The Month of the Holy Souls begins on 2nd November and we discuss the month dedicated to the souls of the departed.
What is All Souls Day?
All Souls Day is a chance for us to commemorate and honour those who have passed. The Western celebration of All Souls’ Day is on 2 November and follows All Saints’ Day, which commemorates the departed who have attained the beatific vision.
Catholic belief is that the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.
Those who, within the octave of All Souls Day, visit the cemetery in a spirit of piety and devotion and pray, even only mentally, for the departed may gain a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions (confession, Holy Communion, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and prayers for the intentions of the Church, such as an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be) on each day of the octave, applicable only to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
Reciting prayers or performing other devout exercises for the departed during this month may gain an indulgence of 3 years each day of the month, and a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions, if they perform these devotions daily for the entire month.
During November, we take part in public services held in a church in intercession for the faithful departed may gain an indulgence of 7 years on each day of the month, and a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions if they do so at least 15 days.
History of the Holy Souls
In the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. According to Widukind of Corvey (c. 975), there existed a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October in Saxony. But it was the day after All Saints’ Day that Saint Odilo of Cluny chose when in the 11th century he instituted for all the monasteries dependent on the Abbey of Cluny an annual commemoration of all the faithful departed, to be observed with alms, prayers, and sacrifices for the relief of the suffering souls in purgatory. Odilo decreed that those requesting a Mass be offered for the departed should make an offering for the poor, thus linking almsgiving with fasting and prayer for the dead. From there the 2 November custom spread to other Benedictine monasteries and thence to the Western Church in general. The Diocese of Liège was the first diocese to adopt the practice under Bishop Notger (d. 1008).
Prayers for the Departed
We should pray for the dead throughout the year, especially on the anniversary of their death, but in this Month of the Holy Souls, we should devote some time every day to prayer for the dead. We should start with those closest to us—our mother and father, for instance—but we should also offer prayers for all the souls, and especially for those most forsaken.
One of the most commonly recited of Catholic prayers in times past is Eternal Rest. This prayer has fallen into disuse in the last few decades. Prayer for the dead, however, is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform, to help them during their time in Purgatory, so that they can enter more quickly into the fullness of heaven.
We also say prayers for our parents, not just simply out of duty but out of joy. They gave us life and brought us up in the Faith; we should be happy that our prayers can help end their sufferings in Purgatory and bring them fully into the light of Heaven.
For most, it was our mother who nurtured us and helped us understand our Faith. Our fathers are the model of God in our lives and provide guidance when we need it most. We can help repay them by praying for the repose of their souls and help them through the sufferings of Purgatory and into the fullness of Heaven.
The Meaning of Offering
The Month of the Holy Souls is a time for us to be selfless and charitable in the eternal suffering of others. When we offer up our own daily sufferings, we benefit, too, because we learn better to cope with the challenges of our daily life. Whenever we find ourselves in a bad situation, we should remind ourselves that we’re offering it up for the Holy Souls, because the merit of our offering increases when we cope with situations with Christian charity, humility, and patience.
Children, too, can learn to “offer it up,” and they’re often eager to do so, especially if they can offer up the trials of childhood for a beloved grandparent or other relative or friend who has died. It’s a good way to remind them that, as Christians, we believe in life after death and that, in a very real sense, the souls of the dead are still with us. That’s what the “Communion of Saints” that we refer to in the Apostles’ Creed (and every other Christian creed) means.