November, the month dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory

PRAYING FOR THE DEAD
 
II Maccabees 12:43-46: "And making a gathering, he (Judas) sent
twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be
offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously
concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that
were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and
vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who
had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead,
that they may be loosed from sins."
 
Those who've died in a state of grace are not truly "dead"; they are
our beloved in Heaven or in Purgatory (on their way to Heaven) and
will forever be, world without end, part of the Communion of Saints
-- the Church Triumphant (the Saints in Heaven, whether or not they
are beatified or canonized), the Church Suffering (the saints in
Purgatory), and the Church Militant (the saints on earth).
 
Because we can't know, aside from those the Church has beatified or
canonized, who is already in Heaven, who is in Purgatory for a time,
or who is damned, we pray for the dead for the rest of our lives --
assuming they are in Purgatory, while hoping they are in Heaven and
not damned.
 
We also ask those who've died to pray for us. While those whom the
Church has deemed to be of the Church Triumphant (the canonized
Saints) are in Heaven for certain and are, therefore, in no need of
our prayers for them, we've always asked for them to pray for us. As
to the Church Suffering in Purgatory, Aquinas teaches that they are
not able to know, by themselves, our prayers; however, it is piously
believed, and taught by St. Alphonsus Liguori, that God can make our
prayers known to them -- not directly, as they are deprived of the
Beatific Vision until they enter Heaven, but by infusing this
knowledge into their souls. St. Bellarmine teaches that because the
Church Suffering is so close to God -- much closer than we are and
having the great consolation of knowing they are saved -- their
prayers for us are very effective. So, as you pray for your dead
loved ones, ask them to pray for you, too!
 
As to the damned, there is no hope; no prayer can help them and we
can't pray formally for those in Hell. The problem, of course, is
that we can't know who is damned, and so we pray generally for "all
the faithful departed." For those who've died outside of visible
Communion with Christ's Church or for those Catholics who've died
seemingly without repentance and in scandal, public prayer cannot be
offered, but we can most certainly still pray privately with the hope
that they've died in a state of grace (i.e., those who are denied a
Catholic funeral can't be prayed for liturgically, publicly, but they
can most definitely be prayed for -- and should be prayed for --
privately). Priests can even offer Masses for such people privately,
without naming them.
 
LITURGICAL PRAYER FOR THE DEAD
 
In addition to the prayers said just after death, and the prayers of
the funeral Mass, it is Catholic practice to have Masses said for the
departed on the 3rd, 7th, and 30th days after the death or burial, and
also on the anniversaries of the death (or as close to it as
possible).
 
Masses for the dead have infinite value, in the objective order, for
the souls of the departed. They also have great subjective value for
those who survive in that it is comforting to know that Masses are
being offered for one's departed loved ones. So, while the bereaved
can arrange such Masses, others, even non-Catholics, can arrange with
a priest to have such Masses said, too, which would be a great gift of
comfort to survivors.