I like to imagine that sprinkling holy water on graves offers relief for the souls, if they are in Purgatory. The Holy Souls in Purgatory languish in the fires, awaiting our prayers for their deliverance. They are so often neglected by a Church that denigrates if not actually denies the existence of Purgatory. After all, death is a canonization now… Let’s pray for the Holy Souls, offer our Masses & Communions for them, that they will be delivered from Purgatory & brought to Heaven where they will spend all eternity praying for us in thanksgiving for our generosity.
“Finally, since Truth in the Gospel asserts that ‘if anyone shall utter blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, neither in this life nor in the future will it be forgiven him’ [cf. Matt. 12:32], by this it is granted that certain sins of the present be understood which, however, are forgiven in the future life, and since the Apostle says that ‘fire will test the work of each one, of what kind it is,’ and ‘ if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire’ [1 Cor 3:13,15], and since these same Greeks truly and undoubtedly are said to believe and to affirm that the souls of those who after a penance has been received yet not performed, or who, without mortal sin yet die with venial and slight sin, can be cleansed after death and can be helped by the suffrages of the Church, we, since they say a place of purgation of this kind has not been indicated to them with a certain and proper name by their teachers, we indeed, calling it purgatory according to the traditions and authority of the Holy Fathers, wish that in the future it be called by that name in their area. For in that transitory fire certain sins, though not criminal or capital, which before have not been remitted through penance but were small and minor sins, are cleansed, and these weigh heavily even after death, if they have been forgiven in this life.” ~Pope Innocent IV, 1254 A.D
“[I]t is sufficiently clear that there is a Purgatory after this life. For if the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith. Hence Gregory of Nyssa, after the words quoted above [‘If one who loves and believes in Christ,’ has failed to wash away his sins in this life, ‘he is set free after death by the fire of Purgatory.’], adds: ‘This we preach, holding to the teaching of truth, and this is our belief; this the universal Church holds, by praying for the dead that they may be loosed from sins.’ This cannot be understood except as referring to Purgatory: and whosoever resists the authority of the Church, incurs the note of heresy.” ~St. Thomas Aquinas
As we near the end of the Month of All Souls, lest we become lukewarm in our prayers for them, read this powerful story of the reality of the pains and physical fires of Purgatory.
A Promise Fulfilled
by Gregory Johnson
A Dominican religious lived a holy life in his convent at Zamora, a city of the Kingdom of Leon. He was united in the bonds of a pious friendship with a Franciscan brother like himself, a man of great virtue.
medieval illumination showing two monks conversing
A Dominican and Franciscan make a deal
One day, when conversing together on the subject of eternity, they mutually promised that, if it pleased God, the first who died should appear to the other to give him some salutary advice. The Friar Minor died first and one day, while his Dominican friend was preparing the refectory, he appeared to him.
After saluting him with respect and affection, he told him that he was among the elect, but that before he could be admitted to the enjoyment of eternal happiness, there remained much to be suffered for an infinity of small faults of which he had not sufficiently repented during his life.
“Nothing on earth,” he added, “can give an idea of the torments which I endure, and of which God permits me to give you a visible proof.”
Saying these words, he placed his right hand upon the table of the refectory, and the mark remained impressed upon the charred wood as though it had been applied with a red-hot iron. Such was the lesson which the fervent deceased Franciscan gave to his living friend. It was of profit not only to him, but to all those who came to see the burnt mark, for this table became an object of piety which people came from all parts to look upon.
“It is still to be seen at Zamora” says Father Rossignoli, “at the time I write. To protect it the spot has been covered with a sheet of copper” It was preserved until the end of the last century. Since then it has been destroyed during the revolutions, like so many other religious memorials.
This instance, which happened in Spain, is related in the History of Saint Dominic by Ferdinand of Castile.
Adapted from The Dogma of Purgatory by F. X. Schouppe, SJ,
London: Burns & Oats, 1893, pp. 43-44
Posted November 18, 2017
A timely reminder as the Month of the Holy Souls approaches.
As with each November, we are pleased to accept names of the deceased to be remembered at our altars during Holy Mass.
The dead cannot speak. Their souls’ most fervent request – prayer – cannot be transmitted to us. Due to this silence, it is easy for us to slowly forget those who have passed, even our dearest friends and family members. For this reason, our Holy Mother Church has dedicated a month for these souls, still very much a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. She asks us to redouble our efforts in prayer and sacrifice for them, to assist them to their heavenly reward.
Fr. Jurgen Wegner, District Superior – United States, recently wrote:
I urge you take advantage of this important opportunity to relieve the poor souls in purgatory, particularly in this time of crisis when prayers for the deceased have greatly diminished in number and in fervor. I therefore encourage you to pray earnestly for the dead during the month of November. By visiting a cemetery and praying even mentally each day from November 1st to the 8th, one may also gain a plenary indulgence for the faithful departed. Please click here for specific instructions on how to obtain indulgences.”
The Regina Coeli House, headquarters of the SSPX in the United States, is accepting names of the deceased. We will place these names on our chapel’s altar to be remembered at the commemoratio pro defunctis of every Mass offered during the month of November.
You may submit to us names of your departed loved ones by one of three ways:
Filling out this online form
Emailing them to email@example.com
Printing out and mailing in this form (PDF) to the Regina Coeli House at
Regina Coeli House
11485 N. Farley Road
Platte City, MO 64079
No stipend is required for this act of charity, but if you would like to offer a gift to the Regina Coeli House, you may do so, either by mail or by visiting our donation page.
We recommend your dilligence to this prayerful charity with the words of St. Thomas More who wrote of the Poor Souls:
If you pity the poor, there is none so poor as we who have not a coat to put on our backs … If you pity any man in pain, you never knew pain like ours whose fire so far surpasses in heat all the fires that ever burned on earth as a real fire on earth surpasses one painted on canvas.”
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.
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.
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 beautiful chants of the Church:
May the Holy Souls in Purgatory be delivered!
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.
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.”
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.”
Following the Sacrament of Penance
According to the Council of Trent, 1547.