The importance of All Souls Day was made clear by Pope Benedict XV
(1914-22), when he granted all priests the privilege of celebrating three
Masses on All Souls Day:
One for the faithful departed;
One for the priest’s intentions;
One for the intentions of the Holy Father.
Only on a handful of other very important feast days are priests allowed
to celebrate more than two Masses.
While All Souls Day is now paired with All Saints Day, which celebrates
all of the faithful who are in Heaven, it originally was celebrated in the
Easter season, around Pentecost Sunday (and still is in the Eastern
Catholic Churches). By the tenth century, the celebration had been moved to
October; and sometime between 998 and 1030, St. Odilo of Cluny decreed that
it should be celebrated on November 2 in all of the monasteries of his
Over the next two centuries, other Benedictines and the Carthusians
began to celebrate it in their monasteries as well, and soon it spread to
the entire Church.
On All Souls Day, we not only remember the dead, but we apply our
efforts, through prayer, almsgiving, and the Mass, to their release from
Purgatory. There are two plenary indulgences attached to All Souls Day, one
for visiting a church and another for visiting a cemetery. (The plenary
indulgence for visiting a cemetery can also be obtained every day from
November 1-8, and, as a partial indulgence, on any day of the year.) While
the actions are performed by the living, the merits of the indulgences are
applicable only to the souls in Purgatory.
Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. In the modern world,
when many have come to doubt the Church’s teaching on Purgatory, the need
for such prayers has only increased. The Church devotes the month of
November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and participation in
the Mass of All Souls Day is a good way to begin the month.
Q. What benefits can flow from a visit to a Catholic cemetery?
A. It must first be recalled that a Catholic cemetery is a holy place,
being consecrated ground, especially blessed by the Church to receive the
bodies, temples of the Holy Ghost, that will rise up to meet Our Lord, the
Supreme Judge, on the last day. It is for this reason that it was always
considered obligatory for the bodies of faithful Catholics to be buried in
Catholic cemeteries (Canon 1205, 1 of the 1917 Code).
A visit to a cemetery is consequently an act of religion, as is the special
care of the cemetery and of the tombs of those who are buried there. It
inspires a Catholic with reverence, awe for God’s judgments, respect for
the souls of those whose bodies are buried there, with an awareness of the
brevity of this earthly life, and of the union of the Church militant with
the Church suffering in the mystical body of Christ. Special graces are
consequently attached to silent and prayerful visits to cemeteries. It can
easily be understood why Church law prescribes that each parish have its
own cemetery (Canon 1208), and why it is the traditional custom for it to
be physically adjoining the parish.
However, if Catholics love to visit cemeteries, it is especially out of a
motive of charity. We long to assist the suffering souls in purgatory by
our prayers, sacrifices, and Masses, given that we are united as members of
the same mystical body. A physical visit to a cemetery is a great help in
inciting us to this duty of charity. It is for this reason that the Church
has generously enriched with her indulgences visits to cemeteries. During
the eight days from November 1-8, any of the faithful can, simply by
visiting a cemetery and praying for the poor souls, obtain a plenary
indulgence, applicable to the poor souls in purgatory, under the usual
conditions.[*] At other times of the year this is a partial indulgence. The
gaining of a plenary indulgence does not mean that one soul is freed from
Purgatory, but that the power of the Church’s suffrages is added to the
personal prayers and applied to the poor souls, by manner of intercession.
How could we refuse to take advantage of the unlocking of the Church’s
treasury, which simply depends on our visits and prayers.
Let us consequently be generous and regular with our visits to Catholic
cemeteries, and let us never pass one by without stopping to recite a short
prayer for the poor souls there, or at least reciting such a prayer as we
Q&A by Fr. Scott
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devotions (listed below) we offer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory — all
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– Litany for the Poor Souls in Purgatory
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“Pray and work for souls”
* An indulgence can either be partial or plenary. It is partial if it
removes only part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it
removes all punishment.
To be able to gain an indulgence, one must have the intention to gain them,
and perform the works at the time and in the manner prescribed.
Six General rules for obtaining a plenary indulgence:
1. State of grace at least when performing the indulgenced act.
2. Complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.
3. Confession (20 days before or after the indulgenced act).
4. Communion (20 days before or after the indulgenced act).
5. Prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
6. Indulgenced act: a special good work with special conditions of place
All attachment to sin, even venial sin, must be absent. If one’s
disposition is less than perfect or if some of the above conditions are not
fulfilled, the indulgence becomes partial.
The Apostolic Penitentiary guide for indulgences:
In order to obtain a plenary indulgence (only one per day), the faithful
must, in addition to being in the state of grace: have the interior
disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin; — have
sacramentally confessed their sins; — receive the Holy Eucharist; pray for
the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and
especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take
place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is
sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within
several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the
Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an “Our
Father” and a “Hail Mary” are suggested. One sacramental Confession
suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and
a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each
Indulgenced Acts for the Poor Souls A partial indulgence can be obtained by
devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the
prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a
cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are
applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also
granted when the faithful piously visit a church or a public oratory on All
Souls Day. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, that one Our
Father and the Creed be recited.
A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be
obtained when the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This can be
prayed all year, but especially during the month of November:
Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis).
Requiescat (-ant) in pace. Amen.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon
them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God,
rest in peace. Amen.
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