The *Very Best* Way to Pray for Holy Souls in Purgatory and Living Loved Ones
“As we enter heaven we will see them, so many of them coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say a poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.” -Venerable Fulton Sheen
In the last days of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, he met with some American bishops in May of 2004 and recommended that U.S. Catholics recover “devotions of popular piety as a means of personal and communal sanctification.” Sadly, many wonderful Catholic devotional treasures had been discarded, by and large, during the rebellious days following the Council of Vatican II. But, by the grace of God, the practice of gaining indulgences for ourselves and the holy souls in purgatory is being restored.
Catholic Answers’ Primer on Indulgences teaches:
“Those who claim that indulgences are no longer part of Church teaching have the admirable desire to distance themselves from abuses that occurred around the time of the Protestant Reformation. They also want to remove stumbling blocks that prevent non-Catholics from taking a positive view of the Church. As admirable as these motives are, the claim that indulgences are not part of Church teaching today is false. This is proved by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states, ‘An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins.’ The Church does this not just to aid Christians, ‘but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity’ (CCC 1478).”
“A plenary indulgence heals all of the effects of one person’s sins. A partial indulgence heals part of the effects. One can win indulgences only for oneself or those in purgatory who have need of assistance because they currently lack bodies. Indulgences cannot be applied towards other living persons. Every living person is supposed to do his own acts of obedience to help heal the worldly effects of his own sinfulness (CCC 1471-1473).”
Requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence:
- Do the work while in a state of grace
- Receive sacramental confession within 20 days of the work (several plenary indulgences may be earned per reception)
- Receive Eucharistic communion (one plenary indulgence may be earned per reception of Eucharist)
- Pray for the pope’s intentions (an Our Father and Hail Mary, or other appropriate prayer, is sufficient)
- Have no attachment to sin (even venial) — i.e., the Christian makes an act of the will to love God and despise sin.
Requirements for a partial indulgence:
- Do the work while in a state of grace
- Have the general intention of earning an indulgence
Spiritual Strength Conditioning
While Holy Mother Church unlocks her spiritual treasury she, like any good mother, utilizes these prescribed acts of obedience as an occasion to teach her children (“spurs us to works of devotion, penance, and charity” CCC 1478). In other words, when we look at each of the indulgenced good works and prayers granted to us, as well as the conditions necessary for obtaining them, we see that these acts and conditions are the favored ways in which God desires us to grow in holiness, confront evil, and rescue souls.
Consider the conditions required for obtaining a plenary indulgence. If our state in life allows it, the ideal is to obtain one plenary indulgence every day (Mother Church offers one plenary indulgence, and only one, each day). By setting the following conditions, Holy Mother Church is teaching that these conditions reveal what is a rock solid foundation for the interior life:
- Sustain and guard your state of grace
- Go to Confession frequently (at least once a month)
- Hear Daily Mass and receive Communion (which means you must be in a state of grace)
- Prayer support for our leader (pope)
- Free from the slavery of unresolved sin
Like athletes or soldiers dedicated to their training, these “conditions” are our way of maintaining sound spiritual strength conditioning, empowering us to be the qualified contenders God can trust for His missions to battle dark forces and rescue souls. Apart from these basic “conditions,” we are weak and vulnerable and God is unlikely to choose us for His missions or bless our endeavors. We are, in essence, sidelined (benched) until we desire to choose His fundamental conditions to get in good spiritual shape.
The ‘Big Four’
By elevating certain prayers and good works to the level of gaining an indulgence, Mother Church is identifying which of these she most highly values and, therefore, which ones she urges us to prioritize. However, we must draw special attention to what I call the “Big Four.” Remarkably, Holy Mother Church has elevated only four activities for which a plenary indulgence can be gained on any day (though, as we said, only once a day). Highlighting these four reveals the great esteem in which Mother Church holds them, and, therefore, she urges us to rank these as highest among our daily devotions. The “Big Four” are:
- Adoring the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour
- Devoutly reading Sacred Scripture for at least one half hour
- Devoutly performing the Stations of the Cross (only at approved Stations)
- Reciting the Rosary with members of the family, or in a church, oratory, religious community, or pious association
The great significance of the “Big Four” is that Mother Church has provided a way for us to gain that one plenary indulgence every day for ourselves or for a poor soul in purgatory. This then raises the question: Why would we squander this incredibly generous gift? Why wouldn’t we accept Mother Church’s gracious provision and seek this plenary indulgence every day?
