The devotion to the memory of the dead is one of the most beautiful expressions of the Catholic spirit."
—Pope St. John XXIII
The Catholic Church dedicates the entire month of November to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. During this entire month we pray for the souls of the faithful departed, especially those whom we have known and loved. November 2nd is All Souls Day, also known as the Day of the Dead.
CHURCH TEACHING ON PURGATORY
The souls in purgatory died in the mercy of God, this is why they are called holy; however, because they still had attachment to sin at the time of their death, they must undergo a spiritual purification of their souls before they are able to fully love God with their whole heart, mind, and soul for all eternity.
The holy souls are "saved souls"—they will enjoy the reward of heaven—but during their lives they were not the perfect souls that Christ commanded them to be (Mat. 5:48), and for which he provided every grace and means for them to become (2 Pet. 1:3). We are meant to die after living as saints. Those who die in the love God but fall short of holiness due to habitual sinful clingings must be pure before being admitted to the beatific vision, that is, the vision of God that the saints in heaven enjoy for all eternity. For more information, read What Do Catholics Really Believe About Purgatory?
Those in purgatory cannot pray for themselves, this is why they are also called "poor" souls. They can no longer merit anything for themselves (their opportunity for increasing in merit was during their earthly lives) and they must rely entirely on others to pray and make sacrifices on their behalf. As they are nevertheless part of the Communion of Saints, they depend upon us to help ease their suffering and quickly advance them through their purification so that they can join the saints in heaven.
Prayers for the faithful departed pleases God, who makes use of our prayers to help purify these souls that He loves. It is an act of charity that we can give for those we have known and loved, for our ancestors who gave us life, for those who were our benefactors, for those whose memory is lost, and for those who have no one else to pray for them.
Here are some ideas for praying for these suffering (and often neglected) souls, especially during the month of November dedicated to their memory:
20 WAYS TO PRAY FOR THE HOLY SOULS IN PURGATORY
2. Offer up your Holy Communions for the souls in purgatory.
3. Have Masses said for your departed loved ones, especially on the anniversary of his or her death.
5. Pray the special Holy Souls Rosary. After the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Holy Rosary is the most powerful prayer.
6. Obtain indulgences: Indulgences reduce or cancel the temporal punishment that we incur through sin.* There are many ways to obtain indulgences through pious actions, and we can apply their merits to the dead. You can find a partial list of indulgences here.
If you visit a church or oratory on All Souls Day and there recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle's Creed, you can earn a plenary (full) indulgence applicable only to the souls in purgatory (under the usual conditions).*
7. Give alms: The giving of material assistance to the poor has always been considered a penance that can be offered for the Holy Souls. "For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin" (Tobit 12:9).
9. Prayer of St. Gertrude for the Holy Souls: this prayer is attributed to St. Gertrude the Great and was the prayer by which she obtained the release of many souls from purgatory.
10. Sprinkle holy water on the ground: St. John Macias, a great friend of those in purgatory, would often sprinkle holy water on the ground for the spiritual benefit of the suffering souls.
11. When passing by a cemetery, pray the short Eternal Rest prayer. This prayer carries a partial indulgence applicable to the poor souls:
"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen."
12. Practice the tradition of praying the Eternal Rest prayer (above) before and after your meals as an easy way to remember to pray for the holy souls every day. You can also pray the prayer between the decades of your daily rosary.
13. Visit a cemetery: Pray over the graves of your departed loved ones, or visit a random graveyard and pray for those who may have no one to pray for them. Simply doing this gains a partial indulgence for those in purgatory.* While you're there, sprinkle holy water on the graves. If you make this visit during the first eight days of the month dedicated to the Holy Souls (November 1-8) you can gain a plenary indulgence applicable to the souls in purgatory.
14. Eucharistic Adoration: visit the Blessed Sacrament to make acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on behalf of those in purgatory.
15. Sacrifices: practice small acts of self-denial throughout your day and offer these penances up for the poor souls.
16. Pray the Office of the Dead. You can find this in your volume of the Liturgy of the Hours or online here.
17. Ask for the intercession of saints who were known to be great friends of the Holy Souls during their lifetime to join you in prayer for the faithful departed: St. Nicholas of Tolentino, St. Gertrude the Great, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Padre Pio, St. Philip Neri, St. John Macías, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Joseph, Our Lady, and others.
18. Special prayers: Throughout your day, offer up short and spontaneous prayers (ejaculatory prayers) for the holy souls. Consider buying purgatory books with more prayers and special devotions for the Holy Souls.
19. Repent of your offenses against God and go to confession: Confessing your own sins makes your prayers for souls of others more effective.
20. Spread devotion to the Holy Souls: Make others aware of the great need these suffering souls have for our prayers.
What else would you add to this list? Leave your ideas in the comments below!
For more background on what is being experienced by the souls in purgatory, you will find these accounts interesting: Amazing Stories from Purgatory and the Afterlife and the true stories of Holy Souls coming back and requesting prayers from the living as detailed in the must-read Catholic book Hungry Souls.
As you pray for the Holy Souls, don't forget to ask them to pray for you in return once they enter heaven. They will be happy to do so, as they will be most grateful for your prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. This is the beauty of the Communion of Saints! Death does not separate those bonded to one another in Christ!
*To find more information on indulgences (partial and plenary) and the conditions that must be met to obtain them, click here. One must be baptized and in the state of grace, be free from an attachment to sin, go to confession within 20 days, receive Holy Communion on the day you perform the indulgenced act, and offer prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father (such as an Our Father and Hail Mary).