Tag Archives: Holy Souls in Purgatory

The reality of Purgatory

During this Month of the Holy Souls, I offer a sermon from Archbishop Lefebvre, given on November 1, 1978 in Econe, Switerzerland:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My dear friends and my dear brethren: The Church has the custom of associating the souls in Purgatory with the Feast of All Saints. In fact, from this evening (Vespers of All Souls Day), the Church asks us to pray for the souls in Purgatory and tomorrow the entire day is consecrated to them. The priests who will celebrate three Masses tomorrow, to beseech Our Lord to deliver the souls from Purgatory, may apply to each of their Masses a plenary indulgence for the souls in Purgatory. This is why, during these few moments, I would like to draw your attention to, and have you reflect upon, the reality of Purgatory and upon the devotion, which we should have for the souls who are suffering in this place of purification.

First of all, does Purgatory exist? If one were to believe all that is written today, even by members of the Catholic Church, one would be tempted to believe that Purgatory is a medieval fable! No! Purgatory is a dogma – a dogma of our Faith. Whoever refuses to believe in Purgatory is a heretic. In fact, already in the thirteenth century, the Second Council of Lyons solemnly affirmed the existence of Purgatory. Then, in the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent in particular, solemnly affirmed against the negations of the Protestants, the necessity in preserving the Faith, of believing in the existence of Purgatory. It is therefore certain that this is a dogma of our Faith, which is especially affirmed and supported by Tradition – more than by Sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture does, however, offer passages, which make allusion, as clearly as possible, to the existence of Purgatory. We have, moreover, in an epistle which is used by the Church in Masses offered for the intention of the souls in Purgatory, the account of the “Machabees” where Judas Machabee sent a sum of twelve thousand talents to Jerusalem asking the priests of offer a sacrifice for the intention of the soldiers who had died in combat in order that they might be delivered from their afflictions and enter heaven. Sacred Scripture adds: “It is a salutary thought to pray for our dead.” Saint Paul also makes allusion to the souls in Purgatory when he says that certain souls enter heaven immediately and others quasi per ignem; that is, who enter heaven as well but by fire, making allusion certainly to the purification necessary for these souls who would not be perfectly prepared to enter heaven. It is by these allusions and particularly by Tradition, which is transmitted to us by the Apostles and by the Fathers of the Church, that the Church has founded her Faith in the existence and in the reality of Purgatory.

Why does Purgatory exist? It exists because we must obviously enter heaven in the most perfect purity. It is inconceivable that souls may enter the vision of God, enter into union with God, a union which surpasses all that our mind is able to imagine, all that we am able to conceive, enter into Divinity Itself, to participate in the light of God – with any dispositions which would be contrary to this light, contrary to the glory of God, to the purity of God, to the sanctity of God?it is inconceivable! This why those who have died in the state of grace but are not perfectly purified from the penalty which is due to sin after the sin has been pardoned, and also those who die with venial sins, must pass through this place of purification which renders them worthy to be present before God in the Blessed Trinity. It is then something, which is entirely normal, for we must not forget that even if the sin is pardoned, there remains in us a disorder, which was established by the sin. Without a doubt, the moral fault no longer exists because it has been pardoned by the Sacrament of Penance; however, it remains that our soul has been wounded; our soul has suffered a disorder, which must be repaired. This may be compared in a certain way to the penitent who has sinned by stealing from his neighbor. Not only must be accuse himself to Our Lord in the sacrament of Penance and receive absolution, but he must also reimburse the sum which is stolen. One may compare this, I would say, to all sins, which we have committed. We have created a disorder, we have created an injustice, and we must repair this injustice even after the sin has been pardoned. This is why the souls in Purgatory remain there until the moment when they are perfectly purified from the penalties due to their sins, which have been forgiven.

What is the state of the souls in Purgatory? Are the souls in Purgatory able to acquire merit for themselves by which they might abridge their time of purification? No, henceforth the souls in Purgatory are not able to gain merit for themselves. Why? Since they are no longer here upon earth, they are no longer like us – in the state in which one is able to gain merit. We have the choice to make, and by the fact that we choose good in place of evil we merit a recompense. The souls in Purgatory no longer have this choice to make. They are definitively fixed in their grace, in sanctifying grace. They have the certitude of being among the elect, and this causes a profound joy, and unalterable joy. They know that henceforth they are destined for heaven. But they suffer as well from an indescribable suffering because they know much better than we what God is and what He has promised us by grace, the glory that is waiting for us in heaven. They suffer severely front the thought that they are not yet able to approach God and to live with Him for eternity. They are also tormented by remorse at the thought of the goodness of God and of the charity of God of which they are witnesses. They understand well the charity which God has had for them: for they had sinned and separated themselves from God and it is for this that they stiffer. They know that they suffer justly for the sins, which they had committed, and to be purified in order to arrive in the glory of the Lord.

“The Church has a treasury of merits which she is able to place at the disposal of souls who truly wish to employ these merits for the souls in Purgatory “

Thus, as a consequence, the souls in Purgatory are not able to abridge their sufferings.

How then would they be able to render their admittance into heaven more rapid? They count upon us. Yes, they count upon us. It is we who, by the unity of the Mystical Body, are able to merit for them. The union that we in the Church Militant have with the souls in Purgatory and the fact that we are able to merit for these souls are founded upon the unity of the Mystical body. The Church Suffering and the Church Militant are united in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since we are able to merit for them, we may ask Our Lord Jesus Christ in our prayers and, in particular, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that the souls in Purgatory be more rapidly delivered from their sufferings; and, indeed, we must do so. It is a duty for us because these souls who are suffering count upon us for their deliverance. We are able to do so therefore by our prayers and, in particular, in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are able to do so by our penances, penances which we must do as well in order to atone for the penalty which is due to us for sins which have been pardoned, and in order to diminish our Purgatory and, if it pleases God, and if God wishes, that we not pass through Purgatory but rather go directly to heaven to join Him. We must therefore perform sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory and also profit from the treasure which the Church places at our disposal, the treasure of the merits of the saints, of all those who have lived here on earth. The Church has a treasury of merits, which she is able to place at the disposal of souls who truly wish to employ these merits for the souls in Purgatory. The Church asks us to perform certain prayers, to acquire these merits and to apply them to the souls in Purgatory. This is what we can do for them! It is a considerable encouragement for us, an encouragement to sanctify ourselves. If we truly understood what the souls in Purgatory suffer, we would do all that we possibly could for our part to deliver them and to avoid Purgatory ourselves.

Concerning the indulgences which the Church gives: it is good to know that these repose upon a perfectly known truth of the church in which we must believe, the reality of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Council of Trent itself requests that we avoid entering into the subtlety of the number of indulgences, of any calculation, which would be made of any estimation more or less exact. One may wonder for example, if by one Mass said at a privileged altar, one Mass consequently which is said at an altar where one receives a plenary indulgence that one may apply to the souls in Purgatory. Is it absolutely certain the soul for whom the indulgence has been applied will be immediately delivered from its penalties and go to heaven? As a rule? yes. Theoretically? yes. Why? It is because the plenary indulgence is given specifically by the Church for the complete remission of the penalties, which are due to a sin after it has been pardoned. However, as the Council of Trent well explained, it depends upon God to give this indulgence. This indulgence then depends upon God. God sees the disposition of souls and consequently it is He who is ultimately the Judge of all things and of that which these souls must suffer in Purgatory and of the penalties, which they must expiate. As a consequence, one is not able to arrive in an absolutely mathematical manner at the conclusion, that from the moment one has performed a certain act or certain prayer, the soul is necessarily and absolutely delivered from Purgatory. This depends upon Divine Justice. We should hope and we should think that God judging all the merits, which have been acquired by the Church, applies them to these indulgences and we may truly hope that these souls are delivered.

