The White Lily Blog

Help A Brother Out

Liberalism hesitates to pronounce the words hell or purgatory in pulpit or in publication, but it is the ancient teaching of the Church, still and always in force, that even when we aim for heaven, live lives of piety, and die in a state of grace, we are lucky to reach purgatory. Almost everyone must go there for a period of purification before we may enter heaven. What is purgatory? Where is it? Does it hurt?

You betcha! St. Thomas says there is a fire there like the fire we know on earth, and we shall burn in it and yet not burn up. St. Augustine says that it is even more intense than flame as we know it in this dimension. St. Cyril of Alexandria said it would be better to live in great physical and mental suffering until the end of time than to pass one day in purgatory.

Saints (like saints Malachy, Vincent Ferrer, Louis Bertrand) were given many revelations about purgatory. They wrote that even the holiest of souls are there for extensive amounts of time. Why is this? Theologians reason that if souls are condemned to Hell for all eternity for one single mortal sin, it is not surprising that other souls are detained for decades in purgatory for countless deliberate venial sins, some of which are so serious that we often are unsure if they be mortal or venial when we commit them.

And, of course, we confess our mortal sins and yet, very often, do little or no penance, so that tab mounts as well. The sins are remitted by absolution, it is true, this is God’s mercy, but the pains earned by these sins remain an unpaid bill that comes due at our last breath. Christianity is unique among religions in teaching the mercy of God even in the last-minute deathbed repentance of outrageously sinful lives, but the Church does not teach that we cheat justice thereby as well.

The malice of sin is so very great. Our selfishness, our unkindness, our coldness to God and neighbor, our laziness and our greed, our mean, hard hearts, our lack of gratitude for all that we have, this is our reality. We scarcely think about God. Our care is all for self, and year by year the bill mounts. Thus purgatory exists, where we pay in pain to all the five senses, so teaches St. Thomas, for a terribly long time, with horrible smells in their infinite sickening variations, tortuous sounds like a fingernail across a board and a baby eternally screaming and off-key music and overloud shrieks, constant hunger that neither kills nor lessens, terrible thirst, itches and rashes; and all the varieties of pain, shooting, throbbing, stabbing, aching; and every variety of mental discomfort, worry and confusion and loneliness and shame. The ever-present sensation of burning, emotionally and physically.

This is not for a few people, either! It was revealed to a Carmelite nun in Pamploma who was very dedicated to prayer and sacrifice for her departed sisters that most of them, all holy nuns, spent forty, fifty, and even sixty years in purgatory. So what may the ordinary person like ourselves expect? And since after death we are helpless, there is nothing we can do except suffer through our time.

Except for the prayers of the living!

But why would we living pray for the dead rather than for ourselves? Out of charity and love, of course, especially toward members of our families, especially toward our friends. But for purely selfish reasons as well. Because the holy souls can help us. And they are powerful. Because we will get more than we give. There have been numerous miracles (cures, protection in dangerous circumstances, and economic benefits) recorded by the Church for those who pray generously. Saints have written that their prayers are most quickly granted when they ask for the intercession of the souls in purgatory. How can we pray for dead? There are very many ways, some of them attached to a plenary indulgence:

• Assist at Mass, offering it for the holy souls
• Pay the stipend to have Mass offered for the holy souls.
• Pray the official prayer for the dead, the De Profundis, or the Office of the Dead from the divine office
• Pray the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross with that intention, which can help fulfill the conditions for a plenary indulgence that could all by itself send a soul to heaven at once
• Obtain a plenary indulgence for the holy souls in any of the other ways suggested in the link above
• Offer up our sacrifices, our works of mercy, or our physical or mental suffering for them
• light a candle for them
• join an association or start a holy souls prayer group

Please visit the Seven Helpers of the Holy Souls or its US counterpart, the Helpers of the Holy Souls to find many valuable ideas to help the souls in purgatory, as well as personal support for your efforts.

This post summarized many of the ideas found in Father Paul O’Sullivan’s Read Me or Rue It, formerly available from Tan books, apparently now out of print but still available at AbeBooks.

2 Comments so far
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I like your encouragement to say the Officium Defunctorum.

It is a pity that one can so rarely find the old prayer books which have the Officium Parvum together with the Officum Defunctorum.

Indulgentiam quam semper optaverunt – sums up what we should be desiring in our lives.

Comment by Bryan

Good job Janet,..hopefully we won’t be canonizing Pope Hans Kung, Saints Richard McBrien and Joan Chittister as well!

Comment by Marco Mastro

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