By Donal Anthony Foley, World Apostolate of Fatima U.S.A.
November is the month traditionally associated with the Holy Souls in purgatory. The feast day associated with them, the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, “All Souls Day,” falls on Nov. 2 just after All Saints Day, which commemorates all those in heaven. On Nov. 2, we are particularly encouraged to pray for our departed relatives and friends who are waiting patiently to enter heaven, but we can also pray for them all through November, and indeed at any other time of the year.
Some people have tended to ignore or downplay purgatory, but when Our Lady appeared at Fatima she explicitly mentioned it during her very first apparition on May 13, 1917. After telling the children she was from heaven, she promised Lucia and Jacinta that they would go to heaven, and Francisco too, but that he would have to say many rosaries. Then Lucia asked about two girls who had died, friends of hers who used to come to her house to learn weaving.
She asked if one of them, Maria das Neves, was in heaven, and was told, “Yes, she is.” Lucia noted that she was about 16 years old. Then she asked about her other friend, Amelia, who was between 18 and 20 years old. To this question, Our Lady said: “She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.” And while the editor of Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words notes that the phrase used could be translated as “a long time,” we can learn two very important things from this dialogue.
Firstly, we have the existence of purgatory explicitly reiterated by the Blessed Virgin, during the first apparition of the series that are arguably the most important Marian apparitions of modern times, and possibly of all times.
Secondly, that Amelia, whatever her actual sins were (although we are almost certainly dealing with sexual sins of some sort), was due to spend a very long time in purgatory.
Obviously, this depends on other factors such as people praying for her, or having Masses said for her, but it is still sobering to realize how strict God’s judgments are, especially given the prevalence of sexual sin nowadays—which for many people is not even considered a sin any more.
Purgatory is essentially a place of cleansing and purification for those who die in a state of grace, but is not something permanent. The Holy Souls need to be purified, because, according to the Book of Revelation, nothing unclean can enter heaven (Rev 21:27). They are called “holy” because they can no longer offend God through sin.
Jesus pointed to the importance of the soul when he said, in the words of the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
He also pointed to the existence of purgatory, when He said: “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.”
This passage has been understood as indicating the necessity of ensuring we are purified before we die, otherwise the punishment due to our sins, even when they have been forgiven, will be exacted in purgatory.
The Catechism has this to say about purgatory: “All 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 necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC 1030)
We can help the souls in purgatory
Regarding the feast of All Souls, we can gain particular indulgences that can be applied for their benefit on this day and during November.
A plenary or full indulgence, which can only be applied to the souls in purgatory, can be gained if a person visits a cemetery each day from Nov. 1 – 8 and prays for that intention. On the feast day itself, Nov. 2, a plenary indulgence for the Holy Souls can be gained if a person visits a church or public oratory and prays the Creed and Our Father, and also an Our Father and Hail Mary for the Pope’s intentions.
A plenary indulgence completely removes the punishment due to sin, whereas a partial one only removes a part of this punishment. In practice, it is very difficult to gain a plenary indulgence, either for oneself or for a suffering soul, since in addition to the requirement of being in a state of grace, the person must also have no attachment to sin, including venial sin. If this is not the case, then only a partial indulgence is gained.
Also, to gain the indulgence, the person must receive Holy Communion and go to Confession, preferably on the day, but otherwise within a period of about 20 days before or after the day itself, and also pray for the pope’s intentions, e.g. an Our Father and Hail Mary.
Otherwise, if a person visits a cemetery at any time during the year and prays for particular souls, either vocally or mentally, then a partial indulgence can be gained. This is also the case if the prayer Eternal Rest is said at any time or in any place. (Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen).
We can also say the Rosary or do the Stations of the Cross for the Holy Souls, but as the Catechismstates, (1032), the best thing we can possibly do, and at any time of the year, is to have Masses offered for them, that they may speedily enter heaven and behold God face to face.