This is why we must meditate upon the reality of Purgatory, to be united to the souls of our brethren, of our parents, of our deceased friends and of the entire innumerable multitude of souls who have no one among their acquaintances who prays for them. We must then pray often for the souls in Purgatory. The magnificent liturgy of the dead thus inspires us. Unfortunately, one must say that today the manner in which the reform (of Vatican II) has touched these prayers and modified them has been a great sorrow for the Church.

In addition, I think it is good to make allusion equally to the reform of the Council (Vatican II) concerning the cremation of bodies. I think that one may make allusion to this at the moment when one is speaking of our dear deceased. It is written in Canon Law that those who, in vie manner or another, express the desire to have their bodies cremated after their death are to be deprived of ecclesiastical burial. It is the law that they are to be thus deprived. Without a doubt the Church, at the Council, has changed this law but these things are abominable! Since from the beginning of its existence the Church has willed that bodies, which are temples of the Holy Ghost, which have been sanctified by Baptism, sanctified by the Sacraments, sanctified by the presence of the Holy Ghost, sanctified by the reception of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, that these bodies be venerated. It is noted in Canon Law that even the members of a Christian, of a Catholic which are amputated in a hospital be interred and they must not be burned. See what great veneration the Church has for members, which have been sanctified by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ! We then, absolutely, refuse this abominable custom, which is, moreover, a masonic custom. Canon Law makes allusion to the associations in which it is requested that bodies be cremated and these associations are precisely masonic associations. One truly wonders how one has been able to accept such things without having been influenced by these masonic associations. We must maintain a very great respect for the bodies of the deceased, for those who have been sanctified and we must bury them as Christians have always done. We must honor our dead and honor our cemeteries. The tombs and graves should be maintained perfectly in order to show the faith, which we have that the bodies will one day be resurrected.

There you have, my dear brethren, our thoughts on the occasion of All Souls Day, which we will celebrate tomorrow. Let us live in union with the souls in Purgatory and let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, who assisted at the burial of her Son, to ask Him to give us the love and respect, which she had, for the Body of her Divine Son. Let us ask Him to give us also the respect for the bodies of those faithful who have died, our deceased friends and relatives.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Purgatory

During this Month of the Holy Souls, let us reflect on Purgatory and the great justice and mercy of God in providing such a place of purification for those saved:

Sermon by Fr. P.A. Sheehan D.D.:

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS

One of the most beautiful and divine doctrines of the Catholic Church, dear brethren, is that which is professed under the title of “Communion of Saints.” It is, as it were, a loving concession on the part of Almighty God that He suffers us to think of our friends, whom He has called into their rest. He is a jealous God; one condition He is forever insisting upon as necessary to our salvation–that is, that we should give Him our whole beings, every act we perform, every thought we think. But He knows what the human heart is, He who loved so tenderly the Mother who bore Him, and He yields to our weakness, and suffers us to think of, to rejoice with, or to sympathize with, those to whom human affections attached us in this life. I have called it divine. It is nothing less. No one but a loving God could inspire us with the belief that death is in reality no separation, no fierce rending asunder of affections, no violent wrenching of heart from heart and soul from soul. Death makes a change, it is true, but what is that change? It is a change that increases, strengthens, and exalts that love which we have for one another in this world. Our love is proportioned to our veneration and respect; the more our friend is free from human infirmities, the more we are drawn toward him, and this is the blessed change that death effects. It steps in between those friends and takes one, and separates from that one all his imperfections, and changes him into a bright, pure, angelic spirit, but does not destroy him. That friend whom we loved still lives, but is more worthy than ever of our love, and we are not separated. We can reach into eternity, we can add new lustre to our sainted brethren in heaven; even the little mite of our praise and love does help to swell the eternal jubilee of the saints in heaven. And on the other hand, we can reach those saints who are in pain, those blessed souls who have got a glimpse of the spotless sanctity of God and a true idea of their own imperfections and then hurried away from the sight of God and plunged themselves in the purifying flames of purgatory that they may be able for eternity to stand unashamed in company with their brethren. Blessed be God. We can enter even that prison, and give our brethren a respite from pain, we can do, in a milder way, by our prayers, the purifying work of these awful flames, we can shorten the terms of their imprisonment, and at the same time, satisfy their sensitiveness and quiet their apprehension lest they should again carry sin into the presence of God.

There is not in this world anything so beautiful as the deathbed of a holy Catholic. Fortified by the Sacraments of the Church, serene in the consciousness of the possession of God’s grace, yet half afraid to meet that God whom its soul longs to possess, picturing to itself the happiness of heaven, it is a recompense well worthy of the repentance of a lifetime. And yet, except with the greatest saints, it clings to the memory, love, and protection of its earthly friends. Behind the veil, it knows well it will be clasped in the arms of Jesus Christ, but it clings to the warm grasp of its earthly friends even till the eyes swim and the earth is gliding from beneath its feet. And its last and best consolation as it glides into the world of spirits is that the prayers of its friends are before it, that already there are voices pleading for it at the judgment seat of the Lamb. And is it not so? Oh yes, dearly beloved. The prayers for the dying are over, the prayers for the dead begin. We intrude into the awful courts of heaven, we interrupt the process of Judgment, we silence the voice of the accuser, by speaking to Jesus the Judge and reminding Him that that soul is His, that He redeemed it, that the marks of His blood are upon it, and by conjuring Him to save that dear soul, to fit it for presence in heaven, but not to deliver it into the hand of His enemy. Even that body that is left us, do we not reverence it, do we not consecrate it? Do we not make these lifeless arms into the sign of our redemption. Do we not sprinkle that body with holy water, because it is holy? Do we not incense it, because it is worthy of all reverence? We will not even allow it to mingle with unhallowed dust, but we bless the very earth into which it will be changed, and then raise over it the sign of our redemption, that nothing unholy might come near it, that the enemy may know that there is nothing in this grave that belongs to him, but a body that was crucified and nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ.

And then we follow the souls of our friends into eternity. From the judgment seat we follow them into their prison, where their angel conducts them, and our prayers, as it were, rain down incessantly on those fires. We pray for them at our public services; we pray for them at our private devotions; we pray for them even at our meals; there is scarcely a day in which the Holy Sacrifice is not offered for these suffering souls; there are many in the Church who have given to God all the merits of their lives, their prayers, fastings, almsdeeds for the souls in purgatory; there are religious Orders in the Church who repeat frequently during the day the De Profundis for the departed. And with all this, dear brethren, if we consider how great are the sufferings of these poor souls, we shall see how really uncharitable we are and how unreasonable it is that we do so very little.

