Up until eight years ago, I was pretty bad about praying for the dead. Too busy living I guess. When my baby Raphael died it was a real reminder that this time on earth is fleeting, and that as a Catholic we were all part of that great communion of saints. It was that belief that all of our souls, even the soul of my precious little unborn baby, were all part of God's big plan, and that someday I would be able to see my baby, and hold him and talk to him.
In the meantime, it gave me comfort to know that my little one was not alone! There was family in the next life. My beloved grandparents and uncle were already there as was my mother-in-law, a beloved family friend and many others. Through God's divine mercy, they all could be together and happy throughout eternity. But with my mother's passing just 15 months ago, I feel somehow closer to the next life. I don't know if it's because my mother is there praying for me, or if it's because my sister and I are now the next generation up. Whatever it is, I just feel closer.
I've mentioned before that I found myself spending many hours in the cemetery at my baby's grave thinking about these things. (You know you're spending a lot of time at the cemetery when you are on waving terms with the workers!) I found that I loved to pray there in baby land. Theologically it must be one of the holiest places in the cemetery with all of the relics of all these little saints and the company of all the angels commended there to protect them.
A few years later I had the opportunity to find the grave of my grandparents and my uncle. I had been there before, but I always forget exactly where they are buried. We found them. Their graves were overgrown and looked untended, uncared for and unloved. That wasn't true of course. They were still loved deeply. I know my sister and I will always have a special place in our hearts for them. Yet my practice of praying for their souls was a lot like their graves had become, untended, and uncared for.
That November I made a promise to turn that around. November is a perfect time to do that as it is the month when the Catholic Church remembers all of the dearly departed. In past years I took the pictures of all of my beloved dead relatives and friends, and put them in a prominent place so that we remember to pray for them every day during the month. I talk to the children about each one and remind them of the importance of prayer for the deceased. When you hit the middle of middle age, especially when you come from large Christian families, that can be a lot of pictures! This year I have taken all the holy cards from the people who have passed and put them into a special basket so that we can pray for all of those souls during the month of November. I have added a lot to this basket from my mom's collection of cards! She realy had a lot of people that she prayed for every day.
A few years ago I found a wonderful book (that I intend to review later) called Father Phillip Tells a Ghost Story (Padre Phillip Hoce Un Cuento de Fantasmas): A Story of Divine Mercy (Un Cuento de La Divina Misericordia) It's perfect for this time of year with a very "Halloween" type of feel to it, but it puts "ghosts" into their proper perspective in regard to purgatory. After reading this with my children, I was able to better explain what a poor soul in purgatory is, and how to offer up our little pains and sufferings, in a way that they could better understand.
The Catholic Culture Site reminds us that we may earn indulgences for the souls in purgatory.
Praying for the Dead and Gaining Indulgences During November
Indulgenced Acts for the Poor Souls
A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when the faithful piously visit a church or a public oratory on November 2. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.
A partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, can be obtained when the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This is a good prayer to recite especially during the month of November:
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.
Many families add to the "Prayer Before Meals" the second half of the "Eternal Rest" prayer:
Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts,
Which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ, our Lord, Amen.
And may the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace. Amen.
Other families recite the "Eternal Rest" prayer in between decades of the rosary.
From time to time, I'll get a thought in my mind of someone I use to know, who is now departed. Maybe the kid's old piano teacher, or Mr. Wolverton who use to drive us kids to band, or Uncle Harry, who really wasn't my uncle at all, but a nice friend of my grandfather's who put up with the shows my sister and I use to put on way to often. I think maybe that's a sign that I need to pray for them, or they can use those prayers for someone else. I try to say a quick prayer then.
As the beauty of fall begins to fade and we get ready for advent and Christmas, this month becomes one of preparation, not just for those holidays, but preparing us for the home we will eventually have at sometime after this life
Resources for remembering the poor souls in purgatory during the month of November.
Prayer for the poor souls in purgatory.
A rosary for the poor souls in purgatory from Moneybags.
St. John Vianney on Purgatory.
Simple prayer for the poor souls that you probably didn't learn in Catholic School.
Father Hardon on Purgatory.
Explaining purgatory to kids.
Explaining purgatory to nonCatholics.