It’s not too late to take a tip on Christmas gift giving from two doctors of the Church: St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Teresa of Ávila.
You can help a soul in purgatory reach heaven on Dec. 25.
And — marking the eight days of the Octave of Christmas — you can keep giving and keep helping through Jan. 1.
It well may be your unfamiliar with the revelations of both St. Alphonsus and St. Teresa that say most souls are released from purgatory on Christmas Day (not All Souls Day!). It seems the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord is when purgatory is least populated.
Then, too, it well might be you’re a little unclear on the Church’s teaching on purgatory. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
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.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. …
From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God [that is, heaven]. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. … Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them. (CCC, 1030–1032)
Unable to pray for themselves, unable to gain merit now that they’re in purgatory, they heavily rely on us to free them.
What’s their primary pain? They suffer the loss of the sight of God. After their death, they saw God but now are unable to be with him. The saints tell us that’s worse than any pain or suffering on earth.
In a similar way, we keenly feel the loss of loved ones during the Christmas season. St. Alphonsus and St. Teresa are telling us that by being an advocate for them by our prayers, we can help turn their pain into eternal glory.
We can help them “go home” for Christmas.
But what about loved ones already in paradise? Are our prayers wasted? Not at all!
Again to the Catechism:
“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 a 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)
Their prayers for us, and for others, become more powerful. St. Thomas Aquinas called this “accidental glory.” And the lesson here is to never stop praying for the dead.
With all this in mind, a few suggestions:
- Offer your Christmas Mass, holy Communion, and indulgence on that day. Stop at the manger and implore the Infant Jesus to intercede for the most abandoned souls. Those of priests and consecrated religious. We tend to canonize them and cut off too soon our prayers for them.
- At home, say a decade of the rosary with family members in front of the Nativity scene. In simple words, explain to members of the youngest generation why the family is doing this.
- In church or at home, light a votive candle for all who have passed away, but perhaps especially those who have died since the previous Christmas. The burning candle is a sign of our prayer, a bright silent intercessor for the holy souls.
- Say the Eternal Rest Prayer before and after meals throughout the Octave of Christmas. (“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”)
- Join your prayers with the intercessions of the holy souls in purgatory who are praying for their grieving loved ones on earth. (No, the holy souls can’t pray for themselves but, yes, they can, and do, pray for us still on earth!)
- Offer up the stress of the holiday season as a prayer for the holy souls.
- Find out about having Gregorian Masses celebrated for a loved one who has died.
- On Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, join Our Lady in praying for the holy souls. Here’s what St. Faustina, another saint who received revelations, wrote:
[The next night] I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call her “The Star of the Sea.” She brings them refreshment. (Diary, 20)
This Christmas, and throughout the year, God invites us to do the same.