THE REASON FOR PURGATORY

For why do we not speak of purgatory? Apart from the fact that purgatory exists, a belief founded upon the teachings of Scripture and the Church, what is the reason of purgatory, its purpose, its objects? It has a twofold reason–to satisfy the justice of God and the mercy of God. In heaven there is nothing but mercy; in hell there is nothing but justice; in purgatory justice and mercy meet, and the poor souls detained there are the victims of God’s great justice and at the same time the objects of His love and clemency. They passed into eternity, faithful to God, united to God. He could not cast them out of His sight forever, but unconsciously they carried with them before the All Holy God some human weaknesses, some human infirmities, and as “nothing defiled can enter into the kingdom of heaven,” His mercy provided for them a place of purgatory, where sharp penance would expiate their faults and restore them spotless to His bosom. Heresy rushes into extremes on this as well as on all other dogmas. It condemns a soul without remorse or scruple, it saves souls easily and pleasantly without even the pretense of penance. It believes that for the slightest sin, for the half voluntary thought or the silly word, a merciful God will cast a soul into the flames of hell forever, whereas on the other hand, years of sin may be atoned for by the simple presumption that God has pardoned them. The innocent soul that has never lost the grace of Baptism, but has only yielded to those faults that the judgment angel does not care to record, if suddenly snatched from life by death, is banished from the presence of God forever, whereas the sinner who has been heaping up for himself a measure of wrath for many years is admitted at once, unshriven, impenitent, and unpurified, into the company of the angels and the elect. I do not believe in such very sudden changes. I know the power of God. I would not for the world underrate or depreciate it. But there is a saying of St. Augustine full of much wisdom: “God has created us without ourselves; God will not save us except by our cooperation,” and that cooperation, if we have sinned, is the cooperation of penance. The redemption of the world by our divine Lord has not changed the nature of sin. Sin is as hateful in the eyes of God now as it was then, and it is true now as it was when John the Baptist preached: “Except you do penance you shall all likewise perish” (Luke xiii. 5). That penance must be done either in this world or in the next. If we be guilty of mortal sin, it must be atoned for in this life by penance, or it will never be atoned for, though it will be punished in the eternal fires of hell; if it be venial sin, it can be atoned for by penance and prayer in this life, or by the sharp fires of purgatory in the next.

The late Father Faber was accustomed to say that he could never understand why we speak of the poor souls in purgatory. He thought them rich indeed, much to be envied, little to be pitied, They are indeed truly rich, because they are certain of possessing God forever. Compared with us, living as we do in dreadful uncertainty about our salvation, they are to be envied exceedingly. And yet it is also true that they are deserving of our sympathy and pity. They are poor because they are suffering, and the promise of the future scarcely relieves their anguish in the present. A man lies upon his bed, writhing and tossing in fever. His physician gives hopes of his recovery, tells him almost infallibly that he will recover. Yet with that prospect of certain recovery, is he not deserving of our pity and compassion? These poor prisoners that are cut away from all human society in the jails of the country, are they not deserving of pity, even though their term of imprisonment is not eternal, and they will enjoy their liberty all the more for having lost it for a time? So with the blessed souls in purgatory. They are truly deserving of our pity, compassion, and sympathy, because, although they belong to God, yet they are suffering now, suffering bitterly, suffering intensely in the fires of purgatory. If a child were in agony, and if the mother who could relieve it turned aside from it, consoling herself with the reflection that it wouldn’t die, would we not call her unfeeling and cruel? Yet we do the very same thing when we refuse or neglect to assist the suffering souls on the pretense that they cannot die because they are saved. Oh dearly beloved! It it very selfish and unfeeling on our parts, it is enough almost to make God abandon us, if we go through life, and never assist these blessed souls, whom we can assist so easily and who need our assistance so much. I do not think that there is one of us who does not feel remorse again and again during life for neglecting the souls in purgatory. There is not one of us who does not start from a long course of selfishness, start with the thought that all that time we were enjoying ourselves, light-hearted and careless, that dear friend, whom we loved in this world and who prized our love, has been crying to us in anguish, has been lifting up his hands to us from the flames, perhaps has long ago turned away from us in despair, and rested all its hopes on the mercy of God rather than upon the cruelty of his friends. There is not a single soul among us to whom voices are not crying every hour of the night and day, in the language of Holy Job, “Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends, for the hand of the Lord hath touched me” (Job xlx. 21). If we had faith, we would hear them. And if we had even human hearts, and not hearts icy cold through selfishness and worldliness, we would rest neither by night nor by day from relieving them.

THE SUFFERINGS OF PURGATORY

And let us not deceive ourselves with the delusive hope that the pains of purgatory are very short or very trifling. We do not know what sin is. But if we only look on the cross of Jesus Christ, we must acknowledge that it is of infinite malice in the sight of God. If, therefore. His justice demanded the life of His Son for a single sin, what will not His justice demand of us for our countless sins? And though His Justice saves us from the hell which we deserve. His justice demands from us some slight satisfaction at least. Again mortal sin, being of infinite malice, is punished with infinite torments; how venial sin approaches as nearly to mortal sin as finite things can approach to infinite, and, therefore, that punishment of venial sin in purgatory is everything but infinite. And the doctors of the Church teach us, and teach us with truth, that the pains of purgatory are the pains of hell, but they are not eternal. In purgatory, as in hell, there is the physical pain of fire; in purgatory, as in hell, there is the shame and remorse of sin; and above all there is that pain, infinite, unendurable, the pain of loss, the pain of being separated from God. We cannot understand that, because we have not seen God, but, dear brethren, it is for God we are made. We are in this world always fretting and chafing at our separation from God; all the sorrow of the world, if really resolved, would be found to be separation from God. At death when our souls are freed, they fly straight to the bosom of God, and what a dreadful anguish it must be to be spurned by God, to see Him and not to possess Him, to know and perceive that He is everything our souls can desire and yet be unable to possess Him. To have seen the face of Jesus Christ, to have heard His sweet voice speaking to us words of mercy, and then to be led away from Him with a barrier of fire between us, that is the greatest torture a human soul can suffer, and that is the suffering of the soul in purgatory. Do not make light of it, dear brethren. Do not think little of it. No one but a mother can understand a mother’s sorrow for her child, and no soul but that has seen God can understand what it is to lose Him even for a time. But it is a truth of divine faith, and our ignorance of the real nature of that truth, our inability to understand it, does not lessen the anguish of those souls who know it too well. And if we be wise, and wise with the wisdom of charity, we shall act on what faith teaches us, and try to help those blessed souls as if we saw with our own eyes their prison, and heard with our own ears their cries for mercy. The truths of faith are more certain than those things to which our senses testify, and it is truly a Catholic spirit to believe them as thoroughly, and act upon them as fearlessly and unhesitatingly.

EXHORTATION

O dearly beloved! if we could only behold the joy that lights up the countenances of these blessed souls, when our prayers are heard in heaven, and their angel comes and blows aside from them the flames that torment them, and tells them that years are blotted from their sentences, and that soon they will again behold the face of God, I think we should pray night and day incessantly for them. Oh, it is a truly noble work; there is no charity to be compared with it. It is good to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, but it is the highest office of charity to visit the suffering saints, and restore them to their places as princes of the court of heaven. And when we remember that amongst these suffering saints are some of our own flesh and blood, who loved us in this world, and whom we loved, the father or mother, to whom we owe whatever good we possess, the brother or sister, whose affection was the one joy and support of our youth, it is not charity alone that demands our prayers, but pity and justice and gratitude. And if we neglect them, whatever we may profess to be, we cannot free ourselves from the imputation of being uncharitable, unjust, impious, and ungrateful.

I exhort you, therefore, dear beloved, to pray for the souls in purgatory, to whose special remembrance this day is devoted. Pray for them, that through your prayers not only they may be admitted to the glory of God, but also you may share in the reward which our Lord promised in the words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!”

