What the month of November means to Catholics and how to honor its significance in your life.
For Catholics, November is the month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The Catechism teaches: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death, they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).
C.S. Lewis echoes this understanding well in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:
“Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and that your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”?
Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.”
“It may hurt, you know.” —“Even so, sir.”
Those suffering but hopeful souls whom our prayers assist will someday be in heaven and will pray for us as we journey. And so, November is an ideal time to help the Holy Souls through prayer and acts of love and charity. It’s also a good time to remember that we are sinners and must strengthen our own souls so that we may enter heaven. Continuing our monthly series on ways to showcase each month’s Catholic theme in your life, here are 10 ways you can honor the Holy Souls in Purgatory this November:
1Make a Holy Souls' month resolution
It is commonplace to make a resolution for New Year’s in January, deciding to give up a vice or adopt a virtue. There is no bettertime than the Month of the Holy Souls to make a resolution that helps our own souls and those we love get a little closer to heaven. An example of a Holy Souls’ Month resolution: Resolve to pray the Rosary every day to help strengthen our own souls; and also add the “Eternal Rest” prayer at the end for the Holy Souls in Purgatory:
- Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
- And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Or, there’s even a special Holy Souls Rosary you can pray: http://www.holysoulsrosary.org/#/english
2Pray for the souls in purgatory with St. Gertrude's Prayer
“Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.”
3Perform acts of charity and sacrifices for the Holy Souls
Whatever you do in the spirit of this month, why not offer it up for the suffering Holy Souls?
4Make “soul cakes”
Soul cakes are a medieval Catholic tradition. They are little round cakes made for the feasts of All Saints and All Souls and handed out when “soulers” (usually children and the poor) would knock at the door to offer prayers for the souls of the household. Here’s the recipe I’ll be following this year.
To make them extra special, you can score the shape of a cross into the top of each cake before baking. As another option, it is said that donuts were first created as a kind of delicious soul cake, with their circular shapes representing the everlasting life of the soul. So, if you don’t make the soul cakes from scratch, you can always buy some donuts! Sting sings a great song about soul cakes here; soon you’ll be singing along…
“A soul-cake, a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake …
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.”
5Have a “souling” party for the young -- and young at heart
All Hallows Eve and other autumnal feasting traditions have their roots in ancient Catholic celebrations of the feasts of all saints and all souls. Why not kick off November (and the Feast of All Souls) with a soul caking party? Dress up as your favorite saint, bring the name of a deceased loved one to ask others to pray for as you light a candle, eat, and share soul cakes. You can even sing songs for the occasion like “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” “Be Still My Soul,” “By All Your Saints Still Striving” and for kids, “This Little Light of Mine.” Hey, who wouldn’t want to attend a party where the spotlight food is donuts?
6Visit a cemetery and pray for the deceased
What a wonderful month to go to the cemetery and offer prayers, even for those you didn’t know personally. For your departed loved ones, why not plant some mums, ornamental cabbage, or lay a wreath at their headstone and pray while you plant? You could probably say a whole Rosary for them while you till, weed, plant and water. When you’re finished, take a walk and continue praying for those buried there. Don’t forget the “Eternal Rest” prayer (see above). This is an excellent way to become more comfortable in cemeteries, and become aware that these are not places to fear or avoid, but hallowed ground on which to pray for those who have gone before us.
7Request and offer Masses for the repose of souls
We can and should help the souls of the departed after death by requesting Masses for them. Another option: Offer the next Mass you attend for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, offering up your receipt of Communion and all your prayers and good works of the day.
8Place photos of your beloved deceased in a place of honor in your home
Whether it’s in the same room that you’ll share your Thanksgiving feast, or on a side table perhaps near a crucifix or other sacred image, display photos of those you’re remembering in prayer. You can place flowers or a candle nearby. If you don’t have as many pictures as you’d like (for example, those priceless black and white wedding photos of your grandmother), why not plan a gathering this month where various relatives come over and bring scanned or printed copies of some of those family treasures? You can look at them together over a festive glass of warm cider and tell stories, and for families who enjoy crafting, you could fill albums, make scrapbooks, or frame the photos together.
9Prepare a dinner in memory of a departed loved one
Serve foods your loved one was known to cook or to enjoy and consider inviting those who are missing that person and who need a boost. Tell stories of that loved one, play music they liked, and pass down their wisdom and wit.
10Remember your departed relatives and friends around the Thanksgiving table
At grace before meals, when we proclaim our blessings and share our bounty, let us also recall, by name, those in our family who have died and whose influence we still celebrate and count among our greatest gifts.
3 Little-known details about Purgatory