Of course, all merit comes from Christ alone. Yet Our Lord wills that we all should add our small part to, as St. Paul writes, "fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in [our] flesh, for His body, which is the Church." (Colossians 1:24). He wants us to pray for each other who are members of His Body.
We also know that the practice of praying for the dead is an ancient one dating back to the people of the Old Covenant before the birth of Christ. (2 Machabees 12:43-45). This can only make sense if there is a place where souls go after death other than Heaven or hell; if they are in Heaven, they do not need prayers, and if they are in hell, prayers cannot help them.
In that spirit, the Church opens up the treasury of grace to those in Purgatory by granting indulgences. Any indulgence can be applied by suffrage for those in Purgatory, but the Church grants a couple of specific indulgences for those still in Purgatory on and near All Souls' Day.
1. From now until the end of All Souls' Day, the faithful may gain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls in purgatory, under the usual conditions*, for visiting a Church or public Oratory. Therein one must recite the Our Father and the Creed. (Cf. para 67 of the Enchiridion of Indulgences, and norms 18, 24, 25 and 30).
2. From November 1st through November 8, inclusive, the faithful may gain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls in purgatory, under the usual conditions*, for devoutly visiting a cemetery and offering prayer, even mental prayer, for the departed. (Cf. para 13 of the Enchiridion of Indulgences, and norms 24 and 25).
We all have lost ones dear to us, and others of Christ's Body are suffering, even now, and in need of our help. Shouldn't we take an extra effort this week to aid them?
* The conditions necessary to obtain any plenary indulgence are listed below. I have included other norms that clarify the satisfaction of these conditions. What follows are norms 26-29 from the Enchiridion of Indulgences:
- To acquire a plenary indulgence
it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is
attached and to fulfill the following three conditions:
- sacramental confession,
- Eucharistic Communion, and
- prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.
- The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff be said on the same day the work is performed.
- A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.
- The condition of praying for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, each one is free to recite any other prayer according to his piety and devotion.