Friday, 30 October 2015
Plenary indulgences and Masses for the Holy Souls
As the month of November is fast approaching, it is good for us to remember the generosity of the Church at this time - indeed the great mercy that is shown to our departed brothers and sisters. There are two plenary indulgences that we should all try to gain:
1. A plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions on the commemoration of All Souls by visiting a Church and saying the Our Father and the Creed.
2. A plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions by those who visit a cemetery from 1-8 November and pray for the faithful departed.
For "the usual conditions", please see my post Plenary indulgences not impossible.
Most Catholic Churches have a box for donations for the "Holy Souls" box. Mine now has a brief explanation since I am sure it is by no means obvious to many Catholics, let alone non-Catholics what happens with a donation for the Holy Souls. Essentially these are used to provide Masses for the Holy Souls. Each diocese sets (or should set) a standard stipend for Masses. (In the Archdiocese of Southwark it is currently £10.)
Priests and people are not bound by this if an individual asks a priest to say a Mass for a particular intention. The priest might accept less than the standard stipend, and a kindly benefactor might give more. But for Masses requested by organisations or Masses from the Holy Souls box, the standard stipend in applied.
We rightly pray for our departed relatives, friends and benefactors, and have Masses said for them, but during November we should remember the forgotten souls in purgatory as an act of charity, as a practical act of mercy. So many funerals today omit entirely to pray for the deceased person - even in Catholic Churches, this aspect of the funeral is often played down in favour of fond reminiscences which would be better left to the reception afterwards.
There are many poor souls in purgatory who will be eternally grateful (eternally, remember) for the prayers that you offer for the Holy Souls during November. They will thank God that someone at least has realised what their greatest need is, and helped them when they cannot help themselves.
Those among you who have all the virtues in a heroic degree will also have the virtue of humility and hope, and will not presume on final perseverance, of course. After your canonisation, the Lord in His infinite mercy will apply the suffrages offered for you to some poor bloke in purgatory whose funeral was a "Celebration of the life of..." in which people learnt that he liked a drink and a bet on the horses.
For the rest of us, November is a good time for us to remember that we will one day be most grateful for prayers offered for the Holy Souls. In the meantime, being aware of our mortality, and the eternity that we will face, helps us to set our lives in order and lessen the time that we will have to spend being purified of our sins. This example of a Christian clock (Exeter Cathedral, c.1484) puts it well:
Pereunt et imputantur: (the hours) vanish and they are reckoned to our account