LIVING OUR FAITH (dec3liv.htm)

Wednesday-Saturday
December 1-4, 2004
vol 15, no. 191

Purgatory

    One must be purified in order to be worthy of being in God's Presence

        Contrary to what many may think, nothing in Holy Mother Church's teaching has changed and therefore we feel confident that these "points of enlightenment" will help more Catholics better understand their faith, especially those who were not blessed with early formation of the faith in the home and their parish school. Regardless of where any Catholic is in his or her journey toward salvation, he or she has to recognize that the Faith they were initiated into at the Sacrament of Baptism is the most precious gift they have been given in life. If they truly want to live their Faith as it was taught from Peter to Pius XII, they must know the Faith and live it as Traditional Catholics. That is the only way to KEEP THE FAITH!

    "Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence, till thou pay the last farthing"

    Our Lord's warning words to His disciples as recorded in Matthew 5: 26

    Both reason and faith tell us that there is a middle ground of expiation, where the soul is cleansed from all stain of sin before it can enter the glory of heaven. "There shall not enter into it anything defiled" (Apocolypse/Revelation 21:27). Christ said, "Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence, till thou pay the last farthing" (Matthew 5:26). Even persons who deny the existence of Purgatory instinctively pray for their loved ones who have died. This would be great inconsistency if their reason did not tell them that their prayers would do the dead good. Prayers are useless for those in Heaven or hell.

    Those are punished for a time in Purgatory who die in the state of grace, but are guilty of venial sin, or have not fully satisfied for the temporal punishment due to their sins.

    Purgatory is a middle state where souls destined for Heaven are detained and purified. Souls in Purgatory cannot help themselves, for their time for meriting is past. But they can be helped by the faithful on earth, by prayers and other good works.

    In some places, at eight o'clock at night, the church bells sound to admonish the faithful to pray for the souls in Purgatory. This hour is in commemoration of Christ's prayer in the garden. We should then kneel and pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and the Requiem aeternam: "Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen."

    Belief in the utility of praying for the dead automatically includes belief in the existence of purgatory. If there were no Purgatory, it would be useless to pray for the dead, because saints in Heaven need no help, and those in hell are beyond aid.

    And we can be sure there will be no more Purgatory after the General Judgment; because the reason for its existence will have passed. Purgatory is a place of temporary punishment for those who have died in venial sin, or who have not fully satisfied God's justice for mortal sins already forgiven.

    A boy with a stone deliberately breaks a window pane; this is a venial sin punishable in Purgatory. Some argue that God is a good God, and will not punish such slight sins with the pains of Purgatory. We must remember, nevertheless, that the judgments of God are different from those of men, as His holiness is far above human holiness.

    "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the Heavens are exalted above the earth, so are My ways exalted above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts." Let us reverence God's holiness and justice, as we have loving confidence in His mercy.

    Another example - a man commits a cruel murder. This is a mortal sin which, unrepented and unconfessed, will send him to hell.

    The man repents, confesses, and obtains absolution for his sin; the guilt therefore is removed. But justice requires that he make up for the evil he has done; this atonement takes place in Purgatory, unless he makes full satisfaction before death.

    The doctrine of Purgatory is eminently consoling to the human heart. It consoles us when our loved ones die. Purgatory is a bond of union making us realize that death is not an eternal separation for the just, but only a loss of their bodily presence.

    Purgatory gives us an assurance that we are still in touch with our beloved dead. We are consoled by the knowledge that we can still help them with prayer, as in life we so helped them.

    The doctrine of the existence of Purgatory is not only reasonable, but its negation is eminently contrary to reason; it is taught in Holy Scripture, and has been taught by the Church from the very beginning.

    The doctrine of a middle state of purgation is taught in the Old Testament, and was firmly believed in by the Hebrews. After a battle, Judas Machabeus ordered prayers and sacrifices offered up for his slain comrades. "And making a gathering, he sent twelve drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For, if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid for them It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins" (2 Maccabees 12: 43-46).

