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What is “The Communion of Saints”?

By Fr. Hien Nguyen


The “communion of saints” that we profess in the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds, is also known as “the Church” – that is, the Church in its whole entirety, which has three parts: 1) the faithful on earth; 2) those who have died and are now being purified in Purgatory; 3) the blessed in Heaven. We are one entity, or “body”, and Jesus is the head. Therefore, the successes and the failures of each individual person affects the whole body, which is mystically connected. This is why our prayers for each other, our prayers for the suffering souls in Purgatory, and the saints in Heaven who pray for us – these prayers actually work! They really draw forth grace from God’s merciful heart, to have an actual effect on souls.


The Catholic Church dedicates the entire month of November to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. This season begins with the Hallowtide Triduum, which consists of All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. During the entire month we pray for the souls of those who have died, especially those whom we have known and loved. Remembering them, praying for them, and giving thanks for them, pleases God, who makes use of our prayers to help purify these souls in Purgatory that He loves.


In Catholic terms, the words holy souls refer to the souls in Purgatory. These are souls who have died in a state of God’s grace and friendship. They are guaranteed eternal salvation in Heaven, and are therefore “holy”, but because they are imperfect they need to undergo a period of purification before they are adequately prepared to enter the bliss of Heaven.


Every sin, even little ones, and even ones that have been forgiven through confession, indicate an unhealthy attachment to something other than God, and this must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. The Church recognizes our need in this area, and so lovingly offers us pathways to speedily purify that spiritual consequence here on earth, called indulgences. We can obtain an indulgence for ourselves, or on behalf of the souls in Purgatory (which is made possible through the communion of saints).

During the season of Holy Souls, we can obtain a full indulgence (a.k.a., a plenary indulgence) on behalf of a soul in Purgatory, by devoutly visiting a cemetery during November 1st – 8th (it is a partial indulgence during other days of the year) to pray for the dead. In order to access this indulgence on behalf of a soul in Purgatory, your own soul must be adequately prepared by receiving the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion (within several days of visiting the cemetery), and by spending a little time praying for the intentions of the Pope (one Our Father and Hail Mary is a good minimum), which expresses our unity with the Church. We can give no greater gift to a loved one who has passed away!