The Feast of All Souls: Part 4

http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/All%20Souls%20Day%20Part%204.html

The fourth and final part of this excellent sermon on Purgatory:

The Feast of All Souls: Part 4
(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)

Yesterday the Catholic Church placed all the Saints of heaven before our eyes, to induce us to give due honor to them, to invoke them, and to follow them in the path of virtue. Today, she represents those souls to us, which, though destined to rejoice eternally in heaven, at present still suffer in purgatory; and she enjoins us to assist them to the best of our ability. To understand this rightly, it is necessary to know what the true faith teaches in regard to it.

It teaches, firstly, that there is a place which we call purgatory; secondly, that the souls who are there can receive help and comfort from us who are still on earth. In regard to the first of these points, it is known that unhappily a great many people leave this world in disgrace with God, guilty of mortal sins. These go forthwith to hell, without any hope of redemption; and for them we can do nothing. Some, but few, die in the grace of the Almighty, entirely purified from all sin, as they either have not become guilty of sin or have done perfect penance, and fully discharged the debt of temporal punishment which they had deserved. These go immediately to heaven. Lastly, there are others and their number is large, who, although they die in the grace of God, have not expiated all their misdeeds in this world. To these heaven is sure; but they do not enter it immediately; they have to suffer in a third place until they have perfectly atoned for all their sins. This is an article of faith, by which we truly believe that to be absolved from sin as far as the guilt is concerned, does not release us always from all the punishment due to sin.

The eternal punishment which we deserve by a mortal sin, will be remitted by a good confession, or, if we cannot confess, by perfect contrition; but the temporal punishment still remains, as the Catechism teaches us and as Holy Writ clearly shows. Venial sin is also forgiven by confession or contrition, in so far as the guilt is concerned; but its temporal punishment is not always entirely remitted at the same time. If, therefore, one has not endeavored, during his life, to gain remission of his temporal punishment by voluntary penance, good works, indulgences, patience under crosses and sufferings, he cannot enter heaven immediately after his death, as ” nothing defiled can enter there;” but he goes to a place where he will suffer until he is wholly cleansed. This place is called Purgatory.

Concerning the second point, the true faith teaches us that the faithful, who are still living in the world, can help and comfort the souls in purgatory, by assisting at Holy Mass, by prayers, by alms, fasting, indulgences and other good works. This doctrine is founded on the communion of saints, of which the ninth article of the Apostolic Creed speaks. To this communion belong the Saints in heaven, the faithful on earth, and the suffering souls in purgatory.

The first are the triumphant, the second, the militant, and the third, the suffering Church. The communion among these three portions of the Church consists in this, that the Saints in heaven pray for us, while we honor and invoke them. For those who are in purgatory, we offer up our prayers and good works; and they pray for us now whilst they suffer, and will pray for us also after they shall have been admitted into the presence of the Most High. Thus has the Catholic Church, which, on account of the continued assistance of the Holy Ghost, cannot fail, always believed and taught. Hence it has always been the custom of the faithful to pray for the dead.

The holy Fathers, Chrysostom and Augustine, testify that the custom of praying for the dead in Holy Mass dates from the time of the Apostles.” It was not instituted by the Apostles without a purpose, writes the former, “that we should remember the dead when we offer the unbloody sacrifice; they knew what benefit the dead would derive from it.” “We cannot doubt,” says the latter, “that the souls of the dead receive help from the prayers of the holy Church, the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, and from alms given with the intention that they may derive the benefit attached to that good action. For this has been left to us by the Fathers (the Apostles), and the whole Church observes it, that we pray for those who have died in the communion of the body and blood of Christ, when commemoration of them is made during the holy sacrifice, or when it is offered up for them.”

It is also known, from the books of the Maccabees that, in ancient times, prayers and sacrifices were offered for the dead. Although there is a daily memento for the suffering souls in purgatory during Holy Mass, and though almost all Catholics pray much and daily for them, the Church has instituted that this day should be particularly devoted to their remembrance, and that the faithful should offer their prayers and good works for them with especial fervor to the Almighty. It may be that there are many souls for whom no one prays during the year, because they either left no relatives or friends, or because they are forgotten by them. Hence, on this day, the Church desires that prayer and sacrifice, alms-deeds and other good works be offered for them all. To act in accordance with this holy desire of the Church is but just. Holy Writ urges us to pray for the dead by the following well-known words: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (II Maccab. xii.)

To have compassion on the poor souls, and to help them according to our means, is holy and wholesome. It is holy, because it springs from the love of God and of our neighbor; for, whoever loves God, loves also those who are loved by God and who love Him; and it is quite certain that the souls in purgatory love God and are loved by Him, although they are punished for a time. It is love of our neighbor, as those suffering in purgatory are perhaps persons nearly related to us, or from whom we have received many benefits, and whom we are therefore obliged to assist. But even if there are none of these, they are still the souls of our fellow-men; and this alone should incline and urge us to help them. Love towards our neighbor requires that we do to him as we wish that he would do to us. If you were in the place where these souls are, and if you had to suffer as they, would you not wish to be helped?

Therefore try to help them now, if you really love your neighbor. Do not imagine that their suffering is but little, and that it is of little consequence whether they are sooner or later released from it. St. Augustine says: “The fire that cleanses is sharper and more painful than all the suffering which we can conceive in this world.” “In my opinion,” says St. Gregory, “the fire of purgatory, although it eventually ceases, is more tormenting than all the torments of this world.” Other holy Fathers say the same, and add that the difference between the pains of hell and those of purgatory is, that the former are endless, while the latter last but for a time. How long each soul remains in purgatory is unknown to man; the duration differs, as also the greatness of their tortures. Their suffering is according to their sins.

Their greatest pain is that of privation, or the pain of loss; for as they have an intense longing to behold the Almighty, nothing can exceed the pangs of their grief, at being deprived of His sight until they have entirely expiated their sins. It is most certain that they endure this and other torments with perfect resignation to the will of the Most High; yes, though they suffer extremely, nevertheless they praise His justice. They are unable to help themselves or to shorten their pains, because their day of labor and merit is past. Hence, what is more just than that we should assist them, that they may be sooner released from their torments?

We can do it, and do it so easily; and the love which we should bear to our neighbor requires it. It is a holy work, it is even more than holy, it is also a useful and wholesome work. The assistance we give to the souls in purgatory, not only helps them to be sooner released from their pains and to see God, but it is also beneficial to ourselves. We lose nothing by offering up our prayers and other good works for them, but we gain much; for, the Almighty will not permit our charity to them to go without a reward. He is merciful to them that show mercy. And do you suppose that the souls, which, by our prayers, have come so much sooner into the presence of God, will forget us, and not show themselves grateful ? Be assured that we shall have constant intercessors in them before the throne of the Most High. Holy Writ assures us, that ” alms delivereth from death, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.” (Tob. xii.) The kindness you show to the souls in purgatory is an alms you give to them, an act of charity; and it will result in God’s being merciful to you and granting you the grace of doing penance, that you may obtain pardon for your sins and life everlasting.

And if, one day, you too are restrained from the presence of God, in those penal fires, doubt not that they whom you will have freed from them will pray most efficaciously for you, that you may soon be admitted into heaven. Reflect then on these benefits which you may draw from being merciful to the poor souls in purgatory, and make today the resolution to aid them with all your strength as long as you live. Should you neglect it, you will have to fear that the words of Christ will be exemplified in you: ” For with the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke, vi.)

“Pray for the dead,” says St . Augustine, “that they may also pray for you, when they shall have attained eternal glory. They wait to receive help from us. They call on us daily in their torments. If you desire, O man,” continues this holy teacher, ” that the Almighty should have mercy on you, have mercy on your fellow being who suffers in purgatory; for God will show you the same kindness that you show to your neighbor. Hence, pray for the dead.” And again he says: “One of the most holy practices is to offer sacrifice for the dead, to pray for them and give alms.”

