All the souls who are being purified in purgatory are members of the Church Suffering. The Church Militant (the Pilgrim Church) has the duty, based on its obligation to assist a neighbor in need, to lessen their sufferings with prayers and penances offered on their behalf.
The Holy Souls in purgatory are traditionally called the “Church Suffering” because of the real suffering they endure as they are purified. They can do nothing to ease their own pains; their time for obtaining merit with God ended at their death. They can now only benefit from prayers and sacrifices offered on their behalf.
The Church Suffering depends upon the Church Militant (the Pilgrim Church) to come to its aid; we can ease their sufferings so that they can join the saints in heaven more quickly.
It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that those on earth can relieve the pains of the souls in purgatory. The Church calls the assistance that we give to the Holy Souls “suffrages.” These are prayers, penances, and other acts of piety done with the special intention of consoling their suffering.
… the suffrages of the Faithful still living are efficacious in bringing them relief from such punishment, namely the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayers and almsgiving and other works of piety which, in accordance with the designation of the Church, are customarily offered by the Faithful for each other (COUNCIL OF FLORENCE).
The Holy Souls in Purgatory are saved and assured of heavenly glory. Like us, they are members of the Communion of Saints; we are joined to them in Christ, which means that we can share our spiritual goods with them. That is why the Church has always encouraged the faithful to not neglect the needs of the poor souls.
For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him. Therefore, the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who have gone to sleep in the peace of Christ is not in the least weakened or interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the perpetual faith of the Church, is strengthened by communication of spiritual goods…
Fully conscious of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the pilgrim Church from the very first ages of the Christian religion has cultivated with great piety the memory of the dead, and “because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46), also offers suffrages for them (LUMEN GENTIUM, DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH).
HOW CAN THE LIVING SUPPLY FOR THE NEEDS OF THE DEAD?
The souls in purgatory are undergoing purification because they
“have not made satisfaction for things they have done or omitted by fruits worthy of penance” (COUNCIL OF FLORENCE).
In His mercy, God allows the souls on earth (on behalf of the dead) to do what they had not done for themselves while they lived; in their place, we complete the penance that they lacked.
The work of suffrage that is done for another…is counted as belonging to the person for whom it is done…. (ST. THOMAS AQUINAS).
This holy exchange is possible because of the power of God’s eternal charity. The bond that unites the Church Militant (the Pilgrim Church) to the Church Suffering is Christ’s love that dwells in all souls in a state of grace. His charity acts as a conduit of spiritual goods between all His members.
To apply our spiritual goods to the Holy Souls, we simply remember them and unite this special intention to our acts of charity.
Charity, which is the bond uniting the members of the Church, extends not only to the living, but also, to the dead who die in charity. For charity which is the life of the soul, even as the soul is the life of the body, has no end: “Charity never falleth away” (1 Corinthians 13:8).
Moreover, the dead live in the memory of the living: wherefore the intention of the living can be directed to them. Hence the suffrages of the living profit the dead in two ways even as they profit the living, both on account of the bond of charity and on account of the intention being directed to them (ST. THOMAS AQUINAS).
Pope Benedict beautifully explained the power of charity within the Communion of Saints in his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope):
The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death – this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today…
Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Savior, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other?
When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives our involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together.
No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do, and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better or for worse.
So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other – my prayer for him – can play a small part in his purification (SPE SALVI, POPE BENEDICT XVI).
WHAT WE CAN DO TO BENEFIT THE CHURCH SUFFERING
What can we do, specifically, to benefit the Holy Souls? The Church’s sanctifying gifts can be used to sanctify her deceased members. This includes the sacraments, sacramentals, and the rich treasure of prayers and indulgences.
The greatest gift the Church possesses is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, the most beneficial thing we can do the Faithful Departed is to have Masses offered for the repose of their souls.
Praying the Stations of the Cross is also beneficial for them; it supplies for their lack in being perfectly united to the Passion of Christ during their life.
The Holy Rosary is very efficacious – Our Lady consoles her children in purgatory and relieves their suffering, just as she does for her children on earth.
Almsgiving is powerful for the remission of sins, which means that we can offer alms to the poor on behalf of the dead.
The Church also provides generous indulgences that can be obtained for the Holy Souls during the month of November, which is dedicated to their memory.
In short, we can offer any prayer, penance, sacrifice, suffering, or good work to ease the pains of the Holy Souls simply by directing the intention of our action towards them. Jesus who sees our good works and knows the intention of our hearts, will apply it to them.
While we can certainly pray for the Holy Souls in general, we can also make our intention more specific. We can offer suffrages for the dead we know by name – such as our family, friends, benefactors, acquaintances, and even those whom we disliked.
