How Prayer Cards Help Me Honor the Holy Souls That Have Gone Before Me

The cover photo consists of the Virgin Mary on a prayer card held up towards the sky.

A few years ago, some bedroom repair work forced me to move piles of stuff around. As I was rearranging the room, I happened to notice a novelty box in which I have kept memorial cards of the deceased for many years.

As I looked through the cards, there were surprises – people I had forgotten about who had shown acts of kindness to me: a friend’s sister, a woman I volunteered with at a pregnancy resource center, great aunts and uncles, holy priests. Cards of relatives who had died before I was born had been passed down to me — like my grandfather, who I never knew (except through stories from my Mom and grandmother).

RELATED: Grateful to Our Beloved Dead: Remembering Lessons From My Late Grandparents

As I went through the remembrances, I said the prayers on the backs of them. I noticed connections – this person died on the same day as that person, years later. I thought about these women and men, all of whom had an effect on my life in little or big ways, in ways that I will never know; I realized, we really are “the communion of saints.”

Since I work in communications, my thoughts often focus on the tools we use to communicate. Those memorial cards communicate! They communicate a life of a man or woman made in the image and likeness of God with a unique story of love and pain and joy and suffering – of God’s plan lived out.

In November, we pray for the Holy Souls so they can share in the Beatific Vision of our Lord Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life and death for us and loves every single soul.

 LISTEN: Can the Souls in Purgatory Pray for Us?

A friend of mine puts praying for the Holy Souls in action by keeping a running prayer list with names of the deceased, going back generations. Similar to keeping memorial cards, it is a tangible reminder of those who have been before us and our need to pray for them. It also makes me think of the tradition of Native Americans that I learned about in the Knights of Columbus documentary, “Enduring Faith: The Story of Native American Catholics,” aired on EWTN prior to the Holy Father’s visit to Canada in the summer of 2022.

Harold Compton, the Deputy Director of Policy and Research for the Rosebud Reservation talked about how they believe in the sacredness of the number seven, and aim to look at how their actions as a tribe will affect seven generations forward. They encourage thinking about how one sits in the middle of those seven generations: “Looking back three generations – what did you learn from those three generations; what have they given you? And the three generations coming after you, and looking at what you, as the middle of that seven generations, can do, sharing that knowledge from the past with the future.”

As I think back three generations, I recall a story about how a great-grandfather (who of course I did not know) would open the door of his home after Mass to provide food for the homeless. My grandmother carried that story forward to me and I can share it with my nieces and nephews.

RELATED: Why Do Catholics Pray for the Dead?  

So, if you are in a desperate fit when cleaning, do not throw out those memorial cards. This November, pray for the departed, ponder something you know about him or her, and how you might carry that lesson forward. Ask the Holy Souls to pray for you.

When we were children, we were taught to pray for “the most abandoned soul in purgatory.” It is a spiritual work of mercy. Saint Stanislaus Papczyński said: “There is no greater act than to pray for the holy souls in Purgatory because unlike us on earth, they can no longer pray for themselves.”

My box of memorial cards is overflowing. Soon I will need a new one. And someday there will be a dusty card with my name on it (I sure hope they don’t go all digital). I hope one November, decades from now, some great-great niece or nephew picks up that card and prays for me. That, indeed, will be a work of mercy.