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 sav