In like manner do other holy Fathers speak. Richard of St. Victor confirms what has been said and encourages us to observe it, when he says: “The ransomed souls pray without ceasing in heaven for those by whose help they have been released; and the Lord refuses them nothing.”

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS.

I. The fire of purgatory is intended not only for those who, after having committed mortal sin, have been freed from it in so far as its guilt is considered, but also for those who die in venial sin. These too shall be for a time punished by not seeing the Almighty, and besides this, by other terrible torments; for, nothing defiled can enter heaven. Hence you can conclude how great the wickedness of a venial sin must be, since the just God punishes it so severely, and that in souls which He loves most dearly; for, all those who suffer in purgatory are God’s friends, and will reign forever with Christ in heaven.

Yet the Almighty does not admit them into His presence, until they are entirely cleansed by severe suffering. How blind and foolish, therefore, are those who regard a venial sin as only a trifle, or do not esteem it worthy of any thought at all. God, who is just, would not punish venial sin so severely were its wickedness not great in His sight. “We read in the laws,” says St. Salvianus, ” that those who had transgressed the least commandment of the Lord were most severely punished; so that we might understand that nothing is trifling which touches the Majesty of God. For, what seems small, in regard to the evil done by it, is yet great, because it offends the Lord.” Therefore, think not lightly of venial sin, but endeavor to avoid it with the utmost care. We should rather die and suffer all possible torments, than commit a sin, not only a mortal, but even a venial sin.

II. Be more solicitous to atone here on earth for the sins of which you have been guilty, that you may not have to suffer too long in purgatory. I know there are men who fear not purgatory, and who therefore are little concerned about expiating their sins. They say: ” If I only escape hell, I will be satisfied.” Others depend upon the prayers of relatives and friends, or upon the Masses for which they have made or intend to make provision in their will, or upon the prayers of the members of the Confraternity to which they belong, to be speedily released from purgatory. The former may read what I have cited above from the works of St. Augustine and St. Gregory, and draw from it, that this thought in regard to purgatory, and the negligence in atoning for offenses, which results from it, are so dangerous and so displeasing to the Almighty, that they may easily be misled by it into mortal sin and go to eternal destruction.

The latter may take to heart the words of the pious Thomas a Kempis, who writes: ” Do not place too great confidence in friends and acquaintances, and do not defer your salvation to the future; for men will forget you much sooner than you imagine. It is better to make provision in time, and to send some good in advance of you, than to hope for the assistance of others after your death. If you do not take care of yourself now, who will care for you when you are gone?” St. Gregory desires to impress the same upon us when he says: “Man acts more securely, if he himself does, during his life, what he wishes others to do for him after his death.”

Temporal Punishment Due to Sin
Following the Sacrament of Penance

According to the Council of Trent, 1547.

Canon XXX

If anyone says that the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged, either in this world or in Purgatory, before the gates of Heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.

Canon 12.

If anyone says that God always pardons the whole penalty together with the guilt and that the satisfaction of penitents is nothing else than the faith by which they perceive that Christ has satisfied for them, let him be anathema.

Canon 13.

If anyone says that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is in no way made to God through the merits of Christ by the punishments inflicted by Him and patiently borne, or by those imposed by the priest, or even those voluntarily undertaken, as by fast, prayers, almsgiving or other works of piety, and that therefore the best penance is merely a new life, let him be anathema.

Canon 14.

If anyone says that the satisfactions by which penitents atone for their sins through Christ are not a worship of God but traditions of men, which obscure the doctrine of grace and the true worship of God and the beneficence itself the death of Christ, let him be anathema.

Canon 15.

If anyone says that the keys have been given to the Church only to loose and not also to bind, and that therefore priests, when imposing penalties on those who confess, act contrary to the purpose of the keys and to the institution of Christ, and that it is a fiction that there remains often a temporal punishment to be discharged after the eternal punishment has by virtue of the keys been removed, let him be anathema.

The Feast of All Souls: Part 3

 

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The Feast of All Souls: Part 3

(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)

“It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.”–2 Machab. xii.

All the feasts of the Church are sacred, and produce the wholesome effect of sanctifying her children. Hence, the faithful have good reasons for celebrating these solemn occasions with great fervor, and in the spirit of our holy Mother, the Church. But especially is this the case on this day, when the Church exhorts us to remember and efficaciously to assist the departed souls. There is scarcely another feast of the Church, in whose celebration the hearts of her children are more prompt, than in this consecrated to the memory of the dead.

The remembrance of their pitiable state, and the desire to help them, in consequence of our natural sympathy, are calculated to awaken the tenderest feelings, and to move the hearts of the children of the Church to celebrate this feast with zeal.

But, besides the motive of natural sympathy for all in distress, there are motives of faith which impel us to procure their relief not only on All Souls Day, but on every day of our life. For this our love and interest in their regard is a work not only pleasing to God and meritorious for us, but also efficacious for the relief of the departed souls.

Hence, we see evinced in the lives of all the saints a most ardent zeal in the cause of these poor afflicted ones. For their relief they offered to God not only prayers, but also the Masses, penances, the most severe sicknesses, and the most painful trials; and all this as a retribution and a practical display of the belief which they cherished–that they who have slept in Christ are finally to repose with Him in glory. Now, I maintain that we, too, shall feel in our breasts this same strong, this same ardent zeal, if we carefully weigh the assurance of the Holy Ghost and practice the counsel it implies: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.

How holy, how wholesome, this practice is we shall endeavor to consider today for the consolation of the poor souls and of ourselves.

O Mary, most compassionate, most tender Mother, inspire our hearts with a deep compassion for the poor souls in Purgatory, so that we may be moved to pray for those suffering children of thine and assist them with all our power! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

When the Church, on her festive days, offers up prayers and sacrifice, she thereby wishes to remind the faithful of the solemnity of the occasion, and to exhort them to draw profit, for their spiritual welfare, by meditating upon what they witness. Therefore, it is but just and proper that we place before our eyes, upon this day, the motives and proofs which show forth the holiness of the act of praying for the departed souls, and the spiritual blessings that will accrue from the practice to them and to us.

Now, as to what regards the holiness of the act, it is plain that it is one performed through love of God. It is an act that tends to relieve the souls that have left this world in the state of grace and advance them, somewhat sooner, to, the contemplation of the splendor and beatific vision of God.

It is, moreover, an act which enables these same souls the sooner to praise God in the presence of the Angels and Saints, for the accomplishment of the work which He began in their creation and finished in their redemption and salvation.

Who can tell what ardent praise the happy soul offers to God in heaven; what heartfelt thanks it lavishes upon its Lord when it reaches the realms of everlasting bliss; how much it rejoices the heart of God to receive all this exaltation and thanks from the lips of a soul forever saved! It is a most holy act, which at the same time rejoices and comforts so exceedingly the heart of Jesus in heaven, and affords the now happy soul an occasion of thanking Him for all that He has accomplished for it by His life and death on the cross. The same may be said of the heart of Mary. What a most holy and praiseworthy deed does he not perform who assists the soul of the elect the sooner to receive the affectionate embraces of Mary, to do her homage, and to return her everlasting thanks, in heaven, for her motherly care. Yea, the entire Church triumphant feels an increase of glory as often as a soul enters into heaven, and thanks that pious soul who was the instrument, in the hands of God, of conducting it the more rapidly into the celestial Paradise.

