I know that it is good to pray FOR the souls in Purgatory, but can we also pray TO them?
From what I can tell, the Church has not definitively settled this question. There is certainly nothing that explicitly forbids it. As such, it remains a topic that is up for debate, and it is for each individual Catholic to decide whether or not he will pray to the souls in Purgatory. You don’t have to believe that we can pray to them, but you can if you want to.
The difficulty in making an authoritative pronouncement centers around the simple fact that we don’t know a lot about the afterlife. We know that there is Heaven and Hell and that the souls destined for Heaven may first undergo a final purification. But, what this is like, we do not know. We don’t even know for sure how the saints in Heaven hear our prayers, we just know that they do. Barring some revelation by the Holy Spirit, any statement regarding the ability of the souls in Purgatory to hear our prayers is going to be a speculative one.
Now, this is just my educated opinion, but if I were to take a stand on this issue I would say that praying to the souls in Purgatory is a logical consequence of what we believe about the communion of saints. In Christ, the Church Militant (on Earth), the Church Suffering (in Purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven) all make up one Mystical Body of Christ.
The Catechism says, “In the communion of saints a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things” (no. 1475). In other words, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). Knowing this, it just makes sense to me that if the souls in Purgatory can benefit from our prayers, then we should be able to benefit from theirs. The Communion of Saints doesn’t seem to be a one-way street.
Furthermore, the Church has always allowed Catholics to pray to their deceased loved ones as a private devotion. But, the odds are great that any soul destined for heaven is undergoing some type of final purification first. Thus, the possibility exists that when you pray to your deceased grandmother, for example, you are actually praying to a soul in Purgatory. The Church, in allowing this private devotion, surely must have recognized the potential that existed in this scenario for a prayer to be directed to such a soul. So, in this perhaps we have implicit approval.
Again, keep in mind that these are simply my own theological musings, and I do not present them as the definitive teaching of the Church. But, perhaps these thoughts will help you as you decide whether or not you will pray to the souls in Purgatory.
Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
Feel free to email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org