We can also direct our prayers to specific groups of people, such as priests, religious, those who shared our vocation, or those who struggled with a particular sin. We can also direct our intention to those who are currently enduring the worst pains, for those who have no one to pray for them, or for those who are almost ready to enter into heavenly glory.
PRAYING FOR THE HOLY SOULS BENEFITS US, AS WELL
Pope Benedict XVI touched on the truth that our prayers and sacrifices for the Holy Souls benefits our sanctification, too. Out of gratitude, they pray for us now and God hears and answers their prayers however, when we help the Holy Souls obtain the Beatific Vision, they can then become even more powerful intercessors for us.
As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them, too, the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well (SPE SALVI, POPE BENEDICT XVI).
TESTIMONY OF THE SAINTS
Many of the saints have attested that our suffrages on behalf of the faithful departed are very pleasing to God.
St. Gertrude the Great is famous for her special devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Our Lord promised her that He would multiply the benefit of her prayers for them and that by these prayers she would avoid the punishment of purgatory herself. He said to her:
"In order that you may know how agreeable your charity for the souls of the departed has been to Me, I remit to you now all the pains of Purgatory which you might have suffered; and as I have promised to return you a hundred for one, I will further increase your celestial glory abundantly, giving you a special recompense for the charity which you have exercised toward My beloved souls in Purgatory by renouncing in their favor your works of satisfaction."
St. Faustina Kowalska was also a great friend to the Holy Souls as part of her mission to proclaim the Divine Mercy message. Christ expressed His love for the Holy Souls and His desire for her to pray for them, saying:
Today bring to Me THE SOULS WHO ARE DETAINED IN the prison of PURGATORY, and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me. They are making retribution to My justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice (Diary of St. Faustina, 1226).
St. Bridget of Sweden had a vision of how suffrages assisted the Holy Souls. An angel said to her:
… just as a hungry man rejoices over a morsel of food that reaches his mouth, a thirsty man over a drink, a sad man is gladdened by joy, a naked one by clothing, a sick one on coming into bed, so souls rejoice and participate in those goods that are done for them in the world… Blessed be the person in the world who helps souls with prayers and good deeds and physical labor. God’s justice, which cannot lie, declares that souls must either be purged after death through the punishment of purgatory ore released ahead of time through the good works of friends.
We must never despair for the salvation of our departed loved ones. In response to a woman who feared that her loved one had died apart from God’s grace, St. John Chrysostom offered her this encouragement:
You must, in the first place, go to his help, as far as you are able, not with tears, but with prayers, supplications, alms, and sacrifices. All these things are indeed not idle inventions. It is not without necessity that in the divine mysteries we commemorate the dead; it is not fruitlessly that we approach the altar with prayers for them to the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world; but by these means is consolation showered upon their souls…
Is it not one of God’s ways to do good to some out of regard to others? Let us, then, show ourselves eager to aid our dear deceased and earnestly and perseveringly pray for them.
The Mass is a general expiation by which all may profit. In the Mass, therefore, we pray for whole universe, and we mention the dead with the martyrs, confessors, and priests of the Church; for we are all one body, though some members are more illustrious than others. It may be that we can even obtain for our deceased a complete pardon through the prayers and the merits offered for them by those in whose company they are named.
Why, then, are you still in such grief? May not so great a grace be obtained for him whom you have lost? (ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM).
St. Alphonsus Liguori maintains that it is not merely a pious practice to pray for the Holy Souls, but also our Christian duty.
…since it is certain, and even of faith, that by our suffrages, and chiefly by our prayers, as particularly recommended and practiced by the Church, we can relieve those Holy Souls, I do not know how to excuse that man from sin who neglects to give them some assistance, at least by his prayers.
If a sense of duty will not persuade us to succor them, let us think of the pleasure it will give Jesus Christ to see us endeavoring to deliver his beloved spouses from prison, in order that he may have them with Him in Paradise.
Let us think of the store of merit which we can lay up by practicing this great act of charity; let us think, too, that those souls are not ungrateful, and will never forget the great benefit we do them in relieving them of their pains, and in obtaining for them, by our prayers, anticipation of their entrance into glory; so that when they are there they will never neglect to pray for us. And if God promises mercy to him who practices: mercy towards his neighbor-----'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.' [Matt. 5: 7]-----he may reasonably expect to be saved who remembers to assist those souls so afflicted, and yet so dear to God.
In practice, one of the best suffrages is to hear Mass for them, and during the Holy Sacrifice to recommend them to God by the merits and Passion of Jesus Christ. The following form may be used: "Eternal Father, I offer Thee this Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, with all the pains which he suffered in his life and death; and by his Passion I recommend to Thee the souls in Purgatory, and especially that of," etc. And it is a very charitable act to recommend, at the same time, the souls of all those who are at the point of death (ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI).
Original Source: From this excellent series - The Catholic Company - The Four Last Things