WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO PRAY FOR DEPARTED LOVED ONES
Understanding Purgatory and the Value of Your Prayers
Just as the saints take care of us by obtaining various graces from heaven, so too can we take care of those who are still in purgatory. But first, we need to understand what purgatory is, and isn’t. There is a lot of misinformation about this vital Church teaching. When we search the web for information about purgatory, we can come across a lot of websites trying to prove that purgatory is an "invention of the Church" and that it has nothing to do with biblical faith, because this dogma was "invented" several centuries after Christ. The topic recurs in discussions, especially at the beginning of November, when Catholics remember their dead - those who are already saints in heaven and those who are still a certain distance from heaven.
So, where did the teaching about purgatory come from, if our Lord Jesus did not mention anything about it directly in the Gospel? What is this place of purification for? What's the deal with the "souls in purgatory"? And, how does all of this relate to you caring for loved ones?
Did the Church “invent” purgatory? No.
A special time of prayer for the dead is All Souls' Day, i.e., the commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, celebrated on November 2. It is a time of intense prayer to God so that our dead can enjoy their presence in heaven and being with God without any obstacles. This is especially true for those who have been sent to purgatory, which is called the "vestibule of heaven" after death.
The dogma of the existence of purgatory was proclaimed by the Church at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and confirmed and explained in a separate decree at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The dogma of purgatory is based on the premises contained in the Holy Scriptures and on the ecclesiastical tradition dating back to the second century.
St. Augustine made a great contribution to the development of the doctrine of purgatory. The dogma emphasizes two truths: the existence of purgatory as a posthumous, purifying punishment for sins, and the possibility and need of prayer and sacrifice for the souls in purgatory. The fact that the existence of purgatory has been included in dogma makes it something that all Catholics should believe - as well as issues enshrined in other dogmas, the most important being the dogmas of: The Holy Trinity, transubstantiation, original sin, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of papal infallibility, and purgatory and hell.
So, what is purgatory?
Purgatory, is an expression of God's mercy, which purifies those who, during their life on earth, have not been fully perfected in love for God, neighbor and themselves. The state of purgatory is not to be understood as a punishment, but as a necessary preparation for full union with God in heaven. It is important to note that, contrary to what some say, one cannot go from purgatory to hell. The Church teaching is quite clear that, those dead who experience purgatory after death are safe from hell because they are in God's hands. They are assured of salvation, but are not yet fully prepared for it. That is why purgatory is called the "vestibule of heaven".
Who goes to purgatory?
The term "souls in purgatory" is very popular among Catholics. It comes from the erroneous belief that what remains of a person after death is only his soul, although the teaching of the Church is clear in this regard: we are resurrected as we lived, as a unity of body and soul, but the body changes its properties and becomes a "glorified body". However, the conviction about "souls" remaining after death was so strong that this way of thinking survived in the language: that is why we can still sometimes hear "let us pray for the soul of the late N." or about the prayer "for the suffering souls in purgatory".
Who goes to purgatory? The dead (still traditionally called "purgatory souls") who at the time of death had venial sins "on their account" pass through it. The essence of the experience of purgatory after death seems to be a temporary separation from God and the expectation of an encounter with Him. When, at the end of his earthly life, man comes to know God as the fullness of love, he desires union with Him, but at the same time he sees that he is not yet worthy of it. This suffering because of one's inadequacy is also connected with the knowledge of the consequences of one's sins.
The issue of God's judgment as a source of hope is presented by Benedict XVI in his encyclical 'Spe Salvi'. A face-to-face encounter with Christ after death, he explains, is "a decisive act of judgment. In His gaze every falsehood melts. The encounter with Him is what burns us out and frees us to regain our own identity. That which has been built up in the course of a lifetime, may then turn out to be dry straw, mere arrogance, and collapse. Yet in the pain of this encounter, in which what is impure and sick in our existence is clearly revealed to us, there is salvation."
How can you help the dead get to heaven?
In connection with the period of prayers for the dead, indulgences can be obtained for them. This is important because the dead who are in purgatory can no longer obtain such indulgences for themselves. This state of "limbo" requires our action. What, then, is an indulgence? It is the remission of part of the consequences of the sins committed, i.e. the so-called "purgatorial punishment", incurred in purgatory. By doing certain godly activities for our dead, we can help them get to heaven.
This "cooperation" also shows what the community of the Church is: it is not only a group of people who share similar values on earth, but a whole community of all those who have ever believed in God, at different stages of their attainment of holiness. And just as the saints take care of us by obtaining various graces from heaven, so too can we take care of those who are still in purgatory.
How does one offer an indulgence for the dead?
The beginning of November is a time associated with various graces, including the grace of obtaining an indulgence for the dead in purgatory. To obtain it, one must visit the cemetery devoutly from the 1st to 8th of November and pray for the souls of the deceased, while maintaining the fixed conditions of the indulgence: the state of sanctifying grace, Holy Communion received on a given day, freedom from attachment to sin and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father ('Our Father' and 'Hail Mary'). On the 2nd of November itself, under the same conditions, it is also possible to obtain an indulgence for the dead by visiting a church or a public chapel and praying the "Our Father" and "I believe in God" prayers.