‘Mission of Mercy’: New Confraternity Helps Holy Souls and Comforts Grieving Families
Along with praying for the holy souls, a second goal of the confraternity is to help Catholics understand the teachings on purgatory and indulgences.
The holy souls in purgatory gained a team of new friends praying for them when the Confraternity for Holy Souls became a reality in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
“We have more and more people coming and wanting to join all the time. We’re a small parish, but we have almost 30 people in this confraternity,” Sue Goodell, who heads the confraternity at St. Basil the Great Church in Eastpointe, Michigan, told the Register.
Goodell explained the overall purpose: “We see it as a real work of mercy. We’re the prayer warriors for those holy souls in purgatory who can't pray for themselves. They pray for us, so we at least can pray for them.”
The people in the confraternity at St. Basil’s not only pray the Rosary at funeral homes, they also attend the funerals of parishioners. Goodell said they “meet and have adoration together and say the Rosary for the holy souls in purgatory.” At the small Catholic cemeteries, “it seems like every day somebody’s there saying the Rosary, which is just beautiful. So it’s an active group, and we feel grateful to have it.”
It was a successful year for a confraternity that launched less than a week before All Souls’ Day in 2022, when Archbishop Allen Vigneron told his flock in his pastoral note, “A Call to Prayer”: “An essential characteristic of the virtue of love is our devotion to Christian prayer — especially intercessory prayer for all, for the living and the dead. It is with this in mind that I present to you the Confraternity for Holy Souls, a new lay apostolate within the Archdiocese of Detroit dedicated to prayerfully interceding in love for the souls in purgatory.”
The archbishop explained, “The aim of the Confraternity for Holy Souls is to develop a better awareness among the faithful of our need to pray for our brothers and sisters who have passed on from this life and who need our prayers in preparation for their final journey of purification and sanctification to enter heaven. Through the formation of Confraternity chapters in Families of Parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, I hope that the Church of Detroit will develop an active community of intercessors praying regularly for the souls in purgatory.”
He asked everyone “prayerfully to consider joining together with your fellow parishioners to form a Confraternity for Holy Souls chapter within your Family of Parishes.”
Father Jeffrey Day, the vicar general and moderator of the curia who is also the confraternity’s chaplain, told the Register that “the archbishop has a great devotion to the holy souls,” which was one of the reasons “why he was so happy to endorse” it. “The doctrine of purgatory touches on many truths of the Catholic faith and helps believers in the authentic practice of his or her faith.”
Along with praying for the holy souls, a second goal of the confraternity is to help Catholics understand the teachings on purgatory and indulgences. The archbishop included these details with references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“There are a number of people who have through the years forgotten about this part of our faith, this part of the Church,” Father Day said. “There are so many souls that need prayer, and people don’t know about it. The biggest thing is getting Catholics to understand once again the need to pray for the holy souls and how it is helpful for them to further their movement toward the Beatific Vision.”
A workshop on “Purgatory, Our Forgotten Family” given at Sacred Heart Seminary in September 2022 by Susan Tassone, the “Purgatory Lady,” inspired the idea for the confraternity for Father Day and Gary Radomski, who were soon joined by Deacon Fred Billotto, to found what was to become an official apostolate of the archdiocese. Also the archdiocesan associate director of evangelical charity, Billotto was appointed to lead the apostolate, and Radomski became lay coordinator for the confraternity.
“There is a strong interest level,” Billotto said. “We feel helpless when we lose someone we love and may think there’s nothing we can do about it. But this gives them hope. And the teachings of the Church give them hope that their prayers for them are efficacious.”
With the archdiocese’s “Family of Parishes” — groupings of three to six parishes to a family — Father Day said the aim is “to have each Family of Parishes begin a confraternity so that there would be some synergy of like-minded people who want to pray for the holy souls.” He added that the archbishop hopes each grouping starts a chapter “so that every soul in a parish would have the opportunity to have someone pray for them after death.”
Father Day reasoned, “I don’t think anybody has ever said, ‘No, I don’t want prayers for my loved ones who have died.’”
At Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Plymouth, prior to this Confraternity for Holy Souls, Vicki Rosati had started a similar group in 2015 with the approval of the pastor. Her group subsequently became part of the new confraternity.
Rosati had has a lifelong devotion to pray for the holy souls, ever since her confirmation. On her own she began attending every funeral Mass that she could to pray for the soul of the person being buried and also for the deceased’s family members. She realized many people come to Catholic funeral Masses, but it may be the first time many are stepping into a Catholic church in a long time. She also prayed that attending the Mass of Christian burial would be efficacious, so that “their hearts would be open to God’s grace and would have a desire to return.” She recalled to the Register how one woman attending her father’s funeral Mass told her she “realized that she needed to return to the Church. She asked me if I would pray for her.” Then she said to Rosati, “I have no idea why I’m telling you this.” But Rosati knew and told her she attended her father’s funeral Mass.
“It’s necessary praying for the holy souls,” she emphasized. “They are our forgotten family. So I’m just really excited about that, to get more people involved in praying for the souls.”
She described how some confraternity members pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. She likes to make the Stations of the Cross “a couple of times a week all year-round to remember the holy souls and all those who mourn them. We also spend time in adoration, and there’s fasting for the holy souls.”
Importantly, she explained, “The homebound can be a major part of this. They don’t attend the funeral Masses, but they offer their Rosary. Their prayers are so powerful.”
Nothing seems to stop the members in their efforts. When the archbishop encouraged each parish to do a work of mercy on Saturday, Oct. 14, Goodell said that despite the pouring rain and strong winds that day, 35 members of the St. Basil the Great confraternity met at the cemetery and huddled together under their umbrellas to pray a Rosary for the holy souls.
She also finds great support from their pastor, Father Eric Fedewa, who comes to the confraternity’s gatherings. Members also meet monthly, sometimes for adoration and a Rosary for the holy souls and other times to gather to learn about a topic such as personal indulgences, “which means a lot when they’re meeting on a Saturday morning,” Goodell said. “So we are really seen as a mission of mercy.”
With great success, the members “created a little business card to pass out to families at funerals,” she added, to get the good word out. With its image of praying hands, the card reads, “The Confraternity for Holy Souls will continue to pray for your loved one.” The flip side reads, “If you have more questions about the confraternity, please call,” followed by the church’s address and phone number.
“Maybe somebody hasn’t heard about purgatory or prays for the holy soul,” Goodell said. “We’re hoping that this will spur them on. Maybe a Catholic has been away from the Church and maybe wants more information. It’s a seed. We don’t know where it’s going to lead. We don’t know if God’s going to bring a Catholic back to the faith.”
Good Fruit for Souls
Deacon Billotto envisions another benefit on the horizon. Because his work with the archdiocese includes missionary discipleship, bereavement is a spiritual work of mercy that falls within the scope of his job. “We think some in the confraternity might then get involved in a parish bereavement ministry,” he said, “perhaps going to the funeral home and praying with a family from the parish who has lost a loved one.”
On All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, Archbishop Vigneron will celebrate Mass at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and then have a formal commissioning or blessing of the members of the confraternity.
“Little by little, it will grow,” Radomski said, adding that he, Father Day and Deacon Billotti are “quite optimistic” about having 10 confraternities by the end of the year. And a parishioner from the Diocese of Lansing asked them to do a presentation at that diocese’s next conference for women.
“We’re just getting started, and there are plenty more parishes that can consider this,” Deacon Billotti said. “We have yet to see what all the potential fruit might be.”
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