Why Orthodox Catholic Doctrine Matters: Our Obligations to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. A Guest Contribution by Cornelia Ferreira
DEVOTION TO THE HOLY SOULS IN PURGATORY
The following reflections are taken from The Purgatorian Manual, published by the Redemptorists (Imprimatur: Cardinal Spellman, 1946).
[According to St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists], “The practice of recommending to God the souls in Purgatory, that He may mitigate the great pains which they suffer, and that He may soon bring them to His glory, is most pleasing to the Lord and most profitable to us. For these blessed souls are His eternal spouses, and most grateful are they to those who obtain their deliverance from prison, or even a mitigation of their torments. When, therefore, they arrive in Heaven, they will be sure to remember all who have prayed for them. It is a pious belief that God manifests to them our prayers in their behalf, that they may also pray for us. These blessed souls are not in a state to pray for themselves, because they are, so to speak, criminals atoning for their faults. However, because they are very dear to God, they can pray for us.
“But if we wish for the aid of their prayers, it is just, it is even a duty, to relieve them by our suffrages. I say it is even a duty, for Christian charity commands us to relieve our neighbours who stand in need of our assistance. But who among all our neighbours have so great a need of our help as those holy prisoners? They are continually in that fire which torments more severely than any earthly fire. They are deprived of the sight of God, a torment more excruciating than all other pains. Among these suffering souls are relations and friends, who look to us for succour.
“Being in the condition of debtors for their sins, they cannot assist themselves. This thought should urge us forward to relieve them to the best of our ability. By assisting them we shall not only give great pleasure to God, but will acquire also great merit for ourselves. And, in return for our suffrages, these blessed souls will not neglect to obtain for us many graces, but particularly the grace of eternal life.”
The holy Doctor urges the faithful to do all in their power to relieve and liberate these blessed souls, by procuring Masses to be said for them, by alms, and by their own fervent prayers.
It has always been the belief of Holy Church that the faithful, united in the Communion of Saints, can mutually assist each other. As the Saints in Heaven pray for us, so must we also offer our petitions for the suffering souls in Purgatory, that God, in His goodness and mercy, may shorten their punishment, and hasten their entrance into Heaven. It is the doctrine of the Church that the faithful upon earth are able to relieve the temporal punishment of the holy souls in Purgatory.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Charity towards the holy souls is a mark of predestination. Those who bestow mercy upon the suffering souls shall themselves find great assistance in Purgatory. The assistance of the holy souls is also experienced in temporal wants.
“With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:2). Cardinal Cajetan says: “Those who forget the departed will be deprived in Purgatory of all participation in good works and devout prayers, though ever so many be offered for them, for Divine Justice is wont in this manner to punish their hardness of heart.” The faithful who do not forget the suffering souls completely, but seldom think of them, will not be deprived of intercessors entirely, but will derive very little help. Their complaints will be answered by St. Paul’s words: “He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly” (2 Cor. 9:6).
The commemoration of “All Souls” (November 2nd) was instituted by the Church as a day of special prayer for the faithful departed who are as yet deprived of the blissful contemplation of God. These holy souls endure agonizing torments, and count the lingering moments of time, while awaiting release from prison, or at least some relief in their intense pain. They have special confidence in their friends and relatives upon earth, hoping to be lovingly cherished in their memory and aided by their fervent prayers. The anniversary of All Souls should serve to revive our devotion in behalf of the suffering souls, and induce us to make ample amends for our neglect of this duty during the year.
Order the traditional prayerbook Instructions and Devotions for the Sick, Dying and Deceased, which contains many prayers for the souls in Purgatory, and comes with a free novena leaflet for one recently deceased: http://canisiusbooks.com/books/pryrbk.htm.