Prayers to Purgatory

It's mid-November. Have you prayed for the Church Suffering yet?

Sure, All Souls' Day was back on the second. But the Church dedicates this whole month to the holy souls in purgatory — and urges us to pray for them not just now, but all through the year.

“Just as in their earthly life believers are united in the one mystical body, so after death those who live in a state of purification experience the same ecclesial solidarity that works through prayer — prayers for suffrage and love for their other brothers and sisters in the faith.”

Those are the words of Pope John Paul II in his Aug. 4, 1999, general-audience reflection on purgatory.

How can families get into — and stick with — the holy-souls prayer habit?

Begin by teaching your children the four pillars that have a direct impact on the holy souls, says Susan Tassone, author, speaker and all-around champion of the holy souls. The pillars, she says, are the Mass, the rosary, Eucharistic adoration and the Stations of the Cross.

“The Eucharist is the most efficacious way to help the souls get out of purgatory because it's the highest act of worship and highest form of prayer,” says Tassone, whose books include Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls (OSV, 2004) and Praying in the Presence of Our Lord for the Holy Souls (OSV, 2001).

Every liturgy mentions the faithful departed, she points out. Families can attend Mass, have a Mass offered for the departed, and enroll the family and deceased loved ones in one of the several spiritual-remembrance societies that pray for souls in hundreds or even thousands of Masses a year.

Take children to adoration, especially in this Year of the Eucharist, adds Tassone. “And pray the rosary as a family and say the ‘Eternal Rest’ prayer with the rosary.” Parents can also teach St. Gertrude's prayer for holy souls. (See page 17.)

Include the holy souls in grace before meals and during other family prayers, says Conventual Franciscan Father John Grigus of Marytown. “If that is done in a good, healthy way in the family, when these kids grow up, they will continue to teach their children as well.”

That's happening in Louisburg, Kan., with Dennis and Lisa Reilly and their four children, ages 2 to 6.

“Before every meal and in our prayers before bedtime,” says Lisa, “we pray for our deceased relatives and someone (we know) who just passed away. We tell the kids they have a grandma and grandpa in heaven and a grandma and grandpa on earth. They understand. It just seems normal to them.”

Father Grigus points out that going through the family photo album can spark spontaneous teaching moments when children look at relatives who aren't around any more.

“Mom or Dad can talk to them, leaving them with a sense of hope by telling them the Lord is still taking care of the deceased members of the family, purifying them by his love,” he says.

The Reillys keep a framed picture of the grandparents in the family room. “Just by virtue of praying for them, the children have an understanding they need prayers,” Lisa says. “We've explained to them that the people are getting ready to go to heaven.”

One day, she notes, long after the tradition has become an ingrained habit, “They'll be praying for us.”

Susan Tassone advises parents to urge their children to offer up “little things” for the suffering souls. They might go without dessert or TV for an evening, she says. Or maybe they can go out of their way to do a good deed and offer it to God on behalf of the holy souls.

Come to think of it, parents ought to be doing those things, too, for such actions are spelled out in the Catechism, which reads: “The Church … commends almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (No. 1032).

Kristen Zimmerer, 20, of Denton, Texas, learned to pray for the dead as a child. She recalls complaining about her knees hurting from kneeling in church. “My dad told me to offer it up for the holy souls in purgatory. You pray for them, and they'll pray for you,” she says.

Her father, Alan Zimmerer, learned it from his parents, so “it became natural to raise my kids to offer it up,” he explains. He, wife Brenda and their five children, ages 3 to 20, remember the souls of loved ones and others in each family rosary — and they make it a family practice to gain a plenary indulgence according to the Church's precepts.

The Catechism tells us: “Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishment due for their sins may be remitted” (No. 1479).

For the past six years, once a month on average, the family drives to Houston for confession and Mass. On the way, they pray a rosary together.

“We offer the plenary indulgence for the pour souls in purgatory and ask them to pray for us,” says Alan. “It's truly a joyful family event. My kids look forward to it.”

Sacramentals Save

Don't spare the sacramentals, says Tassone. The lighting of votive candles can be traced back to the catacombs, where the martyrs and faithful departed were entombed.

Tassone encourages parents, grandparents and godparents to take kids to a cemetery this time of year. “Teach them to sprinkle holy water on the graves,” she says, “because the souls get relief from holy water.”

Our prayers are a two-way street. When we pray for the holy souls, Tassone says, “the holy souls become our intercessors and help us reach heaven. When we pray for them, they become our friends forever. Bishop Fulton Sheen tells us, ‘As we enter heaven, we will see them, so many of them, coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say, ‘a poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.”

For each of us, may that line stretch out of sight.

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.