During the month of November, the Church remembers in a special way all those who have died. This begins with a joyful celebration of all the saints and continues into the more somber remembrance of all those who have died but have not yet entered fully into the blessed rest of heaven. The Church encourages all of the faithful to keep these souls in mind throughout the month and offer prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. Below are some suggestions on things to do this month. If you’re puzzled about purgatory, you can skip over to the brief explanation of purgatory.
Five Ways to Help the Souls in Purgatory in November
- Go to a cemetery and pray for those who are buried there. This is especially great to do between November 1st and November 8th because the Church attaches a plenary indulgence to making a cemetery visit during this time.
- Write the names of loved ones who have died in the Book of the Deceased in the church. These souls will be remembered at each Mass.
- Offer prayers for those souls who have no one else to pray for them.
- Tell God that you want to offer all the joys and pains that come your way this month for the souls in purgatory. Of course, this would mean you can’t complain about those pains when they come!
- Go visit the poor on behalf of the souls in purgatory. Souls in purgatory need to make amends for all those ways in which they hurt others and closed themselves off to charity. Visiting the poor on their behalf – chatting with a homeless person on the street, serving in a soup kitchen or shelter, etc. – can be a very meaningful way to help make amends for others’ sins. As 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
What’s Up with Purgatory?
There is a lot of talk of purgatory in the Church, especially around the month of November. But there’s often not much explanation. It’s taken for granted that people understand. So in the hopes of helping you enter more joyfully into the spirit of the month, here’s a brief explanation of just the basic logic behind purgatory. If you’re interested in where purgatory is in the Bible, you can check out this helpful article. The people over at Catholic Answers have had a lot of time (and talent) to put together resources on this topic, so if you want more, you can check them out.
The Basic Logic behind Purgatory
Being Prepared for Heaven
Is one prepared to enter into God’s presence and share in God’s life of self-giving love? This is the basic issue underlying the Catholic understanding of purgatory. Entering into heaven is to enter into God’s life of self-giving love. This life was displayed in a human manner most fully by Jesus on the cross. Jesus went to his death for the sake of others, all the while offering forgiveness and prayers of mercy on behalf of those who hated him. Entering into God’s life means being conformed to the image of Jesus which, in turn, means becoming the sort of people who are willing to lay down their lives in love for others.
This life, clearly, is quite hard. Most of us are conditioned by selfishness and sin which make it quite painful for us to come out of ourselves and even think about others, not to mention suffer for them. Entering into God’s life of complete self-giving and blissful communion, then, requires some painful healing of our hearts. Like a doctor setting a broken bone, God’s love (the fires of purgatory) will cause pain as it heals our hearts. But this healing is necessary if we’re to be able to participate in the blissful communion with God and others.
Justice and Purgatory
Another aspect of purgatory has to do with justice. Every sin we commit impacts others. This is clear in the case of public sins or sins like murder, but it’s even the case with “private” sins. Every sin we commit has a negative impact on others. Because of this, we have to make amends for things we’ve done. If a guy were to throw a brick through my window and soon after apologize, I could forgive him but something would still have to be done about the window. It’s only right that he do something to make up for the damage he’s caused. Same thing with our sins. Forgiveness if offered in Jesus, of course, but justice may demand that we make some sort of amends for the evil we have done and the pain we have caused others.
We Can Help
Considering purgatory as a process of making amends and finding healing, we can get a better idea of how our prayers and sacrifices can help souls in purgatory. Our sins affect others, yes, but so too do our works of charity. By offering prayers and serving the poor, we can take up – so to speak – the burdens of those in purgatory and make amends on their behalf. Doing so is a beautiful imitation of Christ who suffered and died on our behalf. Our prayers and acts of charity can also ease their healing process, much like the presence and aid of a friend can ease the pain of a medical procedure.