This November, more than ever before, I feel the cold breath of the winter of life; now it seems to cut to the very quick of me, as I reflect on so many dear friends and family who have died. For some time now, departed friends have outnumbered those who remain. Unlike Novus Ordo Catholics, who seem to transform every funeral service into an impromptu canonization, I’m well aware that none of my loved ones rose straight up into heaven. And so we offer Masses for the salvation of their souls and for their release from purgatory. The very concept of purgatory, although an affront to the sensibilities of modern(ist) Catholics, is actually a reminder of the loving justice of God.
A favorite book on Purgatory is Father Schouppe’s classic, “Purgatory explained by the lives and legends of the Saints”, from TAN. Fr. Schouppe has many good stories from the lives of the saints to illustrate various aspects of Purgatory, but the following struck a chord with me and so I’ll share with you, if you’d like.
From the Revelations of St. Gertrude, Father tells us that a young religious in St. Gertrude’s convent was much admired because of her great piety. After her death, St. Gertrude was fervently praying for the soul of the young nun when she was rapt in ecstasy and had a vision of the deceased sister standing before the throne of God, eyes downcast, she seemed to be ashamed. St. Gertrude then beseeched Our Lord, “Most Sweet Jesus, why does not Your infinite goodness invite Your spouse to approach You and enter into the joy of her Lord?”
At this, Our Lord smiled with tender love and beckoned to the reluctant soul to draw near Him, but she, troubled and trembling withdrew from Him. St. Gertrude then addressed her dear sister, “Do you retire when our Lord calls you? You that have desired Jesus during your whole life, withdraw now that He opens His arms to you?”
“Ah, my dear Mother, I am not worthy to appear before the Immaculate Lamb. I still have some stains which I contracted upon earth. To approach the Sun of Justice, one must be as pure as a ray of light. I have not yet that degree of purity which He requires of His saints. Know that, if the door of Heaven were to be opened to me, I should not dare to cross the threshold before being entirely purified from all stain.”
Father Schouppe follows this with a bit from St. Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory, which reinforces the concept.
“The Lord is all merciful. He stands before us, His arms extended in order to receive us into His glory. But I see also that the Divine Essence is of such purity that the soul, unless she be absolutely immaculate, cannot bear the sight. If she finds in herself the least atom of imperfection, rather than dwell with a stain in the presence of the Divine Majesty, she would plunge herself into the depths of Hell. Finding in Purgatory a means to blot out her stains, she casts herself into it. She esteems herself happy that, by the effects of a great mercy, a place is given her where she can free herself from the obstacles to supreme happiness.”
In #98 of her Autobiography, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque tells us:
On one occasion when I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament on the Feast of Corpus Christi, a person suddenly appeared before me all enveloped in flames, the heat of which penetrated me so powerfully that I believed myself to be burning as well. The pitiable condition in which I beheld him caused me to shed an abundance of tears. He told me that he was that Benedictine monk to whom I once went to Confession, and who had ordered me to receive Holy Communion, and that, as a reward for this, God had allowed him to have recourse to me that he might obtain some alleviation in his sufferings. He asked me to apply to his soul all that I should do and suffer for three months, which I promised with the consent of my Superiors. He then went on to say that the cause of his suffering was his preferring his own interests to the glory of God, through too great attachment to his own reputation; secondly, a want of charity towards his brethren; and finally, too natural an affection for creatures, many proofs of which he had manifested in his spiritual dealings with them, thereby greatly displeasing God.
But it would be difficult for me to express what I had to suffer during those three months. For he never left me, and on the side on which he stood, I seemed to be all on fire; this caused me such intense suffering that my tears and groans were continual. My Superior, being moved with compassion, ordered me to perform severe penances, and in particular to take the discipline, because the bodily pains and sufferings, imposed upon me through charity, greatly relieved those which this Sanctity of love inflicted upon me as a slight sample of what It causes those poor souls to endure. At the end of three months he appeared to me in a very different state; he was bathed in joy and glory, and about to be admitted into eternal bliss. He thanked me and promised to be my protector before God. I had fallen ill at the time, but as my suffering ceased with his, I soon recovered. (“The Autobiography of Saint Margaret Mary“, TAN Books. Kindle Edition.)
And so we see that even in His justice, Our Lord Jesus Christ is a most merciful God! When we pray for these Holy Souls, we are fulfilling Our Dear Lord’s request that we love one another. “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15, 12) Every day we must offer our prayers and some sacrifice for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The De Profundis, which is part of the Little Office, is a good prayer, as are the Sorrowful Mysteries. One practice is to pray the Indulgenced Prayer Before a Crucifix after you have received Holy Communion. When you have complied with the usual requirements you gain a plenary indulgence which you can ask Our Lord to apply to the Poor Souls. The requirements are to be in a state of grace, receive Confession, Holy Communion and pray for the intentions of the Pope (insofar as they comply with the will of God).
Now, sometimes I hear people complain about praying for the intentions of the Pope, especially lately. But all that is necessary is to pray, and be assured that Our Lord will never allow harm to come on account of honest prayers! I tell Our Lord, “I’m praying out of obedience and I trust that You will help our Pope to be obedient, too!” Also, the seers of Fatima, especially Jacinta and Lucia, constantly offered up prayers and sacrifices for the Pope. He is certainly, as the Fatima decade prayer says, “most in need of mercy”!
Another plenary indulgence you can easily earn for the Poor Souls is the one from St. Pius X for adoring Our Lord at the elevation of the Host and of the Chalice at Mass. Don’t look away or close your eyes, but look and adore! That is what the elevation is for! Pray with all your heart, “My Lord and My God” and you will gain a plenary indulgence. In November especially, we do this for Poor Souls, but also for those at the hour of their death, especially since so many Catholics do not understand the extent of their insult to God’s justice until their private judgment and then, of course, it is already too late. How horribly overwhelmed they must be! But we trust all to the infinite mercy of God, who will bless those who need it most.
Above all, though, offering Masses for the Poor Souls is the very best benefit you can give them. So don’t forget to have Masses said for their relief.
I didn’t realize it was this late–the day here began gloomy and overcast and now suddenly after an entire day of feeling like it was evening, it really is. That may be an allegory for our life – We become so accustomed to attending the funerals of others, praying for them. And so our thoughts on death become ingrained that it happens to others. Now is the time to make friends for ourselves with the souls of Purgatory who have learned what we must learn and will be with us when we face our own judgment. They will remember our kindness to them. We do not know how soon we may need them!
And so I’ll hush. Please pray the Rosary daily and encourage others to do so.
† Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
~ by evensong, for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin. Give me strength against thine enemies.