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Devotion to the Souls in Purgatory
From: “Purgatory” by Fr. Faber
If Heaven and earth are full of the glory of God, so also is that most melancholy, yet most interesting land, where the prisoners of hope are detained by their Savior’s loving justice from the Beatific Vision; and if we can advance the interests of Jesus on earth and in Heaven, I may also venture to say that we can do still more in Purgatory. And what I am endeavoring to show you in this treatise is how you may help God by prayer and the practices of devotion, whatever your occupation and calling may be; and all these prac-tices apply especially to Purgatory. For although some theologians say that in spite of the Holy Souls placing no obstacle in the way, still the effect of prayer for them is not infallible, nevertheless it is much more certain than the effect of prayer for the conversion of sinners upon earth, where it is so often frustrated by their perversity and evil dispositions. Anyhow, what I have wanted to show has been this: that each of us, without aiming beyond our grace, without austerities for which we have not courage, without supernatural gifts to which we lay no claim, may by simple affectionateness and the practices of sound Catholic devotion, do great things—things so great that they seem incredible—for the glory of God, the interests of Jesus and the good of souls.
Pray for Sinners or the Holy Souls?
I should therefore be leaving my subject very incomplete if I did not consider at some length devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory; and I will treat, not so much of particular practices of it, which are to be found in the ordinary manuals, as of the spirit of the devotion itself.
Rosignoli, in his Wonders of God in Purgatory (Opere 1:710), which he wrote at the request of Blessed Sebastian Valfré of the Turin Oratory, relates from the Dominican annals an interesting dispute between two good friars as to the respective merits of devotion for the conversion of sin-ners and devotion for the Holy Souls.
Bro. Bertrando was the great advocate of poor sinners, constantly said Mass for them, and offered up all his prayers and penances to obtain for them the grace of conversion. “Sinners,” he said, “without grace, are in a state of perdition. Evil spirits are continually laying snares for them, to deprive them of the Beatific Vision and to carry them off to eternal torments. Our Blessed Lord came down from Heaven and died a most painful death for them. What can be a higher work than to imitate Him and to cooperate with Him in the salvation of souls? When a soul is lost, the price of its redemption is lost also. Now the souls in Purgatory are safe. They are sure of their eternal salvation. It is most true that they are plunged into a sea of sorrows, but they are sure to come out at last. They are the friends of God, whereas sinners are His enemies, and to be God’s enemy is the greatest misery in creation.”
Bro. Benedetto was an equally enthusias-tic advocate of the suffering souls. He offered all his free Masses for them, as well as his prayers and penances. Sinners, he said, were bound with the chains of their own will. They could leave off sinning if they pleased. The yoke was of their own choosing, whereas the dead were tied hand and foot against their own will in the most atrocious sufferings.
“Now come, dear Bro. Bertrando, tell me—suppose there were two beggars, one well and strong, who could use his hands and work if he liked, but chose to suffer poverty rather than part with the sweets of idleness; and the other, sick and maimed and helpless, who in his piteous condition could do nothing but supplicate help with cries and tears—which of the two would deserve compassion the most, especially if the sick one was suffering the most intolerable agonies? Now this is just the case between sinners and the Holy Souls. These last are suffering an excruciating martyrdom, and they have no means of help-ing themselves. It is true they have deserved the-se pains for their sins, but they are now already cleansed for those sins. They must have returned to the grace of God before they died, else they would not have been saved. They are now most dear, inexpressibly dear, to God; and surely chari-ty, well ordered, must follow the wise love of the Divine Will and love most what He loves most.”
Bro. Bertrando, however, would not give way, though he did not quite see a satisfactory answer to his friend’s objection. But the night fol-lowing, he had an apparition which it seems so convinced him that from that time he changed his practice, and offered up all his Masses, prayers and penances for the Holy Souls. It would appear as if the authority of St. Thomas might be quoted on the side of Bro. Benedetto, as he says, “Prayer for the dead is more acceptable than for the liv-ing, for the dead are in the greatest need of it and cannot help themselves, as the living can” (Suppl. 3. Part, q. 71, art. 5 ad 3).