The same, again, may be said of the Church suffering. She, too, is a part of God’s kingdom; for in the Church we distinguish the Church militant, the Church suffering, and the Church triumphant. By the interest we display in the cause of the poor souls, we acknowledge them as our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Besides, by this we honor the Church, because we thereby solemnly acknowledge that all who are of her fold, in the grace of God, are heirs and heiresses of Heaven.

It is a holy thought, moreover, to pray for the dead, as our text affirms. And why? Because all that we perform for the help and delivery of the poor souls in Purgatory, are works of Christian faith and piety. Such are prayer, the august sacrifice of the Mass, the reception of the holy sacraments,, alms-deeds, and acts of penance and self-denial.

It is a holy and at the same time a wholesome thought; because it so powerfully excites within us the desire to sanctify our own self. This will be evident if we only consider what are the predominant causes of that lukewarmness of ours in the service of God, which, in spite of all the promises, the encouragements and counsels of the Holy Spirit, still hinders us from advancing with the zeal of the Saints, in the path of Christian perfection. The sources of our spiritual misery may particularly be traced to an inordinate love for worldly goods and interests, the pampering of our bodies, and thoughtlessness in the matter of venial sins and imperfections.

First, the undue attachment to the things of this world is a serious, a very serious, impediment to piety and zeal, and the foundation of innumerable defects. There are, indeed, many reasons, if we were only to seek for them, which indisputably prove to us the vanity and folly of this inordinate yearning after the possession of earthly goods. But nothing places this folly so forcibly before our eyes as the thought of the poor souls in Purgatory, the warning cry of poor souls from the grave: “Our money is lost; lost to the last farthing. Today my turn; tomorrow yours!” Remember, dear Christians, that we, too, shall once be poor, helpless, and suffering souls in Purgatory; and what shall we carry with us of all our earthly goods and treasures? Not a single farthing!

Therefore, how important is it not to avoid the pitfalls which the anxious care of goods and chattels, of gold and possessions, prepares in our path to salvation. Even were there no danger of offending God grievously through inordinate worldly cares, still, how great are not the obstacles they oppose to the practice of good works and to our efforts after Christian perfection. Yes, alas, it is often too true, and that in the case of many of the most zealous members of a congregation. What prevents them from actually carrying out the many purposes of amendment which they so often form? It is naught else than their inordinate love and care for the perishable goods of this earth.

The second source of our tepidity in the service of God, and which gives rise to so many imperfections, is sensuality. This is an avenue broad and convenient, by which the Evil Spirit frequently approaches our heart. How often has he not, in this way, come upon it unawares and vanquished us? How often have we not yielded to sensuality on the plea of necessity, or of conforming to others? Yes, the inordinate love of comfort, of seeking pleasures for the body, is a great check to progress in the spiritual life. Here, also, we have sufficient proof to show how foolish and deceitful is the thought that the joys of the world and the pleasures of the senses can replenish us with all good, and satisfy our desires. Blinded men, who are not afraid of Purgatory, provided they can enjoy this transitory life! Yet they shall not be satisfied, because the heart of man is so great that its Lord and Creator alone can satisfy its desires.

To remind us forcibly of this insane love of earthly comforts and happiness, we need only think of the great, the powerful, and the wealthy, whose bodies are moldering in the dismal grave. Think of the poor souls who, having left their bodies upon earth, are now undergoing intense suffering for the sins they committed by over-indulgence. Oh, how they now lament having surrendered their bodies to sensual delights, and having, on this account, too often shunned carrying the cross of Christ.

Finally, the third cause of lukewarmness, and the fountain of innumerable imperfections, is the great disregard of venial sins. Of course, every Christian knows that a deliberate venial sin offends the majesty of God, and is next to mortal sin, the greatest evil that can befall a soul. Its heinousness can not be more strongly impressed on the mind than by considering those excruciating pains, which afflict the poor souls in Purgatory, in punishment of such an offense. To understand their condition, we should know what Purgatory is. It is, as theologians maintain, the same fire that burns and rages so intensely in Hell, and whose glowing heat penetrates the poor, sad soul, as no other fire can do.

What is not the agonizing anguish that fills a mother’s breast upon hearing the heart-rending cries of her child as she beholds it rushing forth from an adjoining apartment, all in flames? And yet, what is a mother’s heart and her love for her child in comparison with the heart of God, as Creator.

Nevertheless, God confines souls, that are His most dear children, and are still in His grace, in Purgatory. There they suffer, not only for hours and days, but for years and years; and yet He receives them not into His fatherly embrace before they have become spotless in His sight. Yes, these souls themselves would not leave Purgatory until every trace of the least imperfection were washed away.

We read, in the life of St. Gertrude, that God once allowed her to behold Purgatory. And, lo! she saw a soul that was almost upon the brink of Purgatory, and Christ, who, followed by a band of holy virgins, was approaching and stretching forth His hands toward it. Thereupon the soul, which was almost out of Purgatory, drew back, and of its own accord sank again into the fire. “What doest thou?” said St. Gertrude to the soul. ” Dost thou not see that Christ wishes to release thee from thy terrible abode?” To this the soul replied: “O Gertrude, thou beholdest me not as I am. I am not yet immaculate. There is yet another stain upon me. I will not hasten thus to the arms of Jesus.”

O, children of the Church, what a motive for us to live religiously, to avoid the smallest sin, and to do penance for the past. What a stimulus to practice all virtues and good works, to display our zeal for souls with the diligence and perfection of the Saints, remembering, at the same time, the words of the Holy Ghost: “Blessed are the dead who have slept in the Lord, for their works follow them, and they now repose from their labors in everlasting peace,” through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

The Feast of All Souls: Part 2

 
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The Holy Souls in Purgatory need our prayers.

The Feast of All Souls: Part 2


(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)

“Have pity on me, at least you my friends.”–Job xix, 21.

That it is a duty, a truly Christian duty, to help the poor afflicted souls in Purgatory, no one can doubt. We are commanded even as men, but especially as Christians, to love and assist our neighbor as ourselves. But the souls in Purgatory do not cease to be deserving of our love and service because they are in an abode of punishment, for they are still our brethren, and they are the more deserving of prayers as they can not help themselves. When it will be our turn one day to dwell in those flames, and be separated from God, how happy will we not be if others alleviate and shorten your pains! Do you desire this assistance for your own soul? Then begin in this life, while you have time, to render aid to the poor souls in Purgatory.

As the teachers of Divinity justly observe, all that we can render to the souls in Purgatory is our intercession before God in their behalf. Our heavenly Father accepts our appeal in proportion to their condition in that place of confinement. But he who does not assist others, unto him shall no mercy be shown; for this is what even-handed justice requires. Hence, let us not be deaf to the pitiful cries of the departed ones.

We, moreover, fulfill a duty assigned us the more cheerfully when there are many and weighty motives for complying with it; but especially is this the case if we perceive that thereby some advantage accrues to ourselves equal to or greater than that which falls to the share of him whom we assist. Now, that is precisely the case when we help the souls in Purgatory through our prayers and good works, whether we consider ourselves and our own salvation, or the good we render those beloved, but afflicted ones of God.

The main reflection which should be drawn from all that has been said, and which should be deeply engraved upon the mind, is that all the pains the poor souls in Purgatory suffer tend to sanctify our own souls, and to shorten hereafter our own misery in the same place of torment.

How this can be accomplished I shall endeavor to explain in the present sermon.

