“I saw her in an even more horrible state, in the midst of flames which were even more intense, and despair was written all over her face.”~Diary of St. Faustina, p.30.
As a rule, there are few of us who make a point to contemplate death, especially our own death. Instead, we focus on day-to-day concerns and necessities. We ignore the one inescapable fact: we will die. But we should remember the Five Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell…and Purgatory. Christ Himself in Holy Scripture commands: “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5: 48). And yet, how many of us have reached spiritual perfection in this life? Perhaps we will enter the next world with a good heart, yet due to our unatoned habits and sins, resemble spiritual lepers. We will still need cleansing!
In our fast-paced culture, it is often the case that the souls of the faithful departed are forgotten about almost immediately after their death. Many priests fail to mention the importance of praying for them at funeral Masses and in homilies, especially during the month of November, which is traditionally dedicated to the Poor Souls. The catechism reminds us that the Holy Souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves, but we (and those already in Heaven) can pray for them. This old-school image from The Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism is helpful.
The saints tell us that these holy souls will pray for us in return, and that their prayers are very powerful! Who among us could not use a little supernatural lift? The following notes on the souls in Purgatory were written by a wise priest some eighty-five years ago and are instructive:
He that stoppeth his ear against the cry of the poor, shall also cry himself and shall not be heard.” (Prov. XXI, 13.)
Long ago the Holy Ghost said: “It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” (II Macab. XII., 46.) Our Lord shed tears in seeing the tomb of Lazarus, and the church, well acquainted with the feelings of her Divine Founder, is incessantly recommending charity for the souls suffering in purgatory. One of her eminent doctors, Saint Thomas Aquinas, has said that: “Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.”
But there are many people unconscious of the fact that charity for the “poor souls” is profitable to the living as well as to the dead. It is the teaching of the most learned theologians, viz: St. Ligorious, Sylvius, Bellarmin, Bonacina, and Suarez. “It is true,” says St. Alphonsus, “they are unable to pray or merit anything for themselves, yet, when they pray for others, they are heard by God.” Let us refer to Bellarmin: “The souls in purgatory,” says he, “can pray for those, who address to them their petitions, and obtain from God help, forgiveness, assistance against temptations, and, all favors, both temporal and spiritual, which they may need.”
Many saints have experienced this wonderful assistance. Saint Catherine of Bologna assured her sisters that: “She obtained many favors by the prayers of the holy souls in purgatory, which she had asked in vain, through the intercession of the saints.” St. Theresa affirms that: “She always obtained the favors which she asked from God, through the intercession of the Poor Souls.”
We read also in the book of Saint Bridget’s revelations that: “Being one day conducted by an angel into purgatory, she heard a soul say: “Oh Lord, vouchsafe to reward those who assist us! Return hundredfold blessings to those who help us and introduce us into the light of heaven.” Saint Leonard of Port Maurice emphatically affirms that: “The blessed souls, delivered by our prayers, will come down from heaven to assist us in our temporal and spiritual affairs.” The Venerable Cure d’ Ars, replying to a priest said: “If one new what he may obtain from God by the intercession of the poor souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them, they will pray for us.”
Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque had a special devotion for the Souls in Purgatory and has often accepted the charge of suffering for them. “Would that you knew, ” she said, “How my soul was replenished with joy, when speaking to those souls, and seeing them immersed in glory as in a deep ocean. As I requested them to pray for you, they replied: “an ungrateful soul is not to be found in heaven!” No, we cannot be deceived! If we have an ardent charity, a sincere piety, a true devotedness for the poor souls, we will be favored with their protection.
Let us try it! When we are in trouble, when we long for a favor, let us perform some pious relief for the “poor souls.” They will be grateful, they will plead for us, and present our requests to the Eternal Father, who loves them.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt., V., 7.)