I love visiting cemeteries. The stories that unfold as I wander the rows of gravestones are fascinating. I mourn the loss of a tiny infant who lived just ten days, buried between her father and mother. A weathered Mother’s Day card rests against a granite marker, and I marvel that it is still there, months after the holiday has passed. I note a veteran’s plaque on a soldier’s grave and silently thank him for his service. His wife’s grave also bears a veteran’s plaque from World War II. Was she an intelligence officer? A nurse?
My cemetery visits also provide an opportunity to pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Praying for the dead is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy. In fact, the Church dedicates the month of November to praying for the Poor Souls.
From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. (CCC 1032)
Once in Purgatory, the souls cannot do anything themselves to shorten their stay as they undergo the purifying fire necessary for their entrance to heaven. However, our prayers and sacrifices, pleading for God’s mercy, can shorten their stay. According to Scripture: It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sin. (2 Macc 12:46)
I have taught my children to pray for the Poor Souls every time we pass a cemetery. We pray St. Gertrude’s Prayer, believed to release 1000 souls from Purgatory:
Eternal Father, 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, those in the universal church, in my own home and within my family. Amen.
In return for our prayers, we can ask the souls to pray for us and our intentions. We are all part of the Communion of Saints and can pray for one another. Perhaps during the month of November, you can establish a family tradition of praying for the Poor Souls. Here are a few ideas:
- Give up a small luxury such as a meal at a restaurant or a night at the movies and use the money saved for a mass stipend for the Holy Souls.
- Memorize the St. Gertrude prayer above and pray it every day as a family throughout the month of November.
- Visit a cemetery and show your children how to show respect for the dead and that they are not scary places. Buy a few flowers to place on a gravestone that doesn’t have any.
- As you’re driving around doing errands, pray the Rosary as a family for the Poor Souls.
- Tell your children stories about some of your deceased relatives and pray for those family members by name.
By month’s end, you’ll likely agree with St. Josemaria Escriva, “The Holy Souls in Purgatory are my good friends.”
Copyright 2012 Peggy Bowes