The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hero as a “mythological or legendary figure of great strength or ability; or a man admired for his achievements and qualities.” A hero goes above and beyond the call of duty to help others. It is someone who has made a sacrifice for the benefit of those who could not help themselves.
There are heroes in the Catholic Church. These are the canonized saints. It is true that all people who enter Heaven are saints, but the canonized ones have done something that is extraordinary and have been made role models for future generations of Christians.
All of us can become heroes while on earth. It won’t necessarily lead to our canonization, but it would definitely help those in need and also bring us closer to Jesus. An opportunity has been given to us by the Church to help the souls in Purgatory: it is the Heroic Act of Charity.
Through the Heroic Act, we provide all of the indulgences from our prayers, our sufferings, and our works of charity for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory. Also, the indulgences from the prayers offered after your death will go to the souls in Purgatory. Even though we give the holy souls the value of our indulgenced acts, we still keep the blessings of what we have done which will bring us glory in Heaven.
The Heroic Act of Charity was approved by Popes Benedict XIII (1728), Pius VI (1788), and Pius XI (1852). The Sacred Congregation of Indulgences made a decree regarding it on December 18, 1885, and it was confirmed by Pope Leo XIII the next day:
“The Heroic Act of Charity in favour of the souls detained in purgatory consists in this, that a member of the Church militant (Christifidelis), either using a set formula or simply by an act of his will, offers to God for the souls in purgatory all the satisfactory works which he will perform during his lifetime, and also all the suffrages which may accrue to him after his death. Many Christians devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, acting on the advice of the Theatine Regular Cleric Father Gaspar Olider, of blessed memory, make it a practice to deposit the said merits and suffrages as it were into the hands of the Blessed Virgin that she may distribute these favours to the souls in Purgatory according to her own merciful pleasure.”
Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences
You might be thinking, “What a great idea, but what will happen to me when I die, and I don’t have any indulgences to get me out of Purgatory? Will I suffer enormously there because of the Heroic Act?” This objection is not taking into account God’s love and mercy for us:
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Matthew 16: 24-25
We would be blessed by God for making this sacrifice. St. Gertrude the Great (who has revealed the prayer to release 1000 souls from Purgatory) made this heroic act. When she was close to death, the sins she had committed came to her mind along with the fact that she gave all of her indulgences to the souls in Purgatory. The devil tormented her by showing that she would suffer a great deal in Purgatory because she didn’t have anything to help her get out sooner. At that point, Jesus appeared to her and said, “Be assured, My daughter, your charity towards the departed will be no detriment to you. Know that the generous donation you have made of all your works to the holy souls has been singularly pleasing to Me; and to give you a proof thereof, I declare to you that all the pains you would have had to endure in the other life are now remitted; moreover, in recompense for your generous charity, I will so enhance the value of the merits of your works as to give you a great increase of glory in Heaven.”
In the past, there were a series of indulgences that benefited those who made the Heroic Act of Charity, but these indulgences have not been mentioned in the Enchiridion of Indulgences (Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary; June 29, 1968) so they may not be in effect at this time. This should not in any way prevent us from performing this Act. The goal here is to help the souls in Purgatory any way we can.
If you would like to make the Heroic Act, you can in your own words offer the indulgences of all your prayers, your works of charity, and your sufferings for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory. This includes the benefits of all of the prayers said for you after death. If you have a problem with saying this in your own words, use the following prayer:
Lord Jesus, King of Infinite Mercy, I give all of the indulgences that would have been mine through my prayers, acts of charity, my own sufferings, and for the prayers said for me when I pass into eternity to free my brothers and sisters from the pains of Purgatory. Have mercy on them and bring them into glory in Your eternal presence in Heaven. Amen.
Praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. With the Heroic Act of Charity, we can help the poor souls in a much more effective way. I highly recommend that all Catholics who love the souls in Purgatory do this act of mercy.