In all likelihood, Yes, they can, though there appears to be a difference of opinion among saintly scholars
on this question. A web page on New Advent: Purgatory: Invocation of souls:
- the Church has made no decision on this question and
- St. Thomas (II-II:83:11) denies that the souls in Purgatory pray for
the living and states they are not in a position to pray for us rather we must make intercession for them but
- Despite the authority of St. Thomas, many renowned theologians hold that the souls in Purgatory
really pray for us, and that we may invoke their aid. These include
St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Alphonsus Liguori, also Doctors of
Bellarmine says the reason alleged by St. Thomas is not at all convincing,
and holds that in virtue of their greater love of God and their union with
Him, their prayers may have great intercessory power, for they are really
superior to us in love of God, and in intimacy of union with Him. (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv,)
One of my colleagues Brian discovered new saintly
sources that affirm the Holy Souls can and do pray for us in Purgatory.
He showed me this quote from a
by Right Rev. PW Keppler D.D. called The
Poor Souls in Purgatory,
A Homiletic Treatise
with some specimen sermons only 5 years after the above
mentioned Catholic Encyclopedia was published:
The Poor Souls And We
Life in Purgatory, to our mind, must be
a time continual prayer, uninterrupted
even by pain and grief. It is a life of
love, of spiritual, though not yet beatific,
union with God. We can scarcely assume
that the love which those Holy Souls have
for God is weaker than ours, or that they
are condemned to silence and inertia. God
certainly did not deprive them of the language
of prayer, or of the possibility of holding
converse with Him, even though their prayer,
as we saw, is not meritorious, no matter
how strong or fervent it may be.
- Can the Poor Souls pray for the living
on earth, and is their prayer efficacious?
Those who answer this question in the negative
quote St. Thomas in their favor.
In dealing with the objection:
Poor Souls are above us, like the Saints;
but the former do not pray for us, so neither
do the Saints" (S. Th., 2a 2ae, quo
83, a. 11)
the Angelic Doctor refutes
only the deduction, not the premise.
From the fact that the Poor Souls do not
pray for us, he says, it can not be inferred
that the saints do not pray for us either,
because they [the Poor Souls] are in an
altogether different state, and even though
they are above us on account of their freedom
from sin, they are below us on account
of their penal suffering.
argument, it is true, presupposes that
the Poor Souls do not pray for us. But
St. Thomas does not examine this statement
here; he merely touches upon it in passing.
In another passage he admits that the departed
sympathize with the lot of their friends
on earth, even though they have no detailed
knowledge of them, just as we intercede
for them although we do not know their
exact condition in the beyond. (S. Tk.,
la, quo 89, a. 8).
Suarez and Bellarmine who closely studied
this question, arrived at the conclusion
that the Poor Souls can and do
pray for the living. Most modern
theologians agree with them. The reasons
are convincing. Charity towards others
can not have ceased in these souls at their
entrance into Purgatory, nor can it have
been condemned to complete impotence and
silence. Their own penal state does not
necessarily prevent from lending assistance
to others. The Poor Souls enjoy divine
grace and are God's friends, and hence
their intercession is pleasing to Him and
certain to be heard, because and in as
far as they correspond with the divine
plan of salvation.
Another question presents itself here: Have the Poor Souls in Purgatory that knowledge
of our circumstances and necessities seems
to be a necessary condition for effective
help. They do not, like the Saints, participate
in the vision and knowledge of God. But,
on the other hand, they are disembodied
spirits whom we must not imagine as being
hermetically locked up or secluded.
They can, moreover, gain knowledge from
the Saints, with whom they converse, from
their Guardian Angels, and from new arrivals
in Purgatory. That the angels have access
to Purgatory may be assumed as certain.
It is inconceivable that they should no
longer be solicitous about their proteges,
or that Purgatory should be closed against
"Physicians and priests are
admitted even to the worst criminals."
