The following was written by Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC (1916-2000), the first Director of the Association of Marian Helpers. We hope his words will bring you comforting advice to help the souls of loved ones reach the joy of heaven.
Why do we commemorate loved ones who have died? Why do we pray for the dead?
Not all souls enter heaven immediately after death. That is the teaching of the Catholic Church. We believe that there is a reality called Purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after their death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (§1030).
The Holy Souls in Purgatory who are undergoing this "purification" cannot help themselves. We, however, can help them. We can help them through our prayers and good works. The greatest sign of our love for our dearly departed loved ones is to pray for them.
Why do the Marians remember the Holy Souls?
Prayer for the Holy Souls has been a special part of our charism as Marians of the Immaculate Conception, going back to our founding by [Blessed] Stanislaus Papczynski in the 17th century. After seeing numerous soldiers who were dying on battlefields, Father Founder started to offer Masses and special prayers for them. He was especially concerned about those who had died suddenly — whether through war or some other tragedy — without the opportunity to prepare for death.
That same spirit of praying for the dead continues today among all of the Marians. In our Constitutions, we read, "Our Congregation … from its very beginning, with great devotion, honors the memory of the dead and offers prayers for them" (§19).
How does the Marian charism serve Marian Helpers?
From the very beginnings of the Association of Marian Helpers — our spiritual benefit society — we saw that our Marian charism to remember the dead could have an important effect on our Associates and benefactors. It’s an important aspect of what we do through the Association. And it has been very encouraging to many of our Helpers to know that their dearly departed will be remembered in our prayers.
People usually write to request prayers, and especially Holy Masses, after the passing of a loved one, especially the saying of Holy Masses for them. Our Associates often show great sorrow after losing a loved one. I tell many of them that only time will heal the wound that is wrought in the heart after losing a beloved person.
Knowing that their dearly departed are remembered in Masses and prayers helps bring them a sense of calm and peace, and it encourages them to persevere in prayer as well.
Are there other devotions we should consider?
The lighting of candles signifies our continuous prayer before the Lord — just like the candle that is burning. This is a common devotion for the deceased, and one we make available to our Associates through our candle shrines here on Eden Hill.
The Rosary is also a very powerful prayer for the deceased. We can also make little sacrifices for our departed loved ones, such as fasting on Fridays or giving up foods that we enjoy. Another good devotion is praying the Way of the Cross.
What is Mary's role in praying for the Holy Souls?
Our Lady is considered our mother. Naturally, then, we turn to her when we are faced with any problem, difficulty, or loss.
As Mother of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary continues to intercede for the souls in Purgatory, who are her sons and daughters. In fact, in the Hail Mary, we pray for her intercession "now and at the hour of our death."
Please visit Fr. Walter Pelczynski's Online Memorial.