In the 40 days of preparation for the great feast of the Resurrection at Easter, we should be trying to dedicate a little more time each day to drawing closer to Our Lord in prayer. Let us not forget to include in our prayers all those who have passed on from this life but have not yet entered into the eternal joys of Heaven. These are the souls who are suffering in Purgatory, the ‘antechamber’ to Heaven, where they are being purged from past sins, and all remaining traces of sinful behaviour, for we are told that: “nothing impure will ever enter [Heaven]” (Rev. 21:27).
In his The City of God, St Augustine says that “temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment” (21:13). It is between the particular and general judgments, then, that the soul is purified of the remaining consequences of sin: “I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Luke 12:59).
These words of Our Lord are not harsh (as perhaps some might say). Not one suffering soul in Purgatory could bear to enter into the Presence of God until he had indeed “paid” his due remaining for every past sin, or vestige of sin still staining his soul – for such is our greater knowledge of the supreme goodness and majesty of God after death. These souls cannot help themselves any longer, and rely solely on the prayers and sacrifices of the Church Militant on Earth – in other words, on you and me – to release them from the pains of Purgatory.
In a most thoughtful and discerning post, Praying for the Church Suffering, fellow blogger Brian Williams (liturgy guy), has described how Purgatory is often the “Forgotten Doctrine” of our modern times!:
“Those of an older generation have shared their experiences of growing up in a Church that consistently spoke of those members of the Church Suffering who were in need of our prayers and sacrifices. It would seem that in recent decades many in the Church have intentionally neglected speaking about the souls in purgatory.
We can wonder if the modern ecumenical movement is not somewhat to blame. One might ask if many of our clergy and catechists downplay, or even ignore, instructing the faithful about purgatory since it can be a stumbling block for non-Catholic Christians. Many have gone years without ever hearing a homily which even touched upon sin and hell, let alone purgatory.
At the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent the Church clearly stated both the need to affirm the doctrine of purgatory as well as the consequences of failing to do so:
‘If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.’ (Canon 30)”
Some strong, clear teaching in Canon 30! It proclaims that it is our duty therefore, as Christians, to remember in prayer our deceased family, friends and all those poor souls “who have no one to pray for them” (Our Lady at Fatima). It is wrong, and of no favour to the person who has just died, to proclaim them already in Heaven. Naturally, we hope and pray that through the mercy of God, and the Sacrificial merits of Our Blessed Saviour, that they will reach Heaven one day, but we should not be so ready ‘to beatify’ them immediately after death. To do so would be misplaced kindness. Let us not forget: it is believed that most of the “faithfully departed” pass through Purgatory before they may behold, with incomparable joy, the Beatific Vision for all eternity.
One day we shall die and it will be our turn to be in need of prayer and sacrifice from the members of the Church Militant. So let us truly “love our neighbour” suffering in Purgatory, who is silently imploring our help right now, and have hope that we too will be remembered in the prayers of our loved ones and the Church on Earth when we pass from this life to the next.
Prayer by Bl J. H. Newman for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
O GOD of the Spirits of all flesh, O Jesu, Lover of souls, we recommend unto Thee the souls of all those Thy servants, who have departed with the sign of faith and sleep the sleep of peace. We beseech Thee, O Lord and Saviour, that, as in Thy mercy to them Thou became man, so now Thou would hasten the time, and admit them to Thy presence above. Remember, O Lord, that they are Thy creatures, not made by strange gods, but by Thee, the only Living and True God; for there is no other God but Thou, and none that can equal Thy works. Let their souls rejoice in Thy light, and impute not to them their former iniquities, which they committed through the violence of passion, or the corrupt habits of their fallen nature. For, although they have sinned, yet they always firmly believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and before they died, they reconciled themselves to Thee by true contrition and the Sacraments of Thy Church.
O Gracious Lord, we beseech Thee, remember not against them the sins of their youth and their ignorances; but according to Thy great mercy, be mindful of them in Thy heavenly glory. May the heavens be opened to them, and the Angels rejoice with them. May the Archangel St Michael conduct them to Thee. May Thy holy Angels come forth to meet them, and carry them to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem. May St Peter, to whom Thou gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, receive them. May St Paul, the vessel of election, stand by them. May St John, the beloved disciple, who had the revelation of the secrets of heaven, intercede for them. May all the Holy Apostles, who received from Thee the power of binding and loosing, pray for them. May all the Saints and elect of God, who in this world suffered torments for Thy Name, befriend them; that, being freed from the prison beneath, they may be admitted into the glories of that kingdom, where with the Father and the Holy Ghost Thou lives and reigns one God, world without end.
Come to their assistance, all ye Saints of God; gain for them deliverance from their place of punishment; meet them, all ye Angels; receive these holy souls, and present them before the Lord. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine on them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.