As we begin the new month of November, we begin to focus on the end of another year, but also the promise of good things to come in the future. The month of November begins with two very important days (All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day) and then ends with the great feast day of Christ the King, which leads us, once again, into the new season of Advent. However, the entire month of November itself has a special focus on one of our greatest duties as Christians. That duty is to pray for the living and the dead.
How is it that we can offer our prayers for the living and the dead? Afterall, aren’t we always remembering them during each Mass? The answer is a resounding YES, but we can always do more, especially by having Mass said for those who have already died. The first week of November, from Nov. 1st through Nov. 8th, is a special opportunity to do something truly remarkable for the souls of the faithful in Purgatory. Each day, from Nov. 1st to Nov. 8th, by visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead, you have the ability to gain a plenary indulgence for the souls in Purgatory. Before I mention the specific conditions to gain this indulgence, we might read the words of the catechism about how important it is to offer prayers for the faithful departed.
Article 1032 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“…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 (Second Council of Lyons). The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead… ‘Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.’ (St. John Chrysostom)”
So, we can see that through the testimony of early church councils (Lyons II) and saints (St. John Chrysostom), this is a very important duty as disciples of Christ. During the whole of the month of November, but ESPECIALLY during the first week, let’s take this duty seriously and visit the graves of our loved ones. Has it been a while since you went to lay flowers at someone’s grave? When was the last time you visited the grave of a family member or a good friend? Make the first week of November the time to do it!
In order to gain a plenary indulgence, one has to fulfill 3 conditions:
Receive holy communion
Pray for the intentions of the Pope (1 Our Father and 1 Hail Mary will suffice)
Confession (either 20 days before or after)
Finally, one must visit a cemetery (any cemetery at all, even a non-Christian one) and pray for the dead, using any approved formula. You might consider these words: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace…Amen. May their souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace…Amen.”
~Fr. Martin Gallagher