Why should we pray for the souls in purgatory if we know they’ll go to heaven?
I heard this question posed at a recent Theology on Tap event that I attended, and it really made me think twice. We know that God holds His children dear to Him, and that if people choose Him, they will eventually enter into heaven. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).
Purgatory is not a punishment but a response to what we need after death. In heaven, we will experience the fullness of God’s glory and majesty, but if we remain imperfect when we die, we cannot yet experience that glory. Purgatory is the process by which souls are prepared to receive the full gift of life with God in heaven. However, as I heard pointed out at Theology on Tap, if these souls are being prepared for heaven, why bother praying for them?
It is important to instead ask ourselves another question: “If we don’t pray for them, who will?” The souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves. They rely completely on the sacrifices and prayers of others. Yet, even though they desperately need us, we tend to forget about them. Occasionally, when praying the Rosary, we may toss in the intention, “For the souls in purgatory,” but other than that rare occasion, when do offer prayers for them? God uses our prayers and sacrifices to purify these souls, so we need to step up and remember them daily.
We need to remember that the souls in purgatory are not some distant group, unrelated to ourselves. Instead, the souls being purified in purgatory are connected to us. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and we are all members of the Communion of Saints. The souls in purgatory are our brothers and sisters in Christ; they are our deceased relatives, friends, classmates, and neighbors, as well as those we have never met. Since they can no longer act on earth and have not yet entered the Beatific Vision, they are dependent on us to pray for them. They are helpless without our prayers. Baptized in Christ, we are a family of love—so we should pray for the souls of the deceased often.
On All Souls’ Day in 2014, Pope Francis said the following in his Angelus address: “Church tradition has always urged prayer for the dead, in particular by offering the celebration of the Eucharist for them: it is the best spiritual help we can give to their souls, particularly to the most abandoned ones. The foundation of prayers in suffrage of souls is in the communion of the Mystical Body.”
There are so many ways to pray for the souls in purgatory. We can add them to our list of prayer intentions for our daily prayers, we can have Masses said, and we can offer sacrifices for them. We can pray the Prayer of St. Gertrude or the Requiem Aeternam. We can visit cemeteries from November 1–8 and gain partial or plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory. These souls need our prayers; will we help them?
As St. John Chrysostom once said in a homily, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”