O Mary, Mother of mercy, secure for us the grace of making what we now hear enter deeply into our hearts, in order that, from this day forward, we may hasten to the aid of the souls in Purgatory! I speak to you in the holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God! I said, that which pains the poor souls in Purgatory tends to sanctify our soul here upon earth, and hereafter to shorten the term of our punishment in the purifying flames of Purgatory.

The first thing that torments the poor souls in Purgatory is the longing, the burning desire to behold God, to be with Christ and Mary, and to be among the number of the Blessed; in a word, to possess the joys of Heaven. This is their constant desire. The hope of one day entering into the mansion of heavenly delights is what makes their stay doubly painful. Oh, with what torments are not these souls afflicted through their yearning to be with their God! Were there no other suffering beyond this desire, it alone would be exceedingly agonizing.

Now, this very thought elevates our heart and tends to sanctify our lives. Whence arises the fact that we live so tepidly, so regardless of our Christian duties? Why are we more anxious to possess the perishable things of the world than to own the everlasting treasures of heaven? I answer: We think too little of God, of the glorious attributes of His infinite divine perfection; in brief, we are too careless about our union with God. Were we steadily to walk in the presence of God, to sigh for Him, oh, how clearly would not such a disposition place before our eyes the misery and heinousness of the smallest sin and imperfection, and thus impel us to shun it forever! Should we, however, have the misfortune to commit an imperfection or a venial sin, we would without delay be filled with the spirit of penance of a St. Aloysius, banish it from our heart, and thus shorten our Purgatory hereafter.

Again, we betray too little regard for Jesus. Were this not the case, oh, how would we not avail ourselves of His presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar to advance our sanctification by repeated visits to that sacred shrine, where He reposes; by devout attendance at Mass; by frequent union with Him in Holy Communion; in fine, by closely following the example of His earthly career.

The same remark may be made of our love for Mary, the Mother of Christ Jesus. How great was not the ardent affection of a blessed Leonard of Port Maurice or a St. Stanislaus, for Mary! It was on account of this filial love for her that they entered without delay into heavenly bliss, for they, living on earth, copied the image of Mary the Mirror of justice. Yes, should we have had the happiness of worthily wearing the Scapular of Mt. Carmel, through a desire of imitating Mary’s virtues, then, as we are informed in the holy Office of the Church, Mary will assist us after our departure from this life, and soon deliver us from Purgatory, to receive us, her dear children, into heaven.

The same observation holds true concerning the yearning of the poor souls in Purgatory to be in the companionship of all the Angels and Saints. We, again, regard too little the image presented to us in the life and actions of the Saints. Were we oftener to recall it to our minds, we would share in the encouraging reflection of St. Augustine while contemplating their lives, and say with him: “If these have done such things, why can not I do the same?” What is the reason that we, instead of imitating their zeal for virtue, are content with abstaining from grievous sin only? Ah, we do not reflect that, as children of the Church, we possess the same means as the Saints used, and by which they became holy. We do not consider that it is now time for us, while we yet sojourn upon earth, to gain at every moment new merits, to reap a harvest of heavenly glory, that in the hereafter we may elevate ourselves to the splendor of heaven in the Communion of the Saints!

What torments the souls in Purgatory is the knowledge that they are no longer able to merit any thing for heaven. They can not help themselves; they are entirely dependent upon others. They wait, and wait, and have nothing to do but to yearn and suffer. Oh, how they grieve and lament that while on earth they thought so little of heaven; that they accomplished so little to gain it, and did so much for this world; that, in fine, they have rashly squandered their precious time! Could they in Purgatory practice good works, spread the kingdom of God, save souls, how readily would they perform these duties; but, alas! it is now too late.

We, however, have this rich treasure, this great blessing–time. We can, if we desire it, make use of it even if it costs the severest effort and toil. We have still command over the priceless gift. Let us employ it well. What afflicts those poor, helpless souls still more is the circumstance that, despite their patience in suffering, they can earn nothing for heaven. With us, however, such is not the case. We. fortunately, by our patience under affliction, may merit much, very much indeed, for Paradise. The cross of misery and suffering borne with resignation, carried bravely for love of God, and in compliance with His divine will–that cross which weighs so heavily in heaven’s just scale of retribution–will be for us a pledge of untold bliss in heaven. Christ Himself expressly assures us of this, and St. Paul declares it when he says: “The sufferings of this world can not be compared with the weight of glory, which they prepare for us in Paradise.”

I well remember a certain sick person who was sorely pressed with great sufferings. Wishing to console him in his distress, I said: “Friend, such severe pains will not last long. You will either recover from your illness and become well and strong again or God will soon call you to Himself.” Thereupon the sick man, turning his eyes upon a crucifix which had been placed for him at the foot of his bed, replied: “Father, I desire no alleviation in my suffering, no relief from my pains. I cheerfully endure all as long as it is God’s good pleasure; but I hope that I now undergo my Purgatory.” Then, stretching forth his hands towards his crucifix, he thus addressed it, filled with the most lively hope in God’s mercy: ” Is it not so, dear Jesus? Thou wilt only take me from my bed. of pain to receive me straightway into heaven!”

These were the words of one who confided in the goodness of an all-merciful Father. Are we resigned like that poor afflicted sufferer on his couch of pain? Have we the same Christian fortitude and hope? If not, let us strive to imitate his example. Impatience–I say impatience is the fountain of innumerable defects and venial sins against God and our neighbor. It is this that so frequently prevents us from resigning ourselves to God’s most holy will. On the other hand, how efficacious is the recollection of the suffering of the souls in Purgatory! Soon, and perhaps very soon, I, too, will be of their number, and will have to endure intense agony without reward. When I consider the patience of those souls, how encouraged ought I to be to endure all patiently and to resign myself entirely to God’s will.

Besides these circumstances, there is in the condition of the poor souls still another, and one which, above all others, characterizes their state. It is the circumstance that all who suffer in Purgatory are holy souls–souls most dear to God. While there, they are no longer in danger of being tempted to sin by intercourse with worldly-minded and imperfect persons. If we were very careful to shun the company of sinners and the children of the world, oh, how many sins and faults would we not avoid–sins and imperfections that make us guilty before God, and from which we shall have to be cleansed by the flames of Purgatory.

Therefore let us strive to associate ourselves in spirit with those distressed souls; often think of them; pray and work for their release. If we were to do this, how much would it not conduce to mend our lives, to sanctify us, and thus assist us to escape Purgatory, or at least to shorten our stay there; for all the circumstances that mark the state of the souls in Purgatory are so well adapted to encourage us in the path to perfection!These circumstances are, as I have said, first, their great yearning to be with God, with Jesus and Mary, and in the society of the Angels and Saints; secondly, their inability to labor meritoriously or to gain merit by suffering things, however, which we can do by entire conformity with the most divine will of God.

Therefore how true and important is not the counsel of the Holy Ghost, “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead”–when we reflect that through our assistance they may the sooner enter into the joys of heaven; that here upon earth we, by devotion to them, may lead the life of Saints, that thereby we may be delivered, if not entirely, at least in a short time, from Purgatory, to enjoy the unspeakable bliss of the celestial Paradise forever in company with all the Saints and Angels. Amen!

The Feast of All Souls: Part 1

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During this month of the Holy Souls, remember to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The Feast of All Souls: Part 1

(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)

“When shall I come and appear before the face of God?”–Psalms xli, 3.

On the Feast of All Souls, and whenever we are reminded of Purgatory, we can not help thinking of the dreadful pains which the souls in Purgatory have to suffer, in order to be purified from every stain of sin; of the excruciating torments they have to undergo for their faults and imperfections, and how thoroughly they have to atone for the least offenses committed against the infinite holiness and justice of God.