St. Teresa of Avila
How acceptable this devotion is to Almighty God, and how He vouchsafes to seem, as it were, impatient for the deliverance of the souls, and yet to leave it to our charity, is taught us on the unimpeachable authority of St. Teresa. In the Book of her Foundations, she tells us that D. Ber-nardino di Mendoza gave her a house, garden and vineyard for a convent at Valladolid. Two months after this, and before the foundation was effected, he was suddenly taken ill and lost the power of speech, so that he could not make a Confession, though he gave many signs of contrition. “He died,” says St. Teresa, “very shortly, and far from the place where I then was. But Our Lord spoke to me and told me that he was saved, though he had run a great risk, for that He had had mercy upon him because of the gift he had given for the convent of His Blessed Mother; but that his soul would not be freed from Purgatory until the first Mass was said in the new house. I felt so deeply the pains this soul was suffering that, although I was very desirous of accomplishing the founda-tion of Toledo, I left it at once for Valladolid. Praying one day at Medino del Campo, Our Lord told me to make haste, for that soul was suffering grievously. On this I started at once, though I was not well prepared for it, and arrived at Val-ladolid on St. Lawrence’s day.”
She then goes on to relate that, as she received Communion at the first Mass said in the house, her benefactor’s soul appeared to her all glorious, and afterward entered Heaven. She did not expect this, for as she observes, “Although it had been revealed to me that this would happen at the first Mass, I thought it must mean the first Mass where the Blessed Sacrament would be reserved there.”
We might multiply almost indefinitely the revelations of the Saints which go to prove the special favor with which our Blessed Lord regards this devotion wherein His interests are so nearly and dearly engaged. But it is time now to get a clear view of our subject.
World of Sense, World of Spirit
There are, as we all know, two worlds, the world of sense and the world of spirit. We live in the world of sense, surrounded by the world of spirit, and as Christians we have hourly, and very real, communications with that world. Now, it is a mere fragment of the Church which is the world of sense. In these days the Church Triumphant in Heaven, collecting its fresh multitudes in every age, and constantly beautifying itself with new Saints, must necessarily far exceed the limits of the Church Militant, which does not embrace even a majority of the inhabitants of earth. Nor is it unlikely, but most likely, that the Church Suffer-ing in Purgatory must far exceed the Church Mili-tant in extent, as it surpasses it in beauty.
Toward those countless hosts who are lost, we have no duties; they have fallen away from us. We hardly know the name of one who is there, for many have thought that Solomon was saved, some have gone so far as to regard the words in the Acts of the Apostles about Judas as not infallibly decisive [cf. Acts 1:16 ff], and there is not quite a consent even against Saul. We are cut off from them; all is blackness and darkness about them; we have no relations with them.
The Power God Gives us over the Dead
But by the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints and of the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body, we have most intimate relations both of duty and affection with the Church Triumphant and Suffering, and Catholic devotion furnishes us with many appointed and approved ways of dis-charging these duties toward them. Of these I shall speak hereafter. For the present it is enough to say that God has given us such power over the dead that they seem, as I have said before, to depend almost more on earth than on Heaven; and surely [the fact] that He has given us this power, and supernatural methods of exercising it, is not the least touching proof that His Blessed Majesty has contrived all things for love. Can we not conceive the joy of the Blessed in Heaven, looking down from the bosom of God and the calmness of their eternal repose upon this scene of dimness, disquietude, doubt and fear, and rejoicing in the plentitude of their charity, in their vast power with the Sacred Heart of Jesus to obtain grace and blessing day and night for the poor dwellers on earth? It does not distract them from God, it does not interfere with the Vision, or make it waver and grow misty; it does not trouble their glory or their peace. On the contrary, it is with them as with our Guardian Angels; the affectionate ministries of their chari-ty increase their own accidental glory.
The same joy in its measure may be ours even upon earth. If we are fully possessed with this Catholic devotion for the Holy Souls, we shall never be without the grateful consciousness of the immense powers which Jesus has given us on their behalf. We are never so like Him, or so dearly imitate His tender offices, as when we are devoutly exercising these powers. We are humbled excessively by becoming the benefactors of those beautiful souls who are so immeasurably our superiors, as Joseph was said to have learned humility by commanding Jesus.
While we are helping the Holy Souls, we love Jesus with a love beyond words, a love that almost makes us afraid, yet with what a delightful fear! Because in this devotion it is His hands we are moving, as we would move the unskillful hands of a child. Dearest Lord, that He should let us do these things! That He should let us do with His satisfactions what we will, and sprinkle His Precious Blood as if it were so much water from the nearest well! That we should limit the efficacy of His unbloody Sacrifice, and name souls to Him, and expect Him to obey us, and that He should do so! Beautiful was the help-lessness of His blessed Infancy; beautiful is His helplessness in His most dear Sacrament; beautiful is the helplessness which, for the love of us, He mostly wills to be with regard to His dear spouses in Purgatory, whose entrance into glory His Heart is so impatiently awaiting! Oh, what thoughts, what feelings, what love should be ours as we, like choirs of terrestrial angels, gaze down on the wide, silent, sinless kingdom of suffering, and then, with our own venturous touch, wave the sceptered hand of Jesus over its broad regions, all richly dropping with the balsam of His saving Blood!
