An interview with Susan Tassone, an expert on the importance of praying for the souls in purgatory.
Every Nov. 2, the Church remembers the faithful departed in a special way on All Souls’ Day and dedicates the whole month to the holy souls in purgatory. After that, we sometimes forget that the Church urges us to pray for them all year.
Susan Tassone’s one-woman mission and ministry is to help everyone know the whys and the how-tos of helping those in purgatory. Little wonder she’s affectionately called the “purgatory lady.”
That nickname came during her appearances on EWTN’s “The Abundant Life” with co-hosts Johnnette Benkovic and Holy Cross Father Edmund Sylvia.
“Nobody has done more than Susan has over the years,” says Father Sylvia, citing interviews with her going back to the earliest of her six books. “She’s always one of the people who I pay attention to when her articles appear.”
Tassone’s latest book, Praying With the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009) is the encyclopedia on purgatory.
Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, wrote the preface, citing how “she has brought a whole new dimension to this devotion, seeing it through the spiritual writings and tradition of saints throughout the centuries.”
In her writings, speaking engagements, radio and EWTN television appearances, Tassone urges all of us to be “apostles of purgatory” to help liberate the holy souls.
Her mission began in 1993, after she realized how positive and consoling the doctrine of purgatory really is. She began to collect Mass stipends for the holy souls and offer them to needy missions and missionaries.
Fervently learning about the holy souls, she became a leading expert on purgatory, sharing her knowledge with everyone.
“In a way, Susan has singlehandedly reawakened this whole devotion in the Church,” says former Vatican official Father Joseph McCabe, a Maryknoll priest and director of the Propagation of the Faith for the Long Island, N.Y., Diocese of Rockville Centre. “All of her books are accessible, easy to read, clear and steeped in very solid theology.”
Tassone explains how God’s great mercy is always in play, what the saints reveal about purgatory and how we can avoid it ourselves. She gives dozens of ways we can constantly relieve these souls and liberate them for heaven.
She stresses that our prayers and merits have great power for them.
She points out what directly impacts the holy souls: Mass, the Rosary, Eucharistic adoration, and the Stations of the Cross.
“The most powerful, efficacious way to help souls out of purgatory is the Mass,” she says, because it’s the highest act of worship and highest form of prayer.
“By assisting at Mass or offering a Mass for a deceased loved one,” she says, “we can apply all these oceans of graces to the holy souls and for ourselves! Who do you miss the most? Who do you wish you could have done more for? Who hurt you? Have a Mass offered for them and offer a Mass for yourself while you are alive. We can do nothing better. Remember the most abandoned souls who have no one in their families who pray for them because they do not believe in the doctrine of purgatory. Pray for priests and consecrated religious. We tend to ‘canonize’ them at their death and cut off our prayers.”
The whole theology for Masses for the poor souls in purgatory has been lost in recent years, says Father McCabe, who sees Tassone bringing attention back to this grace.
And there’s the Rosary, “the most powerful Marian prayer on earth,” Tassone notes. “When we say the Rosary for the souls in purgatory, we offer to God all the merits, joys, suffering and death of our Savior for their relief.”
The third intercession is Eucharistic adoration, where we can offer intercessory prayers, and the fourth is praying the Stations of the Cross.
Through these means of prayer, Tassone stresses, “We gain indulgences attached to these prayers for the holy souls” (see Catechism, 1471).
How many people know they can gain a plenary indulgence daily from Nov. 1-8 when they visit a cemetery and a partial indulgence the rest of the year? The prayers in her latest book are indulgenced too.
Relieving and Releasing
Tassone teaches practices that relieve and release the poor souls. Visit the cemetery and pray for those buried there. Teach children these pious works too.
Pray the “Eternal Rest” prayer and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Light blessed candles as signs of prayer.
“If we offer up our hardships, accept our illnesses, mistreatment, difficult tasks, humiliations with humble hearts, endure little annoyances uncomplainingly, avoid judging, forgive, and offer these for the intention of aiding souls in purgatory,” she says, “these are the treasures that help them and at the same time enrich your merits for eternity.”
That includes giving alms; the Bible teaches that almsgiving covers a multitude of sins. The Catechism, in 1032, backs all these practices on behalf of the dead.
The practice of 30 consecutive Gregorian Masses for holy souls dates to Pope St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century. These Masses are “extraordinarily powerful,” according to Tassone, who counsels, “Have Gregorian Masses put in your will.”
Masses for the living are also important, she says.
What can we do to avoid purgatory?
Part of the answer is in our prayer. When we pray for the holy souls, they “become our intercessors and help us reach heaven,” Tassone emphasizes. “When we pray for them, they become our friends forever.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.