I like praying for the dead. Some day I’m going to die and I hope someone will pray for my soul. There are so many people who have died and have been forgotten, I like to think my praying can help.
The Catholic church has a tradition of praying for the souls in purgatory. The best example being the prayer of St. Gertrude the Great for the lost souls in purgatory:
I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.
The tradition states that each time the prayer is recited it would ease the suffering of the souls in purgatory.
St. Gertrude the Great was a 13th-century German Benedictine nun and mystic who had several visions. During one of her visions, Jesus encouraged a devotion to his Sacred Heart. Through her visions, Jesus also showed her many souls entering heaven from purgatory because of her faithful recitation of this prayer.
As a Catholic, Purgatory is honestly a reassuring concept. We are all sinners. Almost none of us are holy enough to bypass purgatory. The vast majority of us that make it to heaven will first have to pass through Purgatory’s cleansing fires, which doesn’t sound fun. But compared to the alternative, I’ll take it.
And this is a fundamental truth about Purgatory. It’s going to be painful and full of suffering. In what way, we don’t really know. It’ll be in a way that’s in accordance with God and Justice. However, on Earth, it is hard to comprehend.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes Purgatory like this:
The more one longs for a thing, the more painful does deprivation of it become. And because after this life, the desire for God, the Supreme Good, is intense in the souls of the just (because this impetus toward him is not hampered by the weight of the body, and that time of enjoyment of the Perfect Good would have come) had there been no obstacle; the soul suffers enormously from the delay.
From our limited understanding, the pain and suffering of Purgatory are derived from having obtained salvation but being unable to immediately enjoy its consolations.
However, don’t despair for the souls in purgatory. They also experience immense joy. They know they’ve been saved.
St. Catherine of Genoa wrote that the “flame of love” in purgatory removes “the rust and stain of sins” and fills the souls in purgatory with an intense longing for God’s eternal embrace.
The history & church teaching of Purgatory
Many of the church fathers believed that praying for the dead was essential. church fathers like St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine both taught the importance of the practice.
The church officially recognized the doctrine of Purgatory in the 15th and 16th centuries with the Councils of Florence and Trent.
Traditionally the month of November, which starts off with All Saints Day and then Souls Day, has been the month dedicated to the prayer for those in purgatory.
Teachings of Pope St. John Paul II on the souls in purgatory
Pope St. John Paul II also encouraged prayers for the dead:
Joined to the merits of the saints, our fraternal prayer comes to the aid of those who await the beatific vision. Intercession for the dead, just as the life of those living according to the divine commandments, obtains the merits that serve the full attainment of salvation. It is an expression of the fraternal charity of the one family of God, by which “we are faithful to the Church’s deepest vocation” (Lumen gentium, n. 51): “to save souls who will love God eternally” (Thérèse of Lisieux, Prayers, 6; cf. Manuscript A 77rº). For the souls in purgatory, waiting for eternal happiness and for meeting the Beloved is a source of suffering, because of the punishment due to sin which separates them from God. But there is also the certitude that once the time of purification is over, the soul will go to meet the One it desires (cf. Ps 42; 62) …
I encourage Catholics to pray fervently for the dead, for their family members and for all our brothers and sisters who have died, that they may obtain the remission of the punishments due to their sins and may hear the Lord’s call: “Come, O my dear soul, to eternal repose in the arms of my goodness, which has prepared eternal delights for you” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, 17, 4)”
Pope Francis on praying for the souls in purgatory
Pope Francis teaches that:
Even now we experience a communion between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven through our union with those who have died. The souls in heaven assist us with their prayers, while we assist the souls in purgatory through our good works, prayer and participation in the Eucharist. As members of the Church then, the distinction is not between who has died and who is living, but rather who is in Christ and who is not …
There is a deep and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world — us — and those who have crossed the threshold of death and entered eternity. All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in intercessory prayer.
The scriptural basis for prayer for the dead
Protestants will sometimes raise objections to the idea that you should pray for the dead or for the souls in purgatory. But there is a scriptural basis for the practice. Below are some of the more relevant verse in scripture that support the practice.
2 Maccabees 12:38-46
38 So Judas having gathered together his army, came into the city Odollam: and when the seventh day came, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath in the place.
39 And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers.
40 And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain.
41 Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.
42 And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.
43 And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection,
44 (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)
45 And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.
31 Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven.
32 And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
10 According to the grace of God that is given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble:
13 Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
1 Peter 3:18-22
18 Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit,
19 In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison:
20 Which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noe, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.
21 Whereunto baptism being of the like form, now saveth you also: not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the examination of a good conscience towards God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
22 Who is on the right hand of God, swallowing down death, that we might be made heirs of life everlasting: being gone into heaven, the angels and powers and virtues being made subject to him.
1 Peter 4:6
6 For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to the dead: that they might be judged indeed according to men, in the flesh; but may live according to God, in the Spirit.
Other prayers for the Souls in purgatory
Here are some other prayers to say for loved ones or people who have died. Along with these prayers, you can also recite a Rosary.
Heroic Act of Charity
Heavenly Father, in union with the merits of Jesus and Mary, I offer to You for the sake of the poor souls all the satisfactory value of my works during life, as well as all that will be done for me after death. I give You my all through the hands of the Immaculate Virgin Mary that she may set free whatever souls she pleases, according to her heavenly wisdom and mother’s love for them. Receive this offering, O God, and grant me in return an increase of Your grace. Amen.
Eternal Rest Prayer
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen
For the souls in purgatory
O Lord, who art ever merciful and bounteous with Thy gifts, look down upon the suffering souls in purgatory. Remember not their offenses and negligences, but be mindful of Thy loving mercy, which is from all eternity. Cleanse them of their sins and fulfill their ardent desires that they may be made worthy to behold Thee face to face in Thy glory. May they soon be united with Thee and hear those blessed words which will call them to their heavenly home: “Come, blessed of My Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”