Often we will see pictures of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel extending the Brown Scapular releasing souls from Purgatory. When Our Lady gave the scapular to St. Simon Stock, she said: "Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant."
Wearing the brown scapular was extended by the Church to all the faithful. The scapular is a sign of one's consecration to Mary, and of her protection in return. It is also a reminder of the reality of Purgatory. As we enter the Month of November, the Church recalls to our minds the way we can be of assistance to those who have died.
What is Purgatory and how can we help the faithful departed?
The Catechism for Adults published by the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) tells us: “The Church gives the name of Purgatory to the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC, 1031). Those who die in the state of friendship with God but who are not fully purified and perfected are assured of their eternal salvation. However, they must undergo a purification to obtain the perfection of love and holiness needed to enter heaven, where they have a heart that is totally open to Him. This process is called Purgatory.
It is impossible for us to imagine what Purgatory is. Traditionally, it has been described as a purifying fire. Since the human soul cannot be touched by earthly flames, the image serves to recall that perfect love is achieved by a gradual and painful spiritual detachment from selfishness and self-centeredness.”
One of the most effective ways to help those undergoing this purification is to receive the Eucharist and have Mass offered for them. The Enchiridion of Indulgences tells us the Church grants a special indulgence to the faithful, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, “to those who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial.”
“To obtain the plenary indulgence on November 1-November 8, we must receive Communion and sacramental Confession (and have no attachment to sin, even venial). Communion must be received each day we wish to gain the indulgence, but we only need to go to Confession once during the period. And, as with all plenary indulgences, we must pray for the intentions of the Holy Father (one Our Father and one Hail Mary) each day we perform the work of the indulgence.”
The holy souls can no longer help themselves, so they rely upon our prayers and works of charity. However, they will be powerful intercessors for us in return. St. John Vianney said: "If one knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them, they will pray for us."