"Oh, my friends, let us pray much, and let obtain many prayers from others, for the poor dead; the good God will render us
back the good we do to them a hundredfold. Ah! if every one knew how useful this devotion to the holy souls in purgatory is
to those practice it, they would not be forgotten so often; the good God regards all that we do for them as if it were done to Himself."
-- St. John Mary Vianney (Blessed Sacrament Book, Fr. Francis X. Lasance)
The maple leaf lies crimsoned on the grass.
Through the trees and across the russet fields there moves a mild yet bracing air that is softer and more soothing in the autumn sunshine, than at any other season. It seems almost a contempt of God's good gifts to stay indoors during these fine days of mellowed and colorful beauty. In the great outdoors, in nature's kingdom, the season of production has come to a solemn closing, and the season of rest begins.
What a sweet living parable and likeness of death all this is! Death is the graduation of a soul. "I am come that you may have life," said the Life Giver, "and that you may have it more abundantly." His definition of death, therefore, is: the entrance into a fuller life. The seed of the forest falls when it is ripe. The Reaper divine takes the soul when to Him it has reached its best development. That soul has answered every question which the Master put before it; the intellect saw each problem, and the will freely accepted or rejected; every answer created new form of development in that soul and the finished product, the character, was ripened for eternity. Then came the death-bed Graces, the clearer seeings, and the final endorsement or the cancellation of the entire life-work. Another soul is homeward gone. So passes the deathless spirit of man. Thus the good soul finds that single step, called death – strangely enough, a glad going-home.
Nothing defiled shall enter Heaven, is the teaching of the Holy Bible (Revel. 21:27). How saddening this teaching must be to all those who believe that the only alternative is hell! How many of our nearest and dearest friends have passed out of this life suddenly with un-repented faults on their souls! "There is no man that sinneth not." (3 Kings 8:46), "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. (1 Jn. 1:8) Surely, we all know of many a one who passed suddenly out of this world, who, in the estimation of everyone, was a person of good life and character, and yet there were faults, imperfections, lesser sins, in that soul at the instant of death. Who would be brutal enough to assert that that soul is in hell? And who would be unscriptural and rash enough to insist that he has directly gone into the presence of the Almighty Rewarder?
Saint Paul distinctly speaks of such, and in terms of mercy and reason: "He shall be saved, yet so as by fire," (I Cor. 3:15) Aha, the Author of the Scriptures is also the Author of man's intelligence. Christianity is in perfect harmony with the finest and highest "common sense." Reason compels us to distinguish between a man who strives to lead a good moral Christian life, though he has faults, and the vicious man who is proudly, resolutely, and hatefully rebellious against his God, and unjust and cruel towards his fellow-creature. There is a vast difference, too, between a crime or grievous sin, and a fault of human beings committed without full consent, or in matters of less importance. "Sin, when it is completed, begetteth death," says Saint James the Apostle in his Epistle (1;15.) Hence the ancient Catholic Church has always distinguished between mortal sin and venial sin. Mortal sin, like mortal wounds, is unto death – deserving of the loss of Heaven. Venial sin a lesser offense, is not enough to keep us from the attainment of Heaven. The man, therefore, who repents of his serious sins, and who dies with lesser sins upon his soul shall certainly be saved. "He shall be saved, yet so as by fire." A person who does not believe in the existence of such a place as purgatory, must close his eyes indeed to many passages of Sacred Scripture.
In the last part of the Old Testament (2 Machabees 12:46) we read the admonition; "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins."
Ecclesiasticus 7:37 urges us too to be mindful of our dear departed ones: "Restrain not grace from the dead."
Many other passages of the Bible refer to a place of cleansing after death: "The cleansing fire", "The refining pot", "The pit", "The place under the earth", "The furnace of purification", "The last farthing shall be paid!", "I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment."
And the learned and holy Fathers of the early Church are full of exhortation to the faithful not to forget in the charity of their prayers "those who are gone before us" into their eternity.
St. Chrysostom writes: "It was not without good reason ordained by the Apostles that mentioned should be made of the dead in the tremendous mysteries (the New Testament Sacrifice, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in which the living Body and Blood of the Redeemer are daily offered for the living and the dead), because they knew well that they would receive benefit from it."
Saint Augustine, a holy Bishop and one of the most brilliant minds in all Christendom, who lived in the early part of the fifth century tells us, in his Confessions, that his dear Christian mother shortly before her death made this last request of him: "Lay this body anywhere; let not the care of it in any way disturb you. This only I request of you, that you would remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you be."
Others writers, by the dozen might be quoted, Tertullian, Eusebius, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Saint Ephrem, Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, all showing their belief in prayer for the dead who have not yet been admitted to the presence of God but shall be.
