Praying for souls in purgatory is serious business.
We know that for the majority of us, purgatory is the final stopping point on the path to heaven. It’s a time of purification and cleaning before we are united with the Lord. There is suffering in purgatory, but it’s the kind of suffering that could be described as the temporary deprivation of the Beatific Vision.
Pope Benedict XII wrote in the Apostolic Constitution “Benedictus Deus” (“On the Beatific Vision of God,” written in 1336) that the souls of the just “… see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature by way of object of vision; rather, the divine essence immediately manifests itself to them, plainly, clearly, and openly, and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence.”
That means that souls in purgatory long for this vision, and that deprivation is what causes the suffering.
That’s why it is important we pray for souls in purgatory. They cannot do this for themselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “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. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”
St. Gertrude the Great, a 13th-century mystic, received heavenly visions while living with her Benedictine community. One of those visions was a glimpse into purgatory. She also reportedly was given a prayer by Jesus for the holy souls — it is believed that 1,000 souls are released from purgatory by praying this prayer. While the specific prayer’s effects on souls in purgatory is not necessarily endorsed by the Vatican, it is a reminder of the importance of praying for the dead.
As for ourselves, it should be motivation to regularly examine our conscience, go to confession and do penance.
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.