We (members of the Body of Christ, alive today here on earth) are the Church Militant. This is an important thing to understand today, on the Solemnity of All Saints, the eve of the Commemoration of All Souls.
- We the Church Militant cannot be certain which members of the faithful of God belong to the Church Triumphant (among the Communion of Saints in Heaven) or the Church Suffering (undergoing the purifying fire of Purgatory). We don’t see the “stats”; God is the admin. We can, however, give thanks to God for Purgatory, and ponder the extent of such loving Mercy that even in death, God makes provisions for us.
The Church Suffering (those souls in Purgatory, destined for Heaven) cannot pray from themselves. It is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead. But prayers aren’t useful for everyone who has died. Why do we pray, and for whom do we pray?
We do not pray for the souls in the Hell. A soul in Hell sends itself there and cannot escape. Such a prayer would be fruitless.
We do not pray for souls in Heaven. A soul in Heaven is already in that perfect state of Beatitude; essentially a person in Heaven is a saint; we might ask a saint to pray for us, but we do not pray for a saint. There is nothing added by our prayers to the blessings poured out upon the souls in that are already in Heaven.
We pray for the souls in Purgatory, who like just about all of us, undergo spiritual purification after death before joining our Lord in Heaven. Purgatory is not necessarily fun, because it is a type of separation from God. In fact, it might be painful. It might be lonely. It might even be frightening. A soul in Purgatory will want to leave, because Heaven is in sight and Purgatory is supposed to be temporary.
Because souls in Purgatory cannot pray themselves out, it falls to us to pray to God and the saints for them. When I pray for souls in Purgatory, I can’t help inserting a rather self-serving prayer that someone will take pity and pray for me when my time in Purgatory comes.
Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. The Church offers a plenary indulgence on November 2 for the faithful who (1) visit a Catholic Church and while there pray for the souls in Purgatory (say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed”, one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s prayer intentions), (2) receive Holy Communion, and (3) go to confession within 20 days (before or after) of All Souls’ Day. You can also gain a plenary indulgence (one soul in Purgatory for each day) between November 1 and November 8 by visiting a cemetery and praying there.
In order for these indulgences to qualify as “plenary” (i.e., complete remission of all temporal punishments of sin for the soul in Purgatory = go straight to Heaven) you must be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. Because of the question of one’s own “attachment to sin”, it’s difficult to know whether your spiritual work of mercy on behalf of the faithfully departed in Purgatory will qualify as plenary or partial. That’s okay, and in a way has the upside of leaving us unconcerned with any focus upon the “merits” of our “work” and once again reliant upon God and His graces. Just do the spiritual work and let the Lord sort out the merit.
As much as we are called to make our lives an expression of caritas, but sometimes lack the means (due to time, lack of money, or some other obstacle) to care for the physical well-being of others, we can all pray for the dead, out of love, regardless of our particular situation. This type of work for the good of the Church has great merit in the eyes of God.