- But why does the Church in her liturgical
prayers turn to the Saints in Heaven, and
not to the souls in Purgatory, for their
The Saints, who no longer need help and
prayers for themselves, but are happy in
God and gloriously reign with Christ, are
our principal helpers and intercessors.
The Poor Souls are still in need of help.
Their intercession resembles the prayers
which the faithful on earth offer for one
another. The Church has embodied neither
the mutual prayers of her children on earth
nor the prayers addressed to the Poor Souls
into her liturgy, but leaves them to private
It is remarkable, however, that the early
Christians, as can be seen from invocations
on ancient monuments, called upon the departed
for their intercession.
St. Catherine of
"Whenever I am eager to obtain a
certain grace, I appeal to these suffering
souls to present my prayers to our common
Father, and, as a rule, I feel that I owe
the granting of my petition to their intercession."
The Blessed Cure of Ars used to say:
"Oh, if all of us but knew what a
wonderful influence these Holy Souls have
over the heart of God, and what graces
we can obtain through their intercession,
they would not be so utterly forgotten;
we must pray much for them, so that they
may pray for us. "
Confidence in the Poor Souls and the practice
of invoking them in special needs is deeply
rooted in the hearts of our Catholic people.
We should not prevent, but promote this
We should, according to a decree of a
provincial council of Vienna (1858), teach
the people that the Poor Souls, even while
still in Purgatory, are able to help and
benefit us by their intercession. The fruit
of this faith and practice is a valuable
and blessed exchange of mutual giving and
taking between these Holy Souls and ourselves.
"We owe unspeakable gratitude to
God, therefore, for allowing us to do
more for our departed friends and relatives
than to merely mourn over their graves.
For by helping them, we obtain for ourselves
a right to the special protection of
God, and the angels and the saints, who
rejoice whenever they can welcome a newcomer
into their midst. Most of all, however,
we gain friends among the Holy Souls
themselves, and when they reach heaven,
they will surely remember and help us."
We may not, however,
ask them for prayers in a formal or public
way, say in the context of a church service.
Because the Church has not said anything formally on the specific topic of whether the Holy Souls can pray for us, as Eric said, we can't ask them for their prayers in a formal church service.
As a private devotion though, I see nothing wrong with asking the Holy Souls to pray for you. Their prayers for you would be done out of pure love as, like the Saints in Heaven, their merit has been fixed at their death or particular judgment. Those in Purgatory have been saved, like the saints, by the Blood of Our Lord — they just need to be totally purified.
This shouldn't be confused with our praying for the Holy Souls on a regular basis, a practice which has sadly, fell out of practice.
The Church does celebrate the Month's Mind Masses:
A special Mass offered for the faithful departed on
or near the thirtieth day after the person's
death or burial. If possible, the Church would also encourage the faithful to have Masses said on an annual basis for family members who have departed from this earthy life. A Mass stipend is usually around $5. to $10. but some priests may do this for free.
There are many priests who have a strong devotion to praying for the Holy Souls and have Masses said for them on a regular basis.
For any one who has faithfully departed from this earthy life, and has done the best they can to follow their God-given conscience in their life, we can have a reasonable
confidence they are one
with the Lord, but not an absolute confidence, until and if,
formally declares [him|her] a saint, which like many non-Church recognized saints,
If you are a Catholic with a strong devotion to praying for the Holy Souls, check out my other apostolate that is dedicated
to the Holy Souls: Helpers of the Holy Souls.
We are trying to find people who would be interested in starting Purgatory
Prayer meetings across the United States. You can find out more on our web site:
We have additional information on our site about Saints who were dedicated to praying for the Holy
Souls on a regular basis like:
I recommend you check the
site out and if you know Catholics who have a special devotion to the Holy
Souls, ask them to stop by and, if they are interested, ask for a free Purgatory Prayer Program starter-kit at:
We have additional information on the site too, including:
Fr. Robert J. Levis from the EWTN answered a similar question from the EWTN Experts forum this
He basically agreed with me and Eric.
Hope this answers your question.