Devotion to the Holy Souls

Be a Dominican when you die - you get lots of suffrages and prayers.

Mother Francis Raphael Drane, in her celebrated book The Spirit of the Dominican Order Illustrated from the Lives of its Saints, begins the chapter on Dominican devotion to the Souls in Purgatory as such:

There is an Italian proverb which says, “Be a Dominican when you die,” referring partly perhaps to the wonderfully happy deaths which seem to be among the special privileges of the Order, and partly to the great number of prayers for the faithful departed and in particular for its own members, which its constitutions prescribe. But, besides these obligations of our Rule, it is evident by the multitude of voluntary exercises undertaken by so many of our religious for the relief of the suffering souls in purgatory that a great tenderness in their regard formed a decided part of the spirit of their devotion. The pains of that mysterious region have been laid open to the eyes of many among them, not in the visions of fantastic imagination… but to the eye of their faith and understanding.

“Be a Dominican when you die.”

— An Italian Proverb

The Sisters went daily to the cemetery to chant the Libera in procession for the holy souls.
The Procession is led by the Holy Water Bearer, who sprinkles the ground with holy water while the Sisters follow two by two, chanting the Libera.

The souls in purgatory are dependent on others, and the friendship of the living who are in a state of grace are the best hope of the faithful departed. As St Thomas teaches in his Catechetical Instructions,

Christ descended into hell in order to deliver His own; and so we should go down there to rescue our own. They cannot help themselves. Therefore, let us deliver those who are in purgatory. He would be very hard-hearted who does not come to the aid of a relative who is detained in an earthly prison; but much more cruel is he who will not assist a friend who is in purgatory, for there is no comparison between the pains of this world and of that.

Faith tells us that the liberation of the Church Penitent from their sufferings is in our hands, through prayer. These poor suffering souls cannot pray for themselves or merit any increase in charity, but are instead entirely subject to the purifying fire of God. “They are not in a condition to pray, but rather in a condition that requires us to pray for them” (ST II-II, 83, 12). Hence they are not just “holy” souls simply awaiting the vision of God in Heaven, but also the “poor” souls.

For the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is a society encompassing Heaven and Earth: the Church Triumphant and the Church Penitent in Purgatory, together with the Militant Church on earth, are united together in the Communion of Saints. Saint Thomas thus continues: we ought to assist the souls in purgatory in three ways “as St. Augustine tells us, viz., through Masses, prayers, and almsgiving. St. Gregory adds a fourth, that is, fasting. All this is not so amazing, for even in this world a friend can pay a debt for his friend; but this applies only to those who are in purgatory.”

We stopped at the graves of the Sisters of St Joseph. Here prayers are chanted for the dead.

Our Dominican prayer book, in its introduction to the section which contains the Office of the Dead and the Penitential Psalms, reminds us that this devotion by which we pray for the souls in purgatory is one particularly dear to the Order. St Dominic himself led the way and gave the example, scourging himself each night for the relief of the holy souls. Many other saints of our Order – St Louis Bertrand, St Catherine of Siena, St Catherine de Ricci, Bl John Dominic, to name a few – prayed continuously and practiced severe penances for the suffering souls. 

In the priories of the Dominican Order, a Conventual Mass for the Dead followed by the Libera Procession is offered every week of the year. The complete Office of the Dead is also recited weekly, with this obligation enjoined upon all Friars, even those who are normally exempt from the choral Office due to other duties. During the month of November, each priest must say three Masses for the Holy Souls, and each cleric must recite the entire psalter between the Feast of St Dionysius and Advent.

Marist Pioneer and French Missionary Fr Delphin Moreau is buried here in Wanganui. Father sprinkles holy water while the Pater Noster is said in silence.
Prayers are said for the intentions of the Holy Father - in order to gain the indulgence attached to this devotion.

For the Sisters here in Wanganui, the first eight days of November mean cemetery visits, a Libera Procession, and special prayers recited for the dead. Each Sister contributes a list of dearly departed to be put in a box, which is kept on the altar throughout the entire month. This is in addition to the De Profundis which is recited every day before the main meal and at our weekly Chapter, and the four anniversaries of the Order which is piously celebrated in February (for our deceased parents), July (those buried in our cemeteries), September (deceased benefactors) and November (all deceased Dominican brothers and sisters). And in the evenings, after Compline, as the Grand Silence bell tolls slowly for the duration of a De Profundis, death is called to mind, and the hope of eternal rest springs in the hearts of each Sister as the sun sinks slowly in the distance over the West.

Every day before the main meal, the Sisters pray the De Profundis in the atrium leading to the Refectory. The dead are thus recalled to mind before we take our refreshment.
A Sung Requiem Mass was also offered for the holy souls. May the Precious Blood of Christ descend into Purgatory and relieve their sufferings!
After the Consecration, Father extends his hands in the form of the Cross. This gesture is peculiar to the Dominican rite, and recalls to mind the Sacrifice of the Mass as being essentially the same as Our Lord's Sacrifice on the Cross.

This round continues, day by day, year after year. We never cease repeating these prayers and these Masses.

As the renowned Dominican orator Fr Jacques-Marie Louis Monsabre says, “nothing is more conformable to reason than the doctrine of the Church on purgatory, and nothing is more consoling for the heart.” The privation of God is doubtlessly a very great suffering, but it is sweetened and consoled by the assured hope of once possessing Him. From this hope there arises an incredible joy, which grows in measure as the soul approaches the end of its exile.

Dies Irae, sung by the Sisters.

5 Responses to Devotion to the Holy Souls

  1. Absolutely loved the pictures and unearthly devotions for the Holy Souls. In these dark months with the election of so many evil leaders, it enlightened my soul. PLEASE ASK THE Holy Souls to pray for Mr Trump. So persecuted for standing up for Christ and what is right – perhaps the most persecuted in the world today.
    thank you dear sisters.

  2. Thank you Father Albert, Mother Catherine and the Community for continuing the tradition of the Church. May our Lord bless and protect your community and pray that all the living souls and Catholics continue praying for the faithful departed crying for our prayers. Remember we are in the same journey with the Holy Souls…Deo Gratia

  3. Beautiful photos and explanations! My father, Victor C. Cascio, passed away on 10/30/2020. It is comforting to know that his granddaughter, Sr Mary Martin, and all the Dominican Sisters will be remembering him in their prayers. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God Rest In Peace. Amen.

  4. I loved reading this – thank you so much.

    I love the Dies Irae singing clip which reminded me very much of the nuns singing nightly at Teschemakers……oh so many years ago.

    We are so blessed to have an authentic order praying for the Holy Souls as well as for us all in NZ.

    Thank you and God bless you immensely.

    Warm regards


  5. Dear Sisters,

    Photos worth a thousand words. Showing in act the words of the great Dominican Fr J M Monsabre

    Prayers for the deceased -” nothing more conformable to reason…. nothing more consoling for the heart.”

    Thank you dear Mothers, dear Sisters and the good Fr Albert O.P.

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