MY CATHOLIC FAITH
LXXIX. Souls in Purgatory
We should be generous in helping the poor souls in purgatory, who long for God. The best thing we can do for them is to have Masses offered for them. The Church puts no limit to the time during which we may pray or offer Masses for the suffering souls in purgatory. If we cannot have a Mass said, we should at least hear Masses for our dear departed. If God so willed, a single Mass could release all the souls in purgatory. We should offer Masses especially on All Souls’ Day and on the anniversaries of death of our relatives and friends.
What pains do the souls in purgatory suffer? –The souls in purgatory suffer from a great longing to be united to God, and from other great pains:
Their chief pain is the deprivation of the Beatific Vision, the vision of God in the glory of heaven. This temporary deprivation is a most severe punishment, because the poor souls already have a full knowledge of what they are missing.
“As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after thee, O God! my soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?” (Ps. 41:2,3).
The general tradition of the Church is that they also suffer acutely in other ways.
St. Augustine believes that the sufferings of the poor souls are greater than the sufferings of all the martyrs. St. Thomas believes the least pain there is greater than the greatest on earth.
NOTE: (RMO) Saint Thomas Aquinas, the prince of theologians, also teaches that the FIRE in purgatory is as intense as the fire in HELL.
The greatness and the duration of a soul’s sufferings in purgatory vary according to the gravity of the sins committed. One who has lived a long life of sin, but is saved from hell only by a deathbed repentance, will stay in the purging fires of purgatory longer, and suffer there more intensely than a child, who has committed only the venial sins of an ordinary child.
That some souls stay long in purgatory is implied by the fact that the Church puts no limit to the offering of Masses for the dead; some foundations have been going on for centuries, offered for the repose of certain souls. St. Augustine believes that those stay longest in purgatory who have loved the goods of earth more. Some saints have held that certain holy souls in purgatory suffer no pain except their exclusion from the vision of God. Practically all are agreed that in purgatory the souls suffer most in those things in which they sinned most; as the “Imitation of Christ” says: “In what things a man hath most sinned, in those things shall he be most grievously tormented.”
“MY IMITATION OF CHRIST”
The poor souls, however, have much to console them. They are certain of salvation and the love of God. They are free from temptation: they cannot commit the slightest sin, even of impatience.
They have no worry, anxiety, or distress of mind, for they are sure of deliverance. They are comforted by the prayers of the angels and saints, and of the people on earth.
Will all the souls in purgatory go to heaven? –All the souls in purgatory will go to heaven some day; they will stay in purgatory only as long as they have not atoned for all their sins.
The poor souls cannot help themselves, for their time for meriting was ended at their death. They cannot therefore merit anything to satisfy for their sins.
This is why we who can still merit by our good works should give some of them as suffrage for the poor souls, so that they may soon be delivered from their prison. We have the special obligation of helping with our prayers and sacrifices the Souls of our dead relatives, friends, and benefactors.
Although they cannot merit anything for themselves, the poor souls intercede for us with their prayers to God.
Thus if we help them they repay us by their intercession. No one who has a devotion to the holy souls in purgatory has ever asked for their intercession in vain.
In what ways can we help the poor souls in purgatory? –We can help the poor souls in purgatory by Masses, by prayers, and by other good works.
Masses. The Holy Sacrifice is the greatest help we can offer, because its effect depends on itself, and not on the piety of the priest who offers it. Whenever possible, Gregorian Masses should be offered; these consist of thirty Masses celebrated on consecutive days for some deceased person.
If we cannot have a Mass said, we should at least hear Mass for our dear departed. A Mass has infinite merit, for it is the sacrifice of Our Lord Himself. It will surely avail our dead to offer for them God the Son Himself in Holy Mass.
Prayers. We should pray with devotion for the poor souls. God does not regard the length of the prayer or the words so much as the love in the heart of the one who prays.
There are special prayers enriched with indulgences, applicable to the souls in purgatory. We should also receive the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist for the poor souls. “Know ye that the Lord will hear your prayers if you continue in perseverance” (Judith 4:11).
Alms-giving. No pompous funeral or profusion of flowers is of any avail for the poor souls in purgatory. As St. John Chrysostom says, “Not by weeping, but by prayer and almsgiving are the dead relieved.”
It is better to give to charity the money spent on idle and worldly show, which cannot help the poor souls. Instead of sending costly wreaths to the family of a dead friend, it is an excellent custom instead to have Masses offered for his soul.
The Heroic Act. By this Act a person surrenders, in behalf of the souls in purgatory, all the satisfaction made to God by his good works, including whatever satisfaction may be offered for him by others during his life and after.
The Heroic Act is enriched with precious favors. One who makes the Act may gain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the dead: (1) on any day that he receives Holy Communion, if he has made his confession, visited a church or public oratory, and prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father; (2) on any Monday-or, if impediment arises, on the following Sunday-if he attend Mass in supplication for the faithful departed, visit a church or public oratory, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
It is an error to suppose that one who gives up his merits, or offers prayers and good works for the poor souls, thereby loses something for himself. Prayer confers a blessing not only on those prayed for, but also on him who prays. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
We should not, however, rely too much on the prayers and sacrifices that our relatives may offer for us after our death. Even granting that they will remember us often and fervently in prayers, it is nevertheless true that works offered in suffrage for souls avail them only to a limited extent.
God gives more value to little voluntary penance done here on earth than to disciplines offered for that soul after death. As a Saint aptly said, “One Mass devoutly heard during life is worth more than a great sum left for the celebration of a hundred Masses after death.