Catholics throughout the globe are commemorating two very important feast/holy days on the first two days of November, namely: All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Nowadays, we almost celebrate everything for everyone. We have Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandmother's Day, and even Pet's Day! So, how could we forget the holy men and women who are now in Heaven and our departed loved ones who might still be in purgatory? As such, the Catholic church allotted the first two days of November for the Saints in Heaven and for the departed souls, respectively. Some of us may have reservations/contradictions about this dogma of the church but Catholics do believe in heaven, hell and another place after life called “purgatory”.
If you happen to take up theology classes, you may have encountered the three compositions of the Church: the church militant (the people who are still living here on earth), the church suffering (departed souls in purgatory) and the church triumphant (the saints, angels and every souls who have been raised up to heaven to be with God forever —Wow!). It takes a grain of faith to believe all these things and as we all know faith is a virtue, it's a grace which comes from God. As I always tell the kids in class, faith can not be found in malls, it can not be bought, they have to ask it from God!
Briefly, this article shall focus on the suffering souls in purgatory. The scope is quite limited based on my little knowledge, what I've learned in school, from my parents, and various literature of the Catholic church with imprimatur of an authorized catholic official and based on the canon laws of the church.
Purgatory is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven…”. As such, purgatory is the place where departed souls who have asked for and have received God's mercy and forgiveness through the sacraments of Confession, Annointing of the Sick or by simply uttering the needed sacred words before their last breath, are being temporary lodged prior to entering the gates of Heaven. I understand that even if the dead person has already been forgiven for a particular grievous sin, his/her soul may still not be eligible to enter heaven right away. The souls have to pass through the rigors (“purging fires”) of purgatory, and that he or she will have to pay the price for what he/she wrongly did on earth. It's like a temporary prison cell and that they can only be released once they have truly atoned for their sins and with the help from us, the living through prayers. As such, the dead souls will have to be purified and cleansed out of their sins first before they can be with God in Heaven forever.
As depicted in the painting below, the church triumphant (on top) are those that are already in heaven, next to it are the church militant (the living) while those below are composed of the church suffering. Church here is not the infrastructure that we see around, but it is being referred to as the community of believers or God's followers. As can further be gleaned from the said visual art, the “holy souls in purgatory” appear to be begging and pleading for our help primarily to shorten the duration of their stay in the said place maybe and so that their sufferings will be cut short. The souls in purgatory can no longer do something to rectify their wrongdoings because they're no longer alive. As such, they heavily rely on us, on our help. Note the phrase “holy souls in purgatory” because their sufferings in purgatory are merely temporary as all of them shall have the chance to see and join God in Heaven and share His eternal life and love. However, the probability of being raised up to Heaven would depend on the degree of the assistance accorded them and how they have been sorry for their sins. Absolutely, the souls in purgatory are very much far better than the souls in Hell who are agonizing from eternal damnation and could no longer be saved.
So, what can we do to help the souls in purgatory so they shall be released from the temporary sufferings at the soonest possible time? Oh, it only takes a little of our time, probably a minute or so and should be said everyday if possible. It won't even cost us a hundred bucks to do it!
Here are some simple tips to help our departed brothers and sisters who have gone ahead of us: (a) A simple mental or vocal prayer (perhaps with a lighted candle) offered for a particular soul or for all the souls in purgatory (b) A Holy Mass for the intention of a particular dead person or for all the souls in purgatory; (c) Recitation of the Holy Rosary, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary; (d) Undertaking corporal works of mercy such as giving water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, giving alms to the poor, comforting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and the like; and (e) Other good little things we do towards our neighbors or to ourselves, making some small sacrifices or the so-called “mortification” which we can offer to them silently in our hearts.
I understand the help spared to the holy souls in purgatory will be returned to us in three- folds. There are plenary indulgences that are expected to be gained from doing good works, however under certain conditions, e.g. going to mass, hearing confession and receiving the Holy Communion. Likewise, the holy souls in purgatory once they reached Heaven probably would be grateful for what we did for them. They may also be of help to us, by returning the favor, when we need and seek their help someday!
Please feel free to say your piece if you have other thoughts on this.