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The past two days have been about getting dressed up, going Halloween trick or treating and All Saints Day Parties, with the kids dressed up as their favorite saints and talking about the holy men and women of yore. And now the church focuses on the rest of communion of saints - the unknown saints, but more particularly, the saint wannabees, the poor souls, the souls in purgatory.
There came a point in my life where I started to know quite a significant number of people who had died. Many of them I had loved very much in this life and I looked forward to seeing them again. The idea that the church encourages to pray for the souls of our beloved dead finally took deep root in my system and in my prayer life.
Up until 12 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 Catholic/Christians 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, that got me through that time. I experienced this even more so after the death of my mother in 2009.
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 were my in-laws, a beloved family friend and many others. Through God's divine mercy, the all could be together and happy throughout eternity.
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 cemetery 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 have taken 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.
Now, I have a lot of deceased relatives, so this year I have all of their holy cards from their funerals in a basket and I have that on the table so that we can remember all of them at each meal.
A few years back I found a wonderful book called Father Phillip Tells a Ghost Story : A Story of Divine Mercy It's ideal 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.
At the grave of my great, great -grandmother Emmeline Klinger
When I was in high school, two boys who tormented my sister and me mercilessly died in a terrible car accident. My sister would always remember them during the part of the mass where we remember the dead. It was part of her mental routine during mass. Sis tells me that one day at mass, over 30 years later, she got a strong sense that she no longer had to pray for them - that they had finally been perfected for heaven.
From time to time, I'll get a thought in my mind of someone I used 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.
St. John Vianney on Purgatory
Simple prayer for the poor souls that you probably didn't learn in Catholic School.
Rosary from Father Lovasick for the poor souls
Father Hardon on Purgatory.
Purgatory Pay now or Pay Later
Explaining purgatory to kids.
Explaining purgatory to nonCatholics.
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