Holy Mass for Souls in Purgatory
The Holy Mass is a powerful way to aid the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

This is the fourth article in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate your Time in Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5: Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Who are the Souls in Purgatory?

The souls in Purgatory are known as the Church Suffering. They are called “Poor” souls because they are separated from the Beatific Vision due to unsatisfied debt due to the sins they committed while they were on Earth. While their sins may have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession, they may not have made proper penance for them, and so any temporal punishment due for those sins must be endured in Purgatory. 

The souls in Purgatory are also known as the “Holy Souls” for two main reasons. First, they are no longer able to sin. Secondly, they are assured of their salvation, though they must be purified before they can stand in the presence of God for eternity.

The Church Calls Us to Help the Souls in Purgatory

The teaching of the Church is clear throughout the ages about our duty to help the souls in Purgatory. They are our departed brothers and sisters in Christ. They lived virtuous lives and ultimately chose to love God. They deserve our support in reaching the reward of Heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear our responsibility for the poor souls and the efficacy of our prayers for them:

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."607 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.608 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.609

How Can We Pray for the Souls in Purgatory?

The most efficacious way to help the souls in Purgatory is to have masses said for them. In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the value of prayer, especially the Holy Mass in helping the souls in Purgatory:

The Eucharistic celebration, in which we proclaim that Christ has died and risen, and will come again, is a pledge of the future glory in which our bodies too will be glorified. Celebrating the memorial of our salvation strengthens our hope in the resurrection of the body and in the possibility of meeting once again, face to face, those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. In this context I wish, together with the synod fathers, to remind all the faithful of the importance of prayers for the dead, especially the offering of Mass for them, so that, once purified, they can come to the beatific vision of God. A rediscovery of the eschatological dimension inherent in the Eucharist, celebrated and adored, will help sustain us on our journey and comfort us in the hope of glory (cf Rom 5:2; Ti 2:13) (Sacramentum Caritatis 32).

In addition to masses , the Rosary, and Stations of the Cross are very powerful ways to assist the Church Suffering. These prayers all have indulgences attached to them, and as we will see, indulgences are a tool we can utilize to help the poor souls.

Fasting, Almsgiving, and Offering of Our Sacrifices for the Souls in Purgatory

Aside from prayer, there are a variety of ways in which we can assist the souls in Purgatory. Fasting, almsgiving, and the offering of our sacrifices to God in atonement for their sins are excellent ways to help them. Many of us suffer physical or emotional pains, which can be offered for the poor souls. This suffering is united with the Passion of Christ and when applied to the poor souls can cause their release and entrance into Heaven. 

Indulgences Can be Gained on Behalf of the Souls in Purgatory

A specific indulgence is given in the "Enchiridion of Indulgences", which is specifically for the souls in Purgatory. Here is the quote: 

13. Visit to a Cemetery (Coemeterii visitatio)

An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed.

The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial. 

In order for the indulgence to be plenary, you must meet the following conditions in addition to praying at the cemetery for the souls...

1. Sacramental confession within “about twenty days” of the actual day of the Plenary Indulgence.

2. Eucharistic Communion on the day of the Plenary Indulgence.

3. Prayer for the intentions of the Pope on the day of the Plenary Indulgence.

4. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.

In addition to this specific indulgence, any indulgence can be offered for the good of the souls in Purgatory if we specifically make the request that the graces be applied to them.

Penance for Souls that are Not in Purgatory

Graces are never wasted. God's infinite justice assures this. If a soul is in Heaven and we pray, fast or do any other penance for them, those specific graces that would have helped the soul out of Purgatory are bestowed on other souls in need of them. The soul may also benefit from those graces in Heaven, growing yet closer to God. St. Thomas Aquinas called this "accidental glory". The souls in Heaven can grow and change (they are mutable), though they cannot depart from the Beatific Vision. 

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P., the noted theologian, Thomistic scholar, and teacher of the future Pope John Paul II, commented on this concept in his book, "The One God":

All creatures, as regards their accidental being, are mutable by an intrinsic power. Even in the angels there is mutability as regards their choice of either good or evil. All were created good and in grace, and some freely merited their eternal happiness, whereas others sinned. In fact, the blessed are capable of receiving new accidental illuminations and of acquiring accidental glory. Finally, there is mutability in the angels by way of virtual contact, inasmuch as they can act in this place or that, and do not always act in the same place.

The State of Grace

You should be in the state of grace before helping the souls in Purgatory. The Enchiridion of Indulgences states that you must be in the state of grace in order to earn an indulgence for yourself. Theologians have expressed mixed opinions on whether you must be in the state of grace in order to earn indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.  

Whether or not our prayers are efficacious for the souls in Purgatory when we are not in the state of grace should be a secondary concern for us. Our first concern should be with gaining and maintaining the state of grace for our own good. When you are in the state of grace, you can focus your energy on others, including the souls in Purgatory.

Eternal Gratitude

The souls released from Purgatory are eternally grateful to us for assisting them in attaining eternal joy in Heaven. They are part of the Church Triumphant, those blessed souls who are nearest to God, and have a special intimate connection with Him. Their prayers are very powerful, and they will pray for us in gratitude for our care for them. The Universal Church is indeed one in Christ, praying for one another and thus helping each other when we are in most need.