Hence, it is only the insincere and unscholarly "historian" who can state that the teaching of Purgatory is a fiction of the middle ages. He knows little of the Middle Ages, so truly brilliant in the career of the Church, and he knows nothing of the early writings of the best and most outstanding Christian minds. The writings of early Christian years are the best test whether it has meddled with by destructive hands or whether it has properly and respectfully been handed down to us unchanged and unmutilated. Dear Christian, do you ever make this test of YOUR FAITH? Do you ever compare the sermons you hear with the writings of the first holy bishops of Christ's Church? You will be enlightened greatly if you do.
Be not terrified therefore at the saying, "Nothing defiled shall enter Heaven," as the Scriptures assure us that our Heavenly Father does not take us unawares from earth in order to deprive us from the share in His glory which is ours. "The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost." "I have loved you with an everlasting love." Therefore He created us to share His glory and enjoy His unspeakably blessed company forever. He only needs to fear who has made peace in his heart with mortal sin, with grievous wrongdoing, and who excludes God from his heart, his life, and his home. "He that shall confess Me before men, I will confess him before My Father who is in Heaven; and, he that shall deny Me before men, I shall also deny him before My Father who is in Heaven.
The Scriptures were written for us by the holy Bishops of the Church in order to be our guide through a wholesome Christian life into a happy eternity. They were left as evidence of Christ's life, his character, His Divinity, His Church, and His Sacraments. They are the written credentials of the Priesthood which he ordained, as men specially consecrated to renew daily the Sacrifice established for the New Testament at the time of the last supper. They tell us plainly, "My yoke is sweet, and My burden is light." "He that followeth Me walketh not in darkness." Hence, it is only when we have but a portion of Christ's doctrine in our minds that it can terrify any good-living person. If all the Christian world had continued in the unity of the Mother Church we should all still feel quite assured that "His mercy is above all His works," and it would still be an unshakable Christian conviction that there is a Heaven for the just, a hell for the reprobate, and a state of cleaning, or purgatory, for perhaps the great majority of erring humans. And the Christian world would be one in its charitable prayers for the dead. "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins."
-- by the Rev. Leo. G. Doetterl (The Guardian, November 11, 1933)
There are a great many ways in which we can come to the assistance of the Souls in Purgatory.
Foremost among the means by which our charity may be shown is to have the Holy Sacrifice of
the Mass offered for them. No other good work prayer or penance can be at all compared to this
supreme act of infinite worship and satisfaction. Yet how few there are who use this means of
discharging their bounden duties to the faithful departed!
What parity is there between the amount set aside for the celebration of Masses for the repose of the soul of a departed father or mother, and the sum expended for a handsome casket, costly funeral trappings, and the polished shaft that surmounts the grave? These are evidences of filial respect, no doubt, and perhaps more or less conscious tributes to personal vanity. The simple Cross that marks full many a grave has oftentimes been placed by one who has laid out for Masses a sum that would have procured a towering granite monument; and, alas! not a few columns reared above trimly-kept graves are sterile tributes to the worth of those from whose eternal rest few prayers have been offered.
During November, at least, let us remedy our remissness in this respect. As often as may be, let us have the ever-blessed currents of the Precious Blood poured on the flames that torment our dear ones in God's purgatorial crucible. Most of us, too, can apply to them our share in the merits of the daily Mass, at which we may be present, with very slight inconvenience. Among other suffrages that certainly lighten the woes of the Holy Souls in Purgatory is the offering of devout Confessions and Holy Communions. Our devout recitation of the Beads for the eternal repose of departed relatives or friends will insure for them the special patronage of the Queen of Purgatory. Indulgences almost without number, and all applicable to the Souls in Purgatory may be gained by making the Way of the Cross, the Stations. Many indulgenced prayers, the giving of alms to the poor and to the church, the performing of penances of all kinds are most excellent methods by which to come to the relief of our Dear Dead. If ever we entertained for any of those hapless Prisoners of the King sentiments of tender affection, of engrossing love, now is the time to prove the genuineness of our love.
-- Our Young People, A Home Magazine, 1916.
When those we love have departed this life we are very careful to have many Masses offered up for
the repose of their souls. We pray for them continually, and go to holy Communion for them, and ask
the prayers of others in their behalf. But as our grief subsides into gentle regrets, we begin to
think, and say: "Oh, so and so was so good, or humble, or charitable, or pious that surely by this
time he or she must be in heave. Quite oblivious of the fact that "God's ways are not our ways."
As the years pass onward, how often, perhaps, is the anniversary of the dear one overlooked
(we don't like to say forgotten), and Communions and prayers offered at irregular intervals that grow
wider as the claims of this world absorb the attention of careless people.
Meanwhile, how many souls are suffering, and crying out to their relations, and friends: "Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me." It is really melancholy to reflect how soon the dead are forgotten, especially by millions who have the inexpressible misfortune of being outside the pale of the Catholic Church. But for us, her children, whom she has instructed in the knowledge of Purgatory, surely there can be no excuse for careless neglect in praying for the Holy Souls. Therefore, should we make this devotion, this royal yet hidden exercise of charity be, as it were, our daily bread, our habitual recollection.
-- Our Young People, A Home Magazine, 1916.