The day after he was ordained a priest, Karol Wojtyła—later St. John Paul the Great—celebrated three first Masses on November 2, 1946, in the crypt of St. Leonard in Wawel Cathedral. A few friends and his aunt gathered together with him in this crypt that contains the remains of several kings, queens, clergy, and artists. George Weigel writes that the young priest wanted to express his gratitude to those influential Poles who had a significant impact on his life and education (Witness to Hope, 81). He wore black vestments and since he was permitted on this day to say three Masses, he offered up a Mass for the repose of the soul of his mother, his brother, and his father. After the Mass, Fr. Wojtyła did not have properly printed holy cards so he wrote on them the word “Magnificat” from Mary’s inspired song along with the date and his signature. His offering of these Masses testifies to the abundant mercy God bestows to our beloved dead and our communion with them.
Citing the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the Catechism of the Catholic Church illustrates for us how we are still in communion with our beloved brothers and sisters who have gone before us.
“In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect 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’ she offers her suffrages for them.” Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective. (CCC 958)
By giving us a share in the resurrection and life of Jesus Christ, God has enabled His people to continue to share in each other’s lives even beyond the grave. The Church is composed of the people of God and these people do not exist only on earth but also in heaven and purgatory. Ignoring other dimensions of the Church is a failure to believe that Christ has redeemed one’s brothers and sisters from the grasp of Satan and to recognize that we are all united in Christ regardless of the state of our existence. The unity of the people of God does not occur in the distant future but here and now because we have all been drawn to Christ who was lifted up on the cross. If we claim to have no communion with the members of the Body of Christ who have gone before us, how can we believe that we have unity with Jesus Himself who is the head of the body? To neglect acts of charity to another member of the Body of Christ in another dimension is deny our own identity as a Christian by failing to imitate Christ’s love for all people whether alive on earth or alive with Christ. Just as we pray for our loved ones here on earth, so we ought to pray for our beloved dead. Several people claim to “know” that their loved one is already in heaven but the truth is that—outside of a private supernatural communication like an apparition—no one can know the state of their loved ones after death. If we canonize our deceased relatives claiming they are already with God, they will not receive prayers that will aid and shorten their time in purgatory if they are there. If they are not in purgatory, then we can hope the merciful Lord will put our prayers to good use for another suffering soul in need.
Not only do our prayers help these members of Christ’s body, but it is possible from that last line in the Catechism quote above that those for whom we have prayed will in turn pray for us. This exemplifies a beautiful reciprocal relationship among the members of Christ helping each other to attain the beatific vision. We pray for the poor souls in purgatory and they in turn pray for us. God doesn’t just want to save us individually but each Christian is called to help the other in their pilgrimage to our heavenly homeland in imitation of Jesus Christ. John Paul the Great prayed for his loved ones to see Christ face to face and we can hope and believe that they too prayed for him to attain eternal life in Christ. Like our beloved saint, the month of November is the month to remember the Holy Souls in Purgatory. One of the best ways to help the souls in purgatory is through an indulgence and during this time in November we can gain them through visiting a Church or cemetery. Fr. Z provides information on how these can be attained especially during this month of November,
From the Handbook of Indulgences
Visiting a Church or an Oratory on All Souls Day
A plenary (“full”) indulgence, which is applicable only to the souls in Purgatory is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a church or an oratory on (November 2nd,) All Souls Day.
Requirements for Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on All Souls Day (2 Nov)
- Visit a church and pray for souls in Purgatory
- Say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed” in the visit to the church
- Say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s intentions (that is, the intentions designated by the Holy Father each month)
- Worthily receive Holy Communion (ideally on the same day if you can get to Mass)
- Make a sacramental confession within 20 days of All Souls Day
- For a plenary indulgence be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin (otherwise, the indulgence is partial, not plenary, “full”).
You can acquire one plenary indulgence a day.
A partial indulgence can be obtained by visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed. You can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between 1 November and 8 November. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory. (More information about indulgences can be found on his blog post here.)