How to pray for the holy souls in purgatory - Catholic Digest (2023)

by Susan Tassone

Why should we pray for the souls in purgatory?

The short answers:

We pray for them just as we’re called to pray for those still living on earth.

We pray for them because we’re part of the Communion of Saints.

The Communion of Saints is made up of the faithful on earth, the souls in heaven, and the souls in purgatory (in traditional terms: the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant, and the Church Suffering).

Those of us who aren’t in heaven need to pray and rely on the prayers of others, often heavily. Those who have entered heaven — whether now canonized by the Church or not — are doing great! Yes, they can and do pray for us on earth and the souls in purgatory, but for members of the Church Triumphant, eternal life couldn’t be better.

In its wisdom (thank you, Holy Spirit!) and through its liturgical calendar, the Church offers us three important annual reminders that the souls in heaven are saints and the souls in purgatory need our prayers. These reminders are: All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1; All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2; and traditionally, the entire month of November, which is dedicated to the holy souls.


The “who’s who of the afterlife” is easy to understand. If someone has died, he or she is there. But which there? The Church doesn’t say, except in the cases of canonized saints — and, of course,Our Lord and Our Lady!

What this means is that you know some souls are in heaven and some souls are in purgatory. You can pray to loved ones and others who are heaven, asking for their intercession and for a little help here! But what you may not realize is that you can do the same with the souls in purgatory. They can, and do, pray for those of us here on earth. They can, and do, want and need your prayers for themselves, too.

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Just as during the prayers of intercession at Sunday Mass, when a congregation prays for members of some general categories (“for the sick”) and for some specific ones (“for Mary Johnson, who is having surgery this week”), your prayers for the holy souls can include everyone or a particular someone, such as for those killed in a recent natural disaster, deceased relatives, friends, neighbors, or colleagues.

That’s not to say that your praying has to be either/or. It’s much better if it’s both/and. Perhaps one way to look at it is that prayers are both “global” and “local” intentions — for many or all souls, and for specific souls who, in one way or another, were a part of your life when they were still on earth.

In either case, but perhaps especially “locally,” your prayers are a form of doing something, something that really matters, as you grieve the loss of your loved ones.


When we talk of the holy souls in purgatory, we could say that they aren’t wholly holy. They’re more … holey holy.

Here’s how the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory:

A state of final purification after death and before entrance into heaven for those who died in God’s friendship, but were only imperfectly purified; a final cleansing of human imperfections before one is able to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC, 1031; see also CCC, 1472)

God has given us the power and privilege to help deliver the holy souls from purgatory. God’s justice demands expiation of sins, and he places in your hands the means of assisting the holy souls.

Jesus told St. Faustina: “They are making retribution to my justice. It is in your power to bring them relief” (Diary of St. Faustina, 1226).

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These souls no longer can help themselves. They rely on us. Heaven encourages them; we deliver them!

“They” can be our loved ones or those who have no one to pray for them specifically. Surprisingly, the most abandoned souls are our priests and consecrated religious. We tend to “canonize” them immediately after their death. We stop praying for them too soon. We owe these souls our gratitude. Pray for the nun who taught us. For the priest who baptized us or gave us our First Communion. For the bishop who confirmed us.

Then, too, nonbelievers are often forgotten. Many of these souls languish in purgatory. They want — and need — our help.

We owe these souls our gratitude. Pray for the nun who taught us. For the priest who baptized us.


The Mass is the most effective means to help the holy souls in purgatory. It’s the highest form of worship, the highest act of prayer. It’s the source and summit of our faith.

The Church has always remembered the dead in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and exhorts us to pray for them — to be moved with compassion; to make their desire to behold the face of God your desire.

Who do you miss the most? Who do you wish you could have done more for? Who were your enemies? Have a Mass offered for them! How? Contact your parish to get details. Is there a “fee”? No, but traditionally there can be a stipend.

Then you, too, can go to Mass and personally “offer” it for someone who has died. You can also remember them in a similar way as you receive Holy Communion and spend time in Eucharistic or spiritual Adoration. Adoration has intercessory power! The adorers assume the office of mediators on behalf of the holy souls.

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Arrange to have Gregorian Masses said to help a particular soul in purgatory reach heaven.

(Consider putting this in your will!) These are a series of 30 Masses popularized by St. Gregory the Great and celebrated on 30 consecutive days for the repose of the soul of a departed person. A soul appeared and said that he had been delivered from purgatory upon the completion of 30 Masses. (For more information, visit the Pious Union of St. Joseph at It’s important to note the Church does not guarantee that souls are released from purgatory after 30 Masses, but this practice focuses on the efficacy of the Mass.

Remember the Rosary when remembering the souls!

It is the most powerful Marian prayer on earth. Our Lady, the Queen of the Rosary, is the mother of us all. She intercedes for the living and the dead. When we pray the Rosary for the souls in purgatory, we offer to God all the merits, joys, sufferings, and the death of our Savior for their relief.

Walk with the souls as you pray the Stations of the Cross for them.

This is another devotion to assist the sufferings souls because of the indulgence attached to it. Here’s what St. Leonard of Port Maurice said:

If a ray of heavenly light could draw aside the veil from your eyes, you would see these suffering souls hovering around each station with upraised arms imploring you, “Have pity on me, have pity on me!” In pity for us, make the Way of the Cross for me, your father, your mother, your friend.

And offer your indulgences.

It’s good to realize and remember that indulgences aren’t some kind of discount coupons. They are aids for a deeper conversion of heart and spiritual perfection. The word indulgence comes from the Latin indulgentia which means “leniency, or kindness.” Indulgences are a gift from God! He lavishes his mercy on us.

The bottom line here is that it’s easy to pray for the holy souls because any prayer — an Eternal Rest Prayer, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament, the Sign of the Cross, and so many others — can be offered for them. It’s the same with any personal sacrifice — any fasting or abstaining.

What can be more challenging at first is remembering to make the intention to pray for the souls until it becomes a habit and until your day, the Mass you attend, the Rosary you pray, and your morning prayers feel incomplete without it being at least a part of those practices.


For them:

Entering heaven sooner.

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Deliverance from tremendous suffering. They’ve lost the sight of God and can’t pray for themselves.

The beatific vision (seeing God face-to-face).

God’s divine attributes — goodness, holiness, love, wisdom, and all the rest — are meaningful to the soul as never before. It’s as if the passion of God’s own love has set the soul aflame with adoration, gratitude, and love. God is the fulfillment of all their desires.

And for you:

The souls you’ve helped have a special commitment to you.

They’re concerned about your salvation, especially if they’re loved ones.

Their prayers help you recognize your faults so you can better understand the malice of sin.

They have a tremendous resolve in assisting you to become holy and go directly to heaven. If you submit yourself to their influence, you can avoid purgatory!

Look at it this way: They are offering you a truly perfect retirement plan.

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