This is the start of a new mini-series we will try to do throughout the year, detailing different devotions of the Church—all of which are powerful, most of which have been largely forgotten. For each devotion, we will do 1) Why that Devotion and 2) How to Practice It. We hope this will be beneficial to our readers and something you can easily share with friends and family to help promote these devotional treasures!
Most of this information comes from the book, Read Me or Rue It, by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P. We strongly encourage everyone to read and distribute this book and its vital information.
Why This Devotion?
The Holy Souls Desperately Need Our Help
We look at the homeless sleeping on the street in the cold, the hungry lined up at soup kitchens for a warm meal, the children who are abandoned or unloved and in need of special care, and our hearts are moved—as they should be. But there is no one on earth, even if they were to suffer all of the possible sufferings on earth combined, who is suffering as much as a Holy Soul in Purgatory. Some quotes:
"St. Thomas Aquinas... says that the fire of Purgatory is equal in intensity to the fire of Hell, and that the slightest contact with it is more dreadful than all the possible sufferings of this Earth!"
St. Augustine says that the fire of Purgatory "is more acute than anything we could possible endure on Earth."
St. Cyril of Alexandria says that "it would be preferable to suffer all the possible torments of Earth until the Judgment day than to pass one day in Purgatory."
And how can they get relief? Us! From Fr. O'Sullivan (emphasis mine):
True, God's justice demands expiation for their sins, but by an amazing dispensation of His Providence He places in our hands the means of assisting them. He gives us the power to relieve and even release them.
We are called to serve the least of these as if they were Christ Himself—tell me, who could possibly fit more perfectly into this category than the Holy Souls? Which brings me to my next point.
It Is Our Duty
Devotion to the Holy Souls is not just a nice thing to do—it is our sacred duty. From Fr. O'Sullivan (emphasis mine):
We are always bound to love and help each other, but the greater the need of our neighbor, the more stringent and urgent this obligation is. It is not a favor that we may do or leave undone, it is our duty: we must help each other... we must make every sacrifice, when need be, to succor our brother in distress. Now, who can be in more urgent need of our charity than the souls in Purgatory... Who can have more claim on us?
He then recounts this convicting story of a pious man for whom St. Antoninus was praying for after his death, who appeared to him after a long time and many masses offered for his soul. When St. Antoninus expressed his surprise at this pious man not yet having been released from purgatory, the man answered:
I shall remain there still for a long time... for when on Earth I neglected to offer suffrages for the souls in Purgatory. Now, God by a just judgement has applied the suffrages which have been offered for me to those souls for whom I should have prayed.
Let us work diligently on earth to avoid the fate of this poor, pious gentleman!
It Will Help Our Own Souls
If what we do to the least of these is applied as if we had done it to Our Lord Himself, how much will the Good Lord reward us for working tirelessly to ease the sufferings of these poor souls—it will be as if we had released Him from Purgatory! From Fr. O'Sullivan:
Nothing pleases Him more than for us to help them. He is as grateful to us as if we had helped Himself.
Likewise, this is an act of charity that will greatly help us to chip away at our own time in Purgatory and the temporal punishment due to our sins. This is a great way to make reparation. Fr. O'Sullivan tells of many stories of pious souls who worked diligently for the souls in Purgatory—so much so, that they were able to go straight to Heaven.
Finally, "the Holy Souls will repay us a thousand times over." St. Catherine of Bologna says, "I received many and very great favors from the Saints, but still greater from the Holy Souls." From Fr. O'Sullivan (emphasis mine):
When they are finally released from their pains and enjoy the beatitude of Heaven, far from forgetting their friends on Earth, their gratitude knows no bounds. Prostrate before the Throne of God, they never cease to pray for those who helped them. By their prayers they shield their friends from the dangers and protect them from the evils that threaten them. They will never cease these prayers until they see their benefactors safely in Heaven, and they will be forever their dearest, sincerest and best friends. Did Catholics only know what powerful protectors they secure by helping the Holy Souls, they would not be so remiss in praying for them.
How Do We Practice This Devotion?
Have Masses Said
This is the most efficacious way to relieve the Holy Souls. You can have Masses said for specific souls that you know of, or for the Holy Souls in general. You can also enroll them in things like Perpetual Masses and Novena Masses. A good place to start is having at least one Mass said monthly.
Join the Association of Holy Souls
If your parish offers this association, by all means, join it. The conditions are 1) register your name in the Book of the Association, 2) hear Mass once a week for the Holy Souls, 3) pray for and promote devotion to them, and 3) contribute once a year to the Mass Fund, out of which the Association pays to have perpetual Masses said.
Make a Heroic Act of Charity
This is an act which many saints practiced! We highly recommend every Catholic practice this. In short, it is the offering of all of your sufferings, works, and prayers to the Holy Souls while you are on earth (including indulgences), and the application of all of the prayers done for your soul after your death to the Holy Souls in Purgatory as well. You can read more about it here and here.
Pray the Rosary & Other Pious Acts & Indulgences
The Rosary is a highly indulgenced prayer, and it is an efficacious way of providing succor to the Holy Souls. You can also pray and sacrifice for them just like you would for any person or intention. Indulgences are another way to help them: Receive Holy Communion as often as possible and go to Confession at least every two weeks, and you can receive many plenary indulgences on their behalf under the usual conditions. (The family rosary carries a plenary indulgence!) You can also incorporate partial indulgences into your daily routine—things like pious ejaculations, mental prayer, and spiritual reading—that you might already do anyways. Just make the intention in your morning offering "to gain as many indulgences this day as possible" and those acts will count! Read here about how I made indulgences part of my daily routine.
And that's it for this Devotion Spotlight! Please pick up a copy of Read Me or Rue It to learn more. Don't forget to share this article with family and friends to promote devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, especially in the month of November.
Which devotion should we do next? Reply in the comments!