It's not really fashionable to talk about Purgatory: these days, everyone talks about how our loved ones are in heaven. It's nice. Visions of wings, white fluffy clouds and harps spring to mind...
Yeah, right. And while we're comforting ourselves that Great-Uncle Fred has finally learned to sing in tune, he's busy roasting in Purgatory because no-one is bothering to pray for him. (Apologies to St. Bernadette for mangling that little quote!)
If a saint like Bernadette could consider that she needed to go to Purgatory before being ready to meet God face to face in heaven, then I'm pretty sure that I, with all my faults and failings, will be going there too... assuming, that is, that I don't end up in Hell (you never know... in my old age I might turn into a trendy nun, demand ordination and get myself excommunicated...)
And so, knowing that I am likely to fetch up in Purgatory, it is wise to consider those souls who are already there. The month of November is traditionally known as the month of the Holy Souls, and we're encouraged to pray for them, because they can do nothing for themselves but rely on our charity and that of God.
When I first came back to the Church, I found a little book called "Prayers and Heavenly Promises" by Joan Carroll Cruz (published by TAN, 1990). It's a lovely little prayer book which explains some of the stories behind many popular prayers and devotions (like the promises attached to the wearing of the Brown Scapular.) One section is on prayers for the Souls in Purgatory, and it describes the Heroic Act.
The Heroic Act, approved and encouraged by Pope Benedict XIII, is...
"...the completely unselfish offering to God of all the satisfactory value of one's prayers and good works - plus the value of any that may be offered for one after one's death - for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory, rather than for oneself. The "satisfactory value" of a good work is its value with regard to making up for our sins and reducing our stay in Purgatory.
"...a person who has made the Heroic Act may still pray for himself, friends and other intentions.
"...Its actual ratification depends on the will of God. By making this act with purity of intention, one is relying on the mercy of God and the prayers of the Communion of Saints to assist his soul after death."
I must confess that I didn't actually think it justified being called "Heroic" until many years later, when it suddenly dawned on me how much you would have to rely on prayers for the Holy Souls, because of the bit that included anything offered specifically for you after your death...
O my God, for your greater glory, and to imitate as closely as possible the generous Hear of Jesus, my Redeemer, and also to testify my devotion to the Blessed Virgin, my Mother, who is also the Mother of the souls in Purgatory, I place in her hands all my satisfactory works, as well as the fruit of those which may be offered for my intention after my death, that she may apply them to the souls in Purgatory according to her wisdom and good pleasure. Amen.