    When Our Lord came on earth, He purified the Jewish Church of all those human changes that with the years had crept into its usages and beliefs. But He never reproved anyone for belief in a middle state of purgation, or prayers for the dead. On the contrary, Christ more than once implied the existence of purgatory. He said: "And whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this world, or in the world to come" (Matthew 12:32). When Our Lord said that a sin will not be forgiven in the next life, He left us to conclude that some sins will be thus forgiven. But in the next life, sins cannot be forgiven in Heaven: "There shall not enter into it anything defiled" (Apocalypse/Revelation 21:27). Neither can sins be forgiven in hell, for out of hell there is no redemption. They must therefore be forgiven in a middle state, Purgatory.

    Belief in the existence of Purgatory is a continuous and solemn teaching of the Church. From Saint Paul, the early Fathers, the Doctors of the Church, on through the ages, the Church has taught the existence of Purgatory, and the correlated doctrine of the usefulness of praying for the dead.

    From the beginning Christians prayed for the dead at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The oldest books used at Mass contain prayers for the dead. The doctrine of Purgatory was given solemn definition by the Council of Trent as follows: "There is a Purgatory, and the souls there detained are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the most acceptable sacrifice of the altar."

    This dogmatic definition contains three points of faith that all Catholics are compelled to believe;

  • (a) that there is a Purgatory;
  • (b) that after death souls suffer there for their sins;
  • (c) that the living can extend assistance to such souls.

    Reason demands belief in the existence of Purgatory. If a man dies with some slight sin on his soul, a sin of impatience, or an idle word, is he fit to enter Heaven? God's sanctity forbids it: "There shall not enter into it anything defileld" (Apocalypse/Revelation 21:27). But must such a soul be consigned to hell? God's mercy and justice forbid it.

    Therefore reason concludes the existence of a middle and temporary state of expiation, where the soul is cleansed from all stain of sin before it can be admitted into the perfect holiness and bliss of Heaven. "Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence, till thou pay the last farthing" (Matthew 5:26).

    Among nearly all peoples there has persisted a belief that souls must undergo some sort of purification after death. This would point to the doctrine of Purgatory. Not only is this what Catholics believe, but the Greek story of Prometheus implies a place of purgation. The Egyptians and others believed in the transmigration of souls. Legends and myths of all nations, as well as burial customs, indicate belief in the possibility of helping the dead.

    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 Holy 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.

    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 hind longs for the running waters, so my soul longs for You, O God. A thirst is my soul for God, the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God?" (Psalm 41:2,3).

    The general tradition of the Church is that they also suffer acutely in other ways. Saint Augustine believes that the sufferings of the poor souls are greater than the sufferings of all the martyrs. Saint Thomas believes the least pain there is greater than the greatest on earth.

    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 foundtions 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. Practiallly 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."

    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.

    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.

    How can we then help the holy souls suffering the temporary torments of Purgatory during their cleansing process?

    We can help the poor souls in Purgatory by assisting at Holy Mass, by our prayers, and by other good works.

    HOLY MASS:

        The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - the Immemorial Latin Mass of Tradition 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).

    ALMSGIVING:

        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 canot 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 OF CHARITY:

        The Heroic Act of Charity. 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.

        Those who make the Act may gain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the dead: (1) each day that they receive Holy Communion, if they have made their confession and visited a church or public oratory and prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father; (2) on Mondays if they attend Mass in supplication for the faithful departed, and fulfill the usual conditions.

        For making the Heroic Act of Charity, the following prayer is suggested: "O my God, I voluntarily offer to Thee through the mediation of Mary, all the works of satisfaction that I may make in this life, as well as all suffrages which may be offered for me, after my death, in behalf of the poor souls in Purgatory, placing myself entirely at Thy 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 a 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."

    Next issue: Purgatory Part Two


    December 1-4, 2004
    Wednesday-Saturday
    vol 15, no. 191
    LIVING OUR FAITH