Two Views of Purgatory
There have already been two views of Purgatory prevailing in the Church, not contradictory the one of the other, but rather expressive of the mind and devotion of those who have embraced them.
One is the view met with in by far the greater number of the lives and revelations of Italian and Spanish Saints, the works of the Germans of the Middle Ages, and the popular delineations of Purgatory in Belgium, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere. The other is the view which has been made popular by St. Francis de Sales, though he drew it originally from his favorite treatise on Purgatory by St. Catherine of Genoa, and it is also borne out by many of the revelations of Sister Francesca of Pampeluna, a Theresian nun, published with a long and able censura by Bro. Giuseppe Bonaventura Ponze, a Dominican professor at Saragossa. And each of these two views, though neither denies the other, has its own peculiar spirit of devotion.
Other Benefits of This Devotion
IT is not saying too much to call devotion to the Holy Souls a kind of center in which all Catholic devotions meet and which satisfies more than any other single devotion our duties in that way; because it is a devotion all of live, and of disinterested love. If we cast an eye over the chief Catholic devotions, we shall see the truth of this. Take the devotion of St. Ignatius to the glory of God. This, if I may dare to use such an expression of Him, was the special and favorite devotion of Jesus.
Now, Purgatory is simply a field white for the harvest of God’s glory. Not a prayer can be said for the Holy Souls but God is at once glorified, both by the faith and the charity of the mere prayer. Not an alleviation, however trifling, can befall any one of the souls but He is forthwith glorified by the honor of His Son’s Precious Blood, and the approach of the souls to bliss. Not a soul is delivered from its trial but God is immensely glorified. He crowns His own gifts in that dear soul. The Cross of Christ has triumphed. The decree of predestination is vic-toriously accomplished, and there is a new wor-shiper in the courts of Heaven. Moreover, God’s glory, His sweetest glory, the glory of His live, is sooner or later infallible in Purgatory because there is no sin there, nor possibility of sin. It is only a question of time. All that is gained is real gain. All that is reaped is true wheat, without chaff or stubble, or any such thing.
Devotion to the Holy Souls Honors The Sacred Humanity of Jesus
Again, what devotion is justly more dear to Christians than the devotion to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus? It is rather a family of various and beautiful devotions than a devotion by itself. Yet see how they are all, as it were, ful-filled, affectionately fulfilled, in devotion to the Holy Souls. The quicker the souls are liberated from Purgatory, the more is the beautiful harvest of His blessed Passion multiplied and accelerated. An early harvest is a blessing, as well as a plenti-ful one; for all delay of a soul’s ingress into the praise of Heaven is an eternal and irremediable loss of honor and glory to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus.
How strangely things sound in the language of the sanctuary! Yet, so it is. Can the Sa-cred Humanity be honored more than by the adorable Sacrifice of the Mass? And here is our chief action upon Purgatory. Faith in His Sacraments as used for the dead is a pleasing homage to Jesus; and the same may be said of faith in indulgences and privileged altars and the like. The powers of the Church all flow from His Sacred Humanity and are a perpetual praise and thank-offering to it. So, again, this devotion honors Him by imitating His zeal for souls. For this zeal is a badge of His people, and an inheritance from Him.
Our Lady, the Angels, Patron Saints, Founders
Devotion to our dearest Mother is equally comprehended in this devotion to the Holy Souls, whether we look at her as the Mother of Jesus, and so sharing the honors of His Sacred Humanity, or as Mother of Mercy, and so specially wor-shipped by works of mercy, or, lastly, as in a particular sense the Queen of Purgatory, and so hav-ing all manner of dear interests to be promoted in the welfare and deliverance of those suffering souls.
