ve loved who are no longer with us.
For the Catholic Church, especially, November begins with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, and the whole month is dedicated to praying for Holy Souls in Purgatory. Perhaps no Catholic doctrine has been more misunderstood by Catholics themselves than the doctrine of Purgatory. Many downplay it because we struggle with reconciling it with the overwhelming forgiveness of God that Jesus expressed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still are imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). This teaching is scripturally based: Rev. 21:27 shares that nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven. Souls in Purgatory may struggle or suffer, but they have the assurance that they will ultimately enter Heaven when their purification is complete. Therefore, we as Catholics believe purgatory is an expression of God’s love. His desire is to cleanse human souls of all that might keep them from experiencing the fullness of joy in Heaven, aka the Beatific Vision.
Jesus came so that all of us may be one and be in communion, in community. Therefore, we believe that we don’t travel through this world alone, and our salvation is wrapped up with the salvation of others. Charity requires us to go to each other’s aid. The same is true of the Holy Souls. In their time in purgatory, they can pray for the living, and the living should pray for the faithful departed, that they may be freed from their sins and enter Heaven. We also believe that the Communion of Saints — all those now beyond purgatory — continue to pray for us.
I encourage you to offer daily prayers for the dead. Begin with those closest to you and move to those you may not know. Give them a job to do and ask them to pray for you. I think praying for the dead It is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform, and it’s hopeful: we will see our loved ones again!
Let’s clip out the following prayers and tape them to our mirrors to remind us each morning of November — and perhaps beyond — to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.