According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), all those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness neces¬sary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name “Purgatory” to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The practice of special devotion to the souls in Purga¬tory in the month of Novem¬ber is an old tradition in the Catholic Church. The ‘Catechism of Christian Doctrine’ (Revised Edi¬tion published by London Catholic Truth Society, 1971), explains that ‘those souls go to Purgatory that depart this life in venial sin, or that have not fully paid the debt of temporal punishment due to those sins of which the guilt has been forgiven.
The Catechism gives the Scriptural or biblical basis for be¬lief in the existence of Pur¬gatory: “I prove that there is a Purgatory from the constant teaching of the Church, and from the doctrine of Holy Scripture, which declares that God will render to every man according to his works; that nothing defiled shall enter heaven; and that some will be saved, yet so as by fire” (Matt. 16:27, Apoc. 21:27, 1 Cor. 3:1-5). It is an incontrovertible dogma of faith always believed in the Catholic Church, and founded on indisputable evidence, that the faithful are able to aid the souls in Purgatory. Hence St. Augustine observes: “While others weep and mourn at the death of their relatives, be thou intent on coming to the relief of the departed soul by sacrifice, prayer and alms.
Prayer by itself and atonement by expiatory works, or both happily united, constitute the suffrages for the souls in Purgatory”. This article describes twelve means of relieving the suffering of the Souls in Purgatory, according to Catholic tradition. 1. Catholic Burial: The first effect of a beloved person’s death is weeping or lamenting by the relatives. Then follow the preparations for burial, the ordering or purchase of mourning dress, a pompous funeral (depending on the naira power of those af¬fected) and visits of condo¬lence, which later are in some cases a mere courtesy made for the sake of appearances. The suffering souls do not receive the least benefit or consolation from a showing funeral.
On the contrary they are grieved at witnessing how Satan is served and ambition flattered thereby. The Holy Fathers (e.g. St. Jerome) severely condemn the practice of pompous funerals and earnestly exhort us to aid in having buri¬als performed according to the rites of the Church. The ceremonies of the Church, the bearing of the cross, the ministers in their Sacred vestments, the blessings, incense, holy water, blessed candles and the consecrated ground are all replete with sweet and abundant consolation for the departed soul. 2. The Sacrifice of Holy Mass: The Holy Sacrifice of Mass has always been considered by the Church to be the most effective means of releasing the souls of the faithful departed from their torments. Our prayers and still more the prayer and suffrages of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints bring relief to the suffering souls.
But what is the prayer of heaven and earth compared with Holy Mass? In prayer a creature intercedes for a creature; in Holy Mass Jesus Christ, eternal God like His Father, makes intercession for us. Speaking of the value of this Holy Sacrifice, St. Alphonsus Liguori says: “As the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was more than sufficiently powerful to redeem the whole world, so also is one Holy Mass powerful enough to save it”. This august sacrifice is undoubtedly the most powerful means to release the Holy Souls from their place of torment. This is solemnly declared by the Council of Trent, saying, “The ecumenical Council teaches that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls confined therein are assisted Twelve means of relieving the suffering of the souls in purgatory by the suffrages (prayer, sacrifice and good works) of the faithful, and especially by the Holy Sacrifice of the altar”. 3. Official Prayer of the Church: The Catholic Church is the great institution for our salvation, founded by Christ for the whole world and for all times. As such she has the sublime mission and task of continuing throughout the centuries Christ’s work for the redemption of mankind, and to accomplish it by the conversion and salvation of all nations.
The official Prayer of the Church has an essential and particular efficacy of its own. It is more powerful to obtain graces and benefits from God than the prayer offered privately by individual persons, however pious and holy they may be. Besides the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the dead and the absolution, the Church has ordained also the recitation of a special Office of the Dead. This is handed down to us from the earliest ages of Christianity, and gives evidence of the ardent charity and devotion with which, the Church implores mercy at the throne of God and intercedes for her suffering children. 4. Offering of Holy Communion: Frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion is a most excellent means whereby we can pay off all our own indebtedness, and most effectually help the suffering souls. St. Bonaventure observes: “Let charity and compassion for your neighbours urge you on to approach the Sacred table; for nothing is so effectual as Holy Communion to obtain relief for the suffering souls”. 5. The Holy Rosary: A most appropriate prayer for the faithful departed is the Rosary.
The Blessed Virgin herself assures us through St. Dominic that “The release of the souls in Purgatory is one of the chief effects of the Rosary”. Blessed Alan relates that many Brothers and Sisters testified under oath to having had apparitions of souls from Purgatory during the prayer of the Rosary. They appeared to them wearing the sign of the cross on their foreheads, thanked them for their prayers, and asked them to persevere in it; for except Holy Mass and indulgences, there is, they said, no means so powerful to release souls from Purgatory as the Rosary, and a great number of souls were delivered by it every day. 6. Prayer: The two most efficient means of obtaining the grace of God for ourselves and others, and thereby gaining heaven, are the Sacraments and prayer. St. Bernard touchingly remarks: “I will invoke the Lord with mournful lamenta¬tions. I will beseech Him with continual sighing.
I will remember the departed in my prayers, hoping that the Lord will cast a pitying glance on them, and will change their torments into rest, their distress into ineffable glory. By such means their time of punishment can be shortened, their pains and torments mitigated”. No less aptly does Thomas á Kempis observe: “Therefore let us pray for our dear ones, whom we shall follow in a short time, that hereafter they may remember us in our distress and suffering; but let us always pray with fervent devotion and atten¬tion. A short but fervent prayer is sometimes of greater benefit to the suffering than a prolonged form of devotion which is wanting in attention”. St. Jerome observes: “I prefer one Psalm recited with devotion to the whole psalter said with distraction. 7. Alms-giving: We read in Holy Scripture.
“Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold. For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting” (Tobit 12:8-9). Alms given for the suffer¬ing souls help to atone for our own sins of extravagance, and sins proceeding from the abuse of wealth. Rev. John Nageleisen in his book, “Charity for the Suffering Souls” asserts that “This (alms given for the suffering souls) is almost the only way of attaining salvation for those who live in affluence”. The punishment of Purgatory is inflicted on many a soul is inflicted on many a soul who during its earthly life was wanting in charity to the poor. By giving alms for the suffering souls, we atone on their behalf for their want of charity while on earth. To remove a scandal, to repair injury, to pay debts, in a word, to make good whatever the departed souls failed to settle before leaving this world — all of these are most meritorious works by which the punishment of Purgatory may be softened and shortened.