It is but just, therefore, that we should condole with them, and do all that we can to deliver them from the flames of Purgatory, or, at least, to soothe their pains. Sufferings, however, are not the only cause which renders the state of the poor souls deplorable in our eyes, and moves us to commiseration. There is yet another reason, which, though it occurs less frequently to our minds, yet, if duly considered, will prove a powerful incentive to charitable exertion in behalf of the souls of our departed brethren. I allude to their ardent yearning for God, and their sincere desire of being united with Him forever in heaven; a desire, which as long as it is not satisfied, will be no less painful to them than the keenest flames of their place of torture. We should, then, with the same eagerness with which we try to deliver the poor souls from the pain of fire, endeavor to obtain for them the accomplishment of their ardent longing to be united with their heavenly Spouse. I say: all that can increase the pain of desire and eager yearning in our hearts, makes the longing of the poor souls after God and heaven immeasurably great and tormenting.

Let us now reflect on this, and endeavor, if possible, to open for them today the gates of their heavenly home.

O Mary, Mother of mercy, obtain for us the grace to hasten to the relief of thy suffering children in Purgatory, and to offer them, even this day, to thy maternal embrace! I address you, dear Christians, in the name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

Theologians rightly maintain that the pain of the damned in hell is a twofold one–namely, that of fire and that of loss of the beatific vision or contemplation of the unveiled splendor of the Divinity and the other delights of heaven. This last pain torments the damned still more, increases their sorrow and despair to a higher degree than all the suffering which they undergo in the expiating flames. Now, in like manner is the agony of the souls in Purgatory twofold–namely: the pain of the purifying flames; and of the delay in beholding God and enjoying the other pleasures that await them in heaven. To comprehend this more clearly, we need but consider the pain which an ardent longing for that which is most dear to us produces in our hearts, as long as it is withheld from us, and then compare our state with that of the poor afflicted souls.

The first source or cause of a desire to be delivered from any state in life is, when that state is connected with great embarrassment and afflictions. Hence it is that the sick long so eagerly for the presence of the physician and for the medicine that will cure them; in like manner the starving long for bread and nourishment; the thirsty, for water; the poor, for the sentence of the judge, that will declare them heirs to riches, and save them from destitution. So also does the wayfarer upon the billows of the stormy ocean sigh for the port, yearn to reach the place where a happy future awaits him; and so does the prisoner in his dreary cell anxiously expect the hour of his delivery. How great, therefore, must not be the desire of the poor souls to be ransomed from Purgatory.

The fire of Purgatory, as the doctors of the Church declare, is as intense as that of the abode of hell; with this difference, that it has an end. Yea! it may be that today a soul in Purgatory is undergoing more agony, more excruciating suffering than a damned soul, which is tormented in hell for a few mortal sins; while the poor soul in Purgatory must satisfy for millions of venial sins.

All the pains which afflict the sick upon earth, added to all that the martyrs have ever suffered, can not be compared with those of purgatory, so great is the punishment of those poor souls. We read, how once a sick person who was very impatient in his sufferings, exclaimed: “O God, take me from this world! “Thereupon the Guardian Angel appeared to him, and told him to remember that, by patiently bearing his afflictions upon his sick-bed, he could satisfy for his sins and shorten his Purgatory. But the sick man replied that he chose rather to satisfy for his sins in Purgatory. The poor sufferer died; and, behold, his Guardian Angel appeared to him again, and asked him if he did not repent of the choice he had made of satisfying for his sins in Purgatory by tortures rather than upon earth by afflictions? Thereupon the poor soul asked of the Angel: ” How many years am I now here in these terrible flames?” The Angel replied: ” How many years? Thy body upon earth is not yet buried; nay, it is not yet cold, and still thou believest already thou art here for many years!” Oh, how that soul lamented upon hearing this. Great indeed was its grief for not having chosen patiently to undergo upon earth the sufferings of sickness, and thereby shorten its Purgatory.

In that abode of sorrow the departed souls hunger after the possession of God, and with so famishing a desire that nothing on earth can be compared with it. They thirst after the fountain of eternal life with that thirst which knows no comparison in this world. They suffer; poor and destitute of all worldly goods. Yea! they are even deprived of all those consolations which at times lessen our desires, and afford us moments of repose. Here upon earth, though we long and sigh ever so much after a thing, still we can sleep; and the pains produced by our heart’s desires in our waking moments leave us, we feel them no longer. We can engage ourselves in other occupations; other cares may distract our minds. We may, at times, enjoy various pleasures, and partake of the good things of this life. Now all these things remove, or, at least, soothe the pain and care of our desires. Not so, however, is the condition of these distressed souls. They have no refreshing slumber; they are incessantly awake; they have no occupation; they can not indulge in other cares, in other distractions. They are wholly and continually absorbed with the burning desire of being liberated from their intense misery.

Again, upon earth, persons who anxiously seek another abode or another state of life, often know not whether, perhaps, they may not fall into a more wretched condition. How many have forsaken the shores of Europe, with the bright hope of a better future awaiting them in America? All has been disappointment! They have repented a thousand times of having deserted their native country. Now, does this disappointment await the souls of Purgatory upon their deliverance? Ah! by no means. They know too well that when they are released heaven will be their home. Once there, no more pains, no more fire for them; but the enjoyment of an everlasting bliss, which no eye hath seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. Such will be their future happy state. Oh, how great is their desire to be already there.

Another circumstance which especially intensifies hope in the breast of man, is intercourse, union with those who are near and dear to him. How many, indeed, have bid a last farewell to Europe, where they would have prospered; but oh, then there are awaiting them in another land their beloved ones,–those who are so dear, and in whose midst they long to be! Oh, what a great source of desire is not this, for the poor souls in Purgatory to go to Heaven!

In heaven they shall find again those whom they loved and cherished upon earth, but who have already preceded them on the way to the heavenly mansion. There with their friends shall they share forever untold bliss and glory. Not only will they possess this happiness, but they will, moreover, partake of the glory, blessedness, and love of all the angels and saints. Yea, even Jesus and Mary will share their blessedness with the now happy souls. There is still another feature, another circumstance which presents itself in the condition of the poor souls in Purgatory. I mean the irresistible force or tendency with which they are drawn towards God; the intense longing after Him, their last aim and end.

So long as man is burdened upon earth with his mortal body and its appetites, so long will he not feel this attraction with such intensity. But immediately upon his soul’s separation from its mortal frame does it, as the image of God, experience this incomprehensible desire for its Creator and aim.

Like the balloon that rises aloft as soon as the cords are detached, and rapidly soars higher and higher; just so the soul which leaves this world in the grace of God mounts upward with inconceivable rapidity towards God; and the more pure and spotless she is, the greater is its intensity. Hence it was that David, filled with an ardent longing after God, sighs aloud: “When, when, O Lord, shall I appear in Thy presence? ” Oh, with what intense anxiety and longing is not a poor soul in Purgatory consumed, to behold the splendor of its Lord and Creator!

But also with what marks of Gratitude does not every soul whom we have assisted to enter heaven pray for us upon its entrance. Therefore, let us hasten to the relief of the poor suffering souls in Purgatory. Let us help them to the best of our power, so that they may supplicate for us before the throne of the Most High; that they may remember us when we too shall one day be afflicted in that prison-house of suffering, and may procure for us a speedy release and an early enjoyment of a blissful eternity. Amen!