In the Catholic Church, the month of November is dedicated to the poor souls in purgatory. These are those who have died, but not yet obtained the full glory of Heaven. This devotion is most notable through the celebration of All Souls Day on November 2.
Though often the theology of purgatory is thought to be solely a Catholic one, it does have its roots in the Old Testament.
After losing some men in battle, Judas Maccabeus and his companions buried the dead and then prayed for their souls:
He (Judas) then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind;
for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.
Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.
-2 Maccabees 12:43-46
Through this passage, we learn that there is opportunity for making amends (expiation) for the effects of our sin even after death.
To learn more about Purgatory and the teachings of the church, see what the Catechism has to say here.
Pray for the Poor Souls
One common prayer for the souls in purgatory is:
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.
Some even offer a shorter version of this prayer at the end of every mealtime blessing, by adding the last sentence after the traditional “Bless us O Lord” prayer.
Wisdom from the Saints
Saints have also composed various prayers for the dead, with one of the most known from St. Gertrude the Great, a 13th century Benedictine whose feast day is also celebrated in November, on the 16th.
Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great:
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the masses said throughout the world today,
for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal church,
those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
In her Diary, St. Faustina composed another prayer, relying on God’s mercy for all souls:
O Jesus, I understand that Your mercy is beyond all imagining.
I ask You, therefore, to make my heart so big
that there will be room in it for the needs
of all the souls living on this whole earthly globe.
O Jesus, my love reaches beyond the world
to the souls suffering in Purgatory,
and I want to exercise mercy toward them
by means of indulgenced prayers.
God’s mercy is unfathomable and inexhaustible,
just as God Himself is unfathomable.
Were I to use the strongest words for expressing this mercy of God,
they are nothing in comparison with what it is in reality.
O Jesus, make my heart sensitive to all the sufferings
of my neighbor whether they be of body or of soul.
O my Jesus, I know that You act toward us as we act toward our neighbor.
My Jesus, make my heart like unto Your merciful Heart.
Jesus, help me to go through life doing good to everyone. Amen.
-From the Diary of St. Faustina, #132
Whether we pray a prayer composed by a saint, or offer our own prayers, praying for the dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy and one we can all be devoted to more throughout this month.