Though purgatory can be considered strictly a place of punishment, author Susan Tassone describes it as a “masterpiece of God’s mercy.”
“It’s not punishment—it’s a loving purgatory,” explained Tassone, who has written six books on the subject including, “Praying With the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory” (Our Sunday Visitor, $10).
“(God) gives us this chance to cleanse … to purify our souls with his own attributes.”
On All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, Catholics pray for the poor souls in purgatory—those believed to be completing their journey to heaven. In accordance with Church teaching, purgatory is a place for those who departed life in God’s grace, “not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”
From the earliest days of Christianity, the Church taught that praying for the dead was an obligation, an act of charity believed to help souls enter into the fullness of heaven more quickly.
“They’re called ‘poor’ (souls) because they can no longer merit,” said Tassone. “They rely totally on us. They’re called poor because they don’t know when they will reach heaven … the soul cries out: ‘God! God! I must be with God!’”
“The best devotion to help the holy souls is the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” said Tassone, who herself has led efforts to raise more than $2 million for stipends for some 400,000 Masses for the dead worldwide. “It’s the most efficacious means to relieve and release these suffering souls.”
“Offer Gregorian Masses for them,” Tassone suggested. “Put them in your will!”
Along with the Mass; the rosary, Stations of the Cross, eucharistic adoration and the Divine Mercy Chaplet are very powerful devotions because of the indulgences attached to them that can be offered for deceased loved ones.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 958), the souls in purgatory can intercede on behalf of the living: “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
“The more you pray for them, the more effective their intercession is for you,” said Tassone “You’ve got to remember who they are: our aunts, uncles, mothers, brothers, sisters, our lawyers, our priests … people that have been entwined in the fabric of our lives.
“Pray especially for priests and consecrated religious because we tend to 'canonize' them and leave off too soon our prayers for them. They are some of the most abandoned souls.”
While the Church devotes the entire month of November to pray for the souls in purgatory, Tassone stressed the importance of praying for them throughout the year.
“Remember the holy souls all year-round,” she said. “They suffer day and night without any repose.”
“Never stop praying for the dead even if they are already in heaven,” she added. “Thomas Aquinas tells us that if a soul is already in heaven and we continue to pray for them, they receive ‘accidental glory,’ an increase in its intimacy with God and an increase in its intercessory power.”
Tassone also urged establishing a commitment to pray for those near death. She encouraged membership in the Pious Union of St. Joseph, a ministry founded by newly-canonized St. Louis Guanella.
Tassone will be Father Mitch Pacwa’s guest on EWTN Live Nov. 2.