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November 19, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. I am an avid reader of your column. A few years ago, you published an excellent piece on how to gain indulgences for the souls in Purgatory during November. I had used that column for years, but now can’t seem to find my copy. Would you be able to run it again? It’s the best article on that subject that I have ever seen. Many thanks, and keep up the good work. I also use your quizzes with my grandkids. — D.W., Ohio.
A. Thanks for your kind words. Yes, you can obtain plenary indulgences for the souls in Purgatory during the month of November. It is too late for the indulgences for All Souls Day, or for the first eight days of the month of all souls, but there is still plenty of time to seek the removal of all temporal punishment due to sins that have been forgiven. Here are the conditions for the indulgences, which can be obtained by visiting a cemetery or your parish church.
Only one plenary indulgence can be granted per day.

  1. It is necessary to be in the state of grace at the time the work is completed.
  2. There must be freedom from attachment to sin, even venial sin, or the indulgence is only partial, that is, it removes only some temporal punishment.
  3. Holy Communion must be received each time the indulgence is sought.
  4. Prayers must be recited for the intentions of the Holy Father on each day the indulgence is sought. For example, the Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be to the Father, and at the end, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”
  5. A sacramental Confession must be made within twenty days before or after completion of the prescribed work. One Confession made during that time, made with the intention of gaining all the indulgences, is sufficient.
    The suffering in Purgatory can be mitigated or removed by indulgences, which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are obtained “through the Church, who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of Mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity” (1478). Q. How do we answer those who say that Purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible and therefore there is no value in praying for the dead? — M.C., via e-mail.
    A. First of all, what is Purgatory? It is a place or state where persons who died in God’s friendship are detained for a time before going to Heaven. They will eventually go to Heaven, but they have to undergo a period of purification because of unforgiven venial sins on their soul or because they had not made up completely for the temporal punishment due from mortal sins that had been forgiven.
    For example, a person who had been in serious sin, but repented and received forgiveness just before death, would not be holy enough to go right to Heaven, but would need to atone after his death for the sinful deeds committed in his life. Or perhaps a person had no mortal sins on her soul before she died, but she had still engaged in lesser sins, such as carelessly misusing the name of Jesus or gossiping about other people or failing to pray every day.
    Jesus may have been thinking of people like this when He said in Matt. 12:32 that “whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Persons in Heaven don’t need forgiveness in the age to come, and those in Hell cannot get forgiveness, so Jesus must have been talking about Purgatory.
    As He also was in Matt. 5:26 when He talked about persons in prison who will not be released “until you have paid the last penny,” that is, paid the punishment attached to their sins.
    It’s similar to a teenager who breaks curfew and says that he is sorry. His parents forgive him, but they ground him for two weeks. That’s Purgatory. Or think about removing nails from a board, with the nails representing our sins. The removal of the nails means that our sins have been forgiven, but the holes in the board still have to be filled in. We fill in those holes and make up for our sins by prayer, fasting, penance, and good deeds, but if we don’t do enough in this life to make up for our sins, then we will have to make up for them in Purgatory because, as the Book of Revelation tells us, no unclean person can enter Heaven and see God (21:27). Or in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, we must “strive for…that holiness without which no one will be able to see the Lord” (12:14).
    It is true that the word “Purgatory” is not in the Bible, but neither is the word “Trinity,” yet we certainly believe in this doctrine that says there are three Persons in one God. So while the word “Purgatory” does not appear in the Bible, the idea of praying for the dead does. For example, in the Old Testament, when Judas Maccabeus discovered that some of his soldiers who had died in battle were wearing pagan tokens, he took up a collection to offer prayers for their souls. The Bible says that this was “a holy and pious” thing for Judas to do, “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death” (2 Macc. 12:43-46).
    There is another Old Testament passage that we often hear at funerals. It says that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them….Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed because God tried them and found them worthy of himself” (Wisdom 3:1-6). After we are “chastised a little” in Purgatory, we will be worthy of seeing God face to face in Heaven.
    There are similar passages about Purgatory in the New Testament, such as the two statements quoted earlier from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. There is also St. Peter’s statement that Jesus, after His death on the cross, went “to preach to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “descended into Hell” after His death. This means that our Lord went to that place where the good people going back to the time of Adam and Eve were waiting to go to Heaven. No one could get to Heaven until after Jesus’ death, so His first act was to release all these holy souls from their Purgatory-like prison.
    Make sure then to pray for the souls in Purgatory. Don’t believe those priests who say at funerals that so-and-so is in Heaven, when they cannot know that and when all the prayers of the Mass say no such thing. I’ve told my children to instruct whoever celebrates my funeral Mass not to canonize me. I don’t want to languish in Purgatory because no one thinks that I need prayers.
    We can pray for the holy souls all day long. Every time we go by a cemetery, we can say a prayer for the souls in Purgatory. Every time we read in the newspaper, or see on TV, that someone has died, perhaps in an earthquake or a tsunami, we can pray for their souls and the souls of all the “faithful departed.”
    That is the phrase the Church uses — the faithful departed. There is no point in praying for those who were not faithful to God when they died because they are in Hell. When we pray for those whose obituaries are in the newspaper, we have no way of knowing if they were faithful to God or not. But we should pray for them anyway and leave it up to God to apply our prayers where they are most needed.
    We also should have Masses said for departed loved ones. That’s what you see in parish bulletins every week, the names of people whose family or friends loved them enough to want to help them get to Heaven, if they are not already there. Our parents or grandparents may have died many years ago, and we hope they are in Heaven. But we don’t know that, so we pray for them every day. If they are in Heaven, then God will apply our prayers and the Masses we have said for them to someone else who needs these prayers.
    Make it part of your daily routine to say this prayer: “May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
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