“QUESTION: At the back of the Church is a box for the Holy Souls. How can our offerings help people who are no longer alive?
ANSWER: Offerings put in the Holy Souls box are given as stipends to priests to offer Masses for the Holy Souls. [Bricklayers, teachers, labourers etc. can’t give all their time entirely “for free” either, even if they wanted to, since, after all, they need to eat.] Our Lord is the One who chiefly offers the Mass, and its fruits are infinite, but the Church is also actively involved in the offering, and our capacity to receive the fruits of the Mass is limited.
Hence from earliest times, Christians have offered Mass frequently for their loved ones who have died, especially on the occasion of their anniversary, to pray for them, to ask forgiveness for their sins, and to offer satisfaction for them. Every Mass is offered for all the living and the dead, as all the Eucharistic Prayers make plain.
However, those who participate in the Mass make their own prayers of offering for particular intentions. The priest may do so as well, applying the fruits of his own offering of the Mass, either at his own choice, or at the request of others. The stipend was originally the means of his upkeep so that he didn’t have to take another job but could devote himself exclusively to the priestly ministry (rather like the portion of the sacrifice given to the Levite in the Old Testament). Nowadays it forms only a part, though sometimes a significant one, of the priest’s income. Holy Souls offerings are often sent from parishes to priests elsewhere who are struggling financially.
The Masses offered for the Holy Souls in general are an act of charity whereby we help those who are forgotten and have nobody to pray for them, and those many in our time who are remembered but for whom nobody actually prays, because many people do not believe in purgatory. Incidentally, they are also a way for people to contribute to the upkeep of their pastors, a duty which the Church reminds us of in her precepts. In these different ways, the Holy Souls box is a small practical way of expression of our communion with one another in Christ.”
– This article by Fr Tim Finigan is part of the feature “Catholic Dilemmas”; it was published in “The Catholic Herald” issue November 8 2013. (Text in brackets  added afterwards.) For subscriptions please visit http://www.catholicherald.co.uk (external link).