Praying for the Holy Souls: New Children’s Book Explains That ‘Purgatory Is One of God’s Greatest Gifts’
The ‘Purgatory Lady’ conveys the concept in a kid-friendly manner.
Susan Tassone is the author of 14 best-selling books, nine of which are specifically on purgatory and considered prime resources on the subject, with the endorsements of more than a dozen cardinals and bishops. She has been researching the doctrine of purgatory for 20-plus years. Her new book, New Friends Now and Forever: A Story About the Holy Souls, is a children’s picture book with an engaging storyline that introduces young readers to the holy souls and the reasons to pray for them.
Father Jeffrey Day, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Detroit, saw the book and brought it to Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who told him to “please talk with our superintendent of schools, and as well as with our director of evangelization” about it. Father Day said both were “excited about having it distributed. That was the recommendation that the archbishop endorsed.” The archdiocese first ordered 2,500 copies for co-workers at the curia, as well as to all the schools for “the age-appropriate level when they teach about purgatory, and then we’ll have them available to for our religious-education programs,” Father Day told the Register.
Tassone has been a frequent guest on many national Catholic radio shows and EWTN Global Television Network shows.
Tassone discussed her new book via email with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen.
Why did you decide to write about purgatory specifically for children?
I wanted to write a book on purgatory for children for several years. I have nine books published on purgatory, but there is no book on purgatory for children. We need to reach the children and bring the Church’s teaching about the holy souls to youngsters in a faithful, creative, inspiring way that emphasizes God’s love for us. I do that with this book, New Friends Now and Forever.
Some people think purgatory is a scary concept for children. What do you think?
Yes, and for adults, too. One of the objectives of New Friends Now and Forever was to develop an understanding of why the holy souls suffer and how we can develop a close friendship with them. The book is warm, with a gentle tone suited for children. I introduce the holy souls in a welcoming way through friendship with the elderly couple at the parish. Purgatory is described in ways that put a smile on children’s faces — parents, too — rather than frighten them.
Children love chivalry and heroes. Because we are the “Church Militant” I show them how they can play a role in rescuing the holy souls from purgatory by becoming “prayer-pals.” Children’s prayers are powerful and can help the holy souls reach heaven. With the Church’s teaching on purgatory, children discover that they are part of something much bigger than they might ever imagined.
Speaking about purgatory, Pope Benedict stated in Spe Salvi: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another … they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.” Devotion to the souls in purgatory flows from the recognition of our interconnectedness in Christ, even beyond death.
How did you approach teaching a doctrine like purgatory to children?
Jesus taught the people by speaking in parables; he told stories. So New Friends Now and Forever is a delightful story of twins, Ben and Hope, who become “prayer-pals” with Mr. Ray, an elderly friend from their parish. They agree to pray for each other and to help him pray for his departed wife. Along the way, Hope and Ben learn that purgatory is real and that it is nothing to fear because it is a special way God shows his love for us. Purgatory is not a punishment. It’s the masterpiece of God’s mercy.
And the best part? The children learn that the power of their prayers and sacrifices helps the faithful departed reach heaven and that those souls will intercede for them, becoming their “forever friends.”
Why is you book on purgatory for children so necessary and relevant today?
In the immediate decades after the Second Vatican Council, purgatory was less frequently taught about in religion classes and even in some seminaries. As a result, teachers and parents lacked understanding and knowledge to talk about it. In recent years, however, the tide has turned, and people have begun to discover that purgatory is one of God’s greatest gifts. This book fills that gap and solves this problem for children learning about it.
What benefits can the children — and adults reading the book with them — learn about when praying for souls in purgatory?
The souls pray for you with a fervor so great, so intense so constant that God refuses them nothing. By their intercessory prayers, they shield their friends from dangers and protect them from the evils that threaten them. They become your second guardian angel. They will lessen our purgatory. They will never cease these prayers until they are safely home in heaven. You will be their “forever friends.” And the more you pray for them, the more powerful their intercession is for you. It comes from the Catechism (958).
How do you see praying for the holy souls will help kids grow in virtue?
In the story, as the children begin to pray more, they begin doing things for others, taking more responsibility. They learn the power of their prayers and what special prayers can help “release” the souls in purgatory. They learn about sacrifice and “offering it up” in a practical way for children their age, like the children of Fatima, who offered their prayers, gave up their lunch for the poor, and prayed the Rosary.
The book also includes adoration and praying the Rosary and Stations of the Cross, which directly relieve and release the holy souls from purgatory. Twins Ben and Hope, the main characters, are practicing the virtues of faith, hope and charity: faith and confidence in God through prayer; hope in his divine Providence, that he wills the good of others and takes our offerings and sacrifices and provides grace and mercy; charity in allowing our hearts to expand in love for all souls, even those we don’t know, wanting their salvation. This is how we all become saints.
In your book, one central character, an elderly man, dies. How does your story help children understand and deal with death, sad feelings and grief?
It is important to shape the message to the level of children’s understanding. If they are younger, it is best to say, “He or she died. They loved you very much and felt terrible in leaving you. You can pray for them and that way ask Jesus to comfort them and you. It is sad to lose someone you love. But people feel many things when someone dies.” Ask the child what they feel.
Give the child things they can do to help the deceased and themselves: light candles, prayers that they can say or drawings they can make, and share this book with them. These practices are in the story. In fact, the “Eternal Rest” prayer, the Church’s official prayer for the dead, is woven throughout the book. By the end of the story, they will know this special prayer by heart.
How is it a teaching tool in other ways for Catholic families too?
The book has many special features for everyone. There is a special “Grown-Up” page that gives guidance for grown-ups teaching children about purgatory. It also gives parents a solid foundation about purgatory.
There is a “Seek-and-Find” Catholic symbols activity page. The symbols and devotions throughout the book teach about our faith. For example, it explains “Bells”; then the child can search for the bells. There is a “Did You Know?” page that gives them ways to know more about how to help the holy souls. Overall, the book is for children ages 6 to 10, and also for parents, grandparents, classrooms, home schools, parishes, catechists, even the curious. The book has been given an imprimatur, too.
Do your characters and places have special significance?
Every detail in this book conveys the love and mercy of God, starting with the names of characters. Ben is named after the favorite son of Jacob. Hope represents the virtue to never lose hope. The parish church is named after a popular purgatory saint, St. Gertrude. The mom is pregnant with baby Nicholas, named after the patron of the holy souls. Mom gives birth near All Souls Day, pointing to the constant cycle of life: There is a season to die; a season to be born. Even the color and symbols on the priest’s vestments are symbolic for the children, pointing to the Eucharist and pelican feeding her young to the vestment on All Souls Day, which is handmade by the French nuns from the Shrine of Our Lady of Montligeon, World Center Prayer for the Dead in Montligeon, France. The vestment depicts Our Lady of Deliverance rescuing souls.
What is your overall hope with this book?
We need to form merciful hearts in our children, plant the seed for prayer in their young hearts, and teach them to reverence the deceased.
This book offers children what they can do here and now. They can participate actively in God’s plan of salvation for the world and help souls reach heaven, building up the “Church Triumphant.” These are the “cloud of witnesses” who surround us with their prayers and support. It meets the need of all future generations of Catholics and those who hunger to be catechized in this critical devotion.
New Friends Now and Forever: A Story About the Holy Souls is available from the EWTN Religious Catalogue.
Susan Tassone will appear on EWTN’s Bookmark:
Sunday, Oct. 29, at 10 a.m.
Monday, Oct. 30, at 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 4, at 11:30 p.m.
She will appear on EWTN’s Women of Grace:
Monday, Oct. 30, at 1 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 31, at 1 p.m.