When I was writing a textbook series, one day a Jewish employee of the publisher called with an odd question. He asked, “How do you spell Poor Souls? Is it pour, poor, or pore?” Purgatory is pretty much a Catholic belief. In the Creed, we pray that we believe in the Communion of Saints. This comprises three groups: the Saints in heaven, the people in purgatory, and the believers on Earth. As some wit put it: All Saints, All Souls, and All Sorts!
On November 2 we celebrate All Souls Day. In fact, the whole month is dedicated to them. In our Province Center in Chardon we have the practice of writing the names of our deceased loved ones on paper. These are arranged artistically in our chapel and kept there all month. We are also invited to display photos of people we love who have passed into the next world.
Our departed relatives and friends are still present and loving us, although they are invisible. They exist in another dimension, one that we too will be slipping into one day. As holy as these people were on earth, there is no guarantee that they are in heaven (unless the Church has canonized them). Therefore, we don’t call them saints, but poor souls.
Monsignor Moriarty, who was reader/censor for the textbooks, preferred the term “holy” souls. He pointed out that the people in purgatory were not really poor. They had run the race on earth successfully and so had escaped eternal damnation. They are just undergoing purification before living with God in heaven. They were good people, holy people, who just needed to become more worthy of seeing God face-to-face. Their earthly prayers and penances hadn’t been sufficient to atone for their mistakes, their lack of love.
Some theologians propose that purgatory is not fire but the excruciating pain of realizing of our sinfulness once we are face-to-face with God. It happens instantaneously.
Because everyone in the Church is united and share in one another’s good works, we can pray for our brothers and sisters in purgatory that they maybe released. We offer Masses for them and pray the traditional prayer, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.” One family I know prays this whenever they are traveling and pass a cemetery.
It is a good practice to pray for certain groups: those who have no one to pray for them, those who died an early or unexpected death, first responders, priests and sisters, ancestors, and those who committed suicide.
Of course, all of these practices depend on the fact that there is life after death. We take Christ’s word for it. He promised it was true and rose from the dead himself to prove it.
The day after I flew home from a conference, I googled my name. A shocking notice appeared—an obituary for Kathleen Glavich! Did our plane go down? Am I in twilight zone? Am I dreaming? I didn’t feel dead. I clicked on the notice and it took me to the text. Kathleen Edith Glavich had died a few days earlier. My middle name is Ann. Whew! I’m not ready to go yet. Still have books to write on the back burner. Someday my obituary really will appear. Unless I am martyred, I will probably end up in purgatory, hoping that my friends and some strangers will be praying that my purification is over quickly.
Keep your eye on the grand prize and persevere. Remember we were born for another world. I look forward to meeting Kathleen Edith Glavich someday along with my ancestors, family members, and friends . . . but not real soon.
Here is the Litany for the Poor Souls, something I never knew existed: