Praying for Souls – Even When You Don’t Know if They’re in Purgatory

Today we celebrate All Souls Day, but for Catholics the entire month of November is dedicated to praying for the souls in Purgatory.

Purgatory is the name the Church gives to the final purification after death and judgement, a period when those who die in God’s grace and friendship undergo a purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter into the joy of heaven. All souls in Purgatory are assured of eternal salvation, but they must first be cleansed of all their lesser sins before they can enter the glory of heaven.

But what about those souls we don’t think were in a state of grace when they died? Should we continue to pray for our loved ones who were fallen-away Catholics? Our atheist friends? Or what about those (uncanonized) people who lived such holy lives that we figure they must already be in heaven? Recently on The Inner Life®, Fr. Daniel Schuster responded to a listener asking these very questions. Fr. Schuster answered: 

“We don’t know where they are, and our task that the Lord gives us is to pray unceasingly. St. Paul says to pray without stopping – to pray unceasingly.

When we’re talking about the communion of saints and the body of Christ, there are all kinds of questions that come up with this topic, like whether we’ll all enter heaven at the same time or whether it’s an immediate judgement. The Catechism says there’s an immediate judgement, but what does that mean when there’s no time? You can kind of go cross-eyed and get a headache after a while.

So I would say, just keep praying. Never could we just give up hope and say, ‘Well, this person is probably in hell. I’m going to stop praying for them.’  That’s not Christian.

In fact, we’ve been going through the book of Romans in the Mass and we hear ‘hope against hope’ – that’s faith. That was Abraham’s faith, and that’s who Catholics are. We’re the ones who hope against all hope that Jesus can purify and can save.

We can’t draw conclusions, we just keep praying.”

Listen to the call below:

The Inner Life airs weekdays at 12:00 p.m. Eastern/9:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.