Building Your Holy Alliance
How many of us had grandparents who had their stack of holy cards in their prayer book? These favorite saints were their friends, their prayer warriors! How many of our ancestors knew to pray for the holy souls in purgatory, especially the souls of family and friends? The holy souls would then, in deep gratitude, return many prayers for those who cared to pray for them. This is why our ancestors never faced evil alone or prayed for anything or anybody alone — they had their comrades in the heavenly realm, their Holy Alliance of saints and holy souls, with them at all times. The devil never stood a chance against this united force!
What’s stopping us from building upon the great example of our ancestors who called upon the saints to pray with them for the poor souls in purgatory? If they invoked (recruited) their handful of favorite saints, what’s stopping us from building an enormous personal Holy Alliance of saints (as we learn about each one) by recruiting a new saint each day to pray with us?
This means that on day one that you begin this practice of praying with a saint for a holy soul in purgatory, you grow from a force of one (just you) to a force of three (the saint you chose, the holy soul you prayed for, and you). On day two, you will add another saint and holy soul to your personal Holy Alliance, and grow to a force of five. And so on. Keep a diary to record your growing Holy Alliance.
Different units and formations organize the military. It’s interesting to think that, as our Holy Alliance grows, it will be akin to these units:
Your Holy Alliance:
Fire team: 2-4
Here is the plan for our daily “special ops mission” of search and rescue:
Step One (as seen above in “Building Your Holy Alliance):
Choose a Saint and Holy Soul. First, choose a deceased loved one for whom you wish to pray into heaven. This can be a great nudge to get you to explore your family tree. Now, choose a saint to pray with you for your deceased loved one. You might choose a saint that was your loved one’s favorite saint, or you might pick the patron saint of fishing because your loved one liked to fish, or possibly the saint whose feast it is that day. This devotion is a great opportunity to take the time to learn about each saint you are recruiting for your personal Holy Alliance. These days, that’s as simple as a quick Internet search to read a paragraph or two about your new recruit. (The picture here is from my Church Militant Field Manual. Pages 99-106 offer pages for keeping track of saints and holy souls)
Step Two (as seen above in “Building Your Holy Alliance):
Pray with your saint for your holy soul in purgatory by choosing one of the “Big Four” (Rosary, Stations, Scripture, or Adoration) that allow for a plenary indulgence. Be sure the conditions are present for receiving a plenary indulgence (see conditions above). If not, offer a partial indulgence that day for your holy soul in purgatory. (But always try your best to earn that one plenary indulgence offered each day.) Having offered an indulgence for a deceased loved one, that holy soul in purgatory now becomes a “grateful” holy soul who will now offer his/her prayers for you (That holy soul is now in your personal alliance).
Step Three (Stealth Evangelization):
“Never Leave A Fallen Comrade.” After completing this indulgenced prayer, ask today’s grateful holy soul, today’s saint, and all those in your Holy Alliance to join you as you all pray together a Divine Mercy Chaplet for a living loved one you believe needs to receive God’s grace to grow in faith, hope, and love — who, in some ways, is caught in the clutches of worldliness, or a loved one you desire to receive more grace. (The picture shows the journal available in my Church Militant Field Manual on pages 90-97. Also, the Church Militant Field Journal offers several for these entries)
Secret Weapon Prayer
In her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Saint Faustina Kowalska recorded that she received a private revelation regarding intercessory prayer from Jesus who told her to “Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give them the grace of conversion. This is the prayer:
“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You” (Diary, 186-187).