Next to this we may rank devotion to the holy Angels, and this also is satisfied in devotion to the Holy Souls. For it keeps filling the vacant thrones in the angelic choirs, those unsightly gaps which the fall of Lucifer and one third of the heavenly host occasioned. It multiplies the companions of the blessed spirits. They may be sup-posed also to look with an especial interest on that part of the Church which lies in Purgatory, because it is already crowned with their own dear gift and ornament of final perseverance, and yet it has not entered at once into its inheritance as they did. Many of them also have a tender per-sonal interest in Purgatory. Thousands, perhaps millions of them, are guardians to those souls, and their office is not over yet. Thousands have clients there who were specially devoted to them in life. Will St. Raphael, who was so faithful to Tobias, be less faithful to his clients there? Whole choirs are interested about others [in Purgatory], either because they are finally to be aggregated to that choir, or because in [their] lifetime they had a special devotion to it. Marie Denise, of the Visitation, used to congratulate her Angel every day on the grace he had received to stand when so many around him were falling. It was, as I have said before, the only thing she could know for certain of his past life. Could he neglect her if by the Will of God she went to Purgatory? Again, St. Michael, as Prince of Purgatory and our Lady’s regent, in fulfillment of that dear office attributed to him by the Church in the Mass for the dead, takes as homage to himself all charity to the Holy Souls; and if it be true that a zealous heart is al-ways a proof of a grateful one, that bold and magnificent spirit will recompense us one day in his own princely style, and perhaps within the limits of that his special jurisdiction.
Neither is devotion to the Saints without its interests in this devotion for the dead. It fills them with the delights of charity as it swells their numbers and beautifies their ranks and orders. Numberless Patron Saints are personally interested in multitudes of souls. The affectionate relations between their clients and themselves not only subsists, but a deeper tenderness has entered into it because of the fearful suffering, and a livelier interest because of the accomplished victory. They see in the Holy Souls their own handiwork, the fruit of their example, the answer to their prayers, the success of their patronage, the beautiful and finished crown of their affection-ate intercession.
And all this applies with peculiar force to the Founders of Orders and Congregations. Ah, those Saints, those founders, are the children of the Sacred Heart! They have been conceived in its inmost cavities; they have been suckled with its choicest Blood, softer than milk, and more cheer-ing than the wine of Engaddi’s peerless grape; their charity has caught the trick of its compression and dilation. Who then can tell how Founders yearn over their children in those cleansing fires? Those souls honored them through life; they lived in their Father’s and Founder’s house; his voice was ever in their ears; his feasts there were days of song and joy and spiritual sunshine; his relics were their shield, his rule their second gospel; his sayings and doings were ever on their lips; his dress and livery were dear to them as the garment of a king to his Eastern favorite. He was with them all day long; they loved him with a venturous love; they praised him till men smiled at their family pride; they feared him as one the darkening of whose eye upon their souls was a worse calamity than fire, or sword, or pestilence; and when they came to die, his name, and no other, except the names of Jesus and Mary, could so well soothe the troubled mind, so drive away the besetting demons, and so calm the starts and frets and catching which, if they impair not the perfection of our patience, take away at least from death its joy-inspiring gracefulness. What wonder their founder should love them as he beholds them bounding immaculate and beautiful, the gems of his Order, the glory of his Rule, in the chastening fires of God!
Our Charity for the Poor Souls Benefits Our Own Souls
But there is another peculiarity in this devotion for the dead. It does not rest in words and feelings, nor does it merely lead to action indirectly and at last. It is action in itself, and thus it is a substantial devotion. It speaks, and a deed is done; it loves, and a pain is lessened; it sacrifices, and a soul is delivered. Nothing can be more solid. We might almost dare to compare it, in its poor measure, to the efficacious voice of God, which works what it says, and effects what it utters and wills, and a creation comes.
The royal devotion of the Church is the works of mercy; and see how they are all satisfied in this devotion for the dead! It feeds the hungry souls with Jesus, the Bread of Angels. It gives them to drink, in their incomparable thirst, His Precious Blood. It clothes the naked with a robe of glory. It visits the sick with mighty powers to heal, and at the least consoles them by the visit. It frees the captives with a heavenly and eternal freedom, from a bondage dreader far than death. It takes in the strangers, and Heaven is the hos-pice [lodging] into which it receives them. It buries the dead in the bosom of Jesus in everlasting rest.
Oh, when the last doom shall come, and our dearest Lord shall ask those seven questions of His judicial process, those interrogatories of the works of mercy, how happy will that man be—and it may be the poorest beggar among us, who never gave an alms because he has had to live on alms himself—who shall hear his own defense sweetly and eloquently taken up by crowds of blessed souls to whom he has done all things while they waited in their prison-house of hope! Three times a day St. Francis de Sales put himself in the presence of God as before his judge and tried to judge himself in his Savior’s way. Let us but do that, and we shall become so many servitors of Michael, so many guardian angels of that beautiful but melancholy land of suffering and expectant souls.