|A cemetery in Plymouth where my grandparents are buried|
It is during November that the Church meditates on the Communion of Saints. What do we mean by this? This is the charitable link between three parts of the Church: (1) with the faithful who have already reached heaven (Church Triumphant), (2) the faithful departed who are still expiating their sins in Purgatory (Church Suffering) and (3) of the pilgrim faithful here on earth (Church Militant).
In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1475).So presently we are the Church Militant and we have the great gift of being able to receive grace and to grow in piety. One of the pious activities we are called upon is to offer prayer for the souls in purgatory. The Church asks us to do this throughout the year but especially during this month.
Plenary Indulgence for visiting a cemetery and praying for holy souls
Between November 1st and 8th, the Church grants a plenary indulgence from the temporal effects of sin for the souls of the departed in purgatory. This indulgence is granted once per day for a visit to a cemetery (with the intention of gaining an indulgence) at which we pray for the departed. The usual conditions for an indulgence also apply, one must :
- (1) be in a state of grace;
- (2) have gone to confession during the 8 days before or after the visit;
- (3) have received the Sacrament of the Eucharist on the day;
- (4) have prayed for the Pope's intention (by whose Christ-given authority the indulgence is given);
- (5) be detached from all sin (including venial sin) - otherwise the indulgence is only partial.
The indulgence is only partial on other days of the year when this is done.
Holy Day of Obligation - ALL SAINTS
The month of November begins with an obligatory feast when the faithful gather to celebrate the Church Triumphant. The importance of us focusing on the ultimate goal of our existence (ie. heaven) cannot be overemphasised. The Church calls on us all to come to Church to receive this special grace. And this is especially important in this materialist age when the reality of the spiritual and unseen is so often regarded with deep skepticism or at times ridicule.
Masses for the Dead
The highest prayer that can be offered by the Church Militant is of course the Holy Mass.
In the Scriptures of the Old Testament it is recommended we pray for the dead:
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.(2 Macch. 12, 46).
This duty has found expression not only in public and private prayers but especially in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of souls. The faithful should ask their priest to offer a mass for holy souls in purgatory.
While the mass is the highest prayer, we can do other things to relieve the suffering of souls in purgatory: prayer, suffering and penances.
(1) Prayer. We can of course offer rosaries for the departed and also pray the traditional prayer:
Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
This prayer has a indulgence applicable to dead attached to it, and can be prayed throughout the year. Some families may pray this prayer at their meal-time prayers.
(2) Suffering. Any suffering we endure can be piously offered to the Lord for the benefit of the souls in purgatory.
(3) Penances. We can voluntarily take on activities which we offer not for our own benefit but for the souls in purgatory.
The month of November is then a great opportunity for the faithful to remember their communion with the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. It is part of our communion of charity that we should do these things. And it benefits us too. The more souls that can move from purgatory to heaven the more there are to pray for the rest of us, and we, having prayed for the souls in purgatory, will benefit from their prayers if we should, according to God's judgement, find ourselves in purgatory also.
Fr Ian Hellyer
On Indulgences: The Catechism of the Catholic Church section on Indulgences, Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 4, Subsection 10, 1471-1479.
For more information on the Church's teachings on indulgences, read the Enchiridion of Indulgences given by the 1968 Decree of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary.