The Church dedicates the month of November to the Holy Souls in Purgatory and exhorts us to pray for the release of those souls. In this post, I invite you to make this your daily prayer for the month. Why? Because the Holy Souls cannot help themselves, but our prayers can relieve their suffering, and the Church teaches us that it is a great spiritual work of mercy: to pray for the living and the dead .
In one Vision, Our Lord tells Gertrude that he longs for someone to ask Him to release souls from purgatory, just as a king who imprisons a friend for justice’s sake hopes that someone will beg for mercy for his friend. Jesus ends with:
“I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer.”
In another vision she was given the Prayer which Our Lord told her would release 1000 Souls from Purgatory every time it is said with love and devotion. “Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family.” (source)
That’s pretty powerful prayer with a great promise!
So what about this distinctly Catholic teaching?
Purgatory is one of those very misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church. Contrary to what one might think, it is a teaching rich in mercy. As Catholics, we need to understand it and defend it.
Generally, we’re pretty clear about Heaven and Hell. In fact, modern society seems to believe that few people will go to hell and most of us will go to Heaven because God is a loving God. Yes, it’s true that God is a loving God, but this ignores justice and His holiness – thus enters purgatory
Have you ever been asked, “Are you saved?” My guess is most of us have. I used to struggle with responding to the question. I can’t remember where I heard it, but a Catholic apologist replied, “Yes, and by the grace of God I’ll stay that way.”
The way I think about it is this: We are saved from something, not into something. Saved from an accident. Saved from starvation. Saved from a flood. We’re not saved into safety, or plenty, or dry land. We just don’t think of it that way. So, in my mind, when we’re saved, we’re saved from Hell, Eternal Damnation. But the question is: does that mean we are saved into to Heaven? No. Baptism saves us. The sacrament of reconciliation continually restores us. Grace keeps us from mortal sin. Purgatory saves us from Hell, but not necessarily into Heaven.
The Gospel of Luke helps us to understand this in chapter 12:
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. (Lk 12:)
Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Lk 12:10)
He also said to the crowds, “When you see [a] cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain—and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot—and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Lk 12:54-59)
So if we’re judged and sent to Heaven or Hell, places of finality, then how can be “not be released” until we have paid our debt. This implies that debt and purification remains and that there is a final release into the fullness of God.
The Catechism explains:
1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7). (954, 1472)
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (Mt 12:31)
Saint Faustina experienced visions of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Here we read her vision of Purgatory:
” …I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames, which were burning them, did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call Her “The Star of the Sea”. She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice which said] ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.’” (Diary, 20) ( from Saint Maria Faustina, Visions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. I highly recommend following this link!)
Catherine of Genoa, a fifteenth century mystic, wrote a Treatise on Purgatory. (I first heard about St. Catherine of Genoa at a talk given by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. She’s quite inspirational. I highly recommend following this link or downloading it here.) Check out the titles of each chapter and notice the tension between love and justice. This is precisely where mercy resides:
- The state of the souls who are in Purgatory, how they are exempt from all self-love.
- What is the joy of the souls in Purgatory. A comparison to shew how they see God ever more and more. The difficulty of speaking of this state.
- Separation from God is the chief punishment of Purgatory. Wherein Purgatory differs from Hell.
- Of the state of the souls in Hell and of the difference between them and those in Purgatory. Reflections of this saint on those who are careless of their salvation.
- Of the peace and the joy there are in Purgatory.
- A comparison to shew with what violence and what love the souls in Purgatory desire to enjoy God.
- Of God’s admirable wisdom in making Purgatory and Hell.
- Of the necessity of Purgatory. How terrible it is.
- How God and the souls in Purgatory look at each other. The saint acknowledges that in speaking of these matters she cannot express herself.
- How God uses Purgatory to make the soul wholly pure. The soul acquires in Purgatory a purity so great that were it well for it still to stay there after it had been purged of sin, it would no longer suffer.
- Of the desire of souls in Purgatory to be wholly cleansed of the stains of their sins. The wisdom of God who suddenly hides their faults from these souls.
- How suffering in Purgatory is coupled with joy.
- The souls in Purgatory are no longer in a state to acquire merit. How these souls look on the charity exercised for them in the world.
- Of the submission of the souls in Purgatory to God’s will.
- Reproaches which the souls in Purgatory make to people in the world.
- This Soul shews again how the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory are no hindrance at all to their peace and their joy.
- She concludes by applying all she has said of the souls in Purgatory to what she feels, and has proved in her own soul.
So today and during the entire month of November, I ask you, no I beg you, to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, that in God’s grace mercy and through our prayer and sacrifice, they may one day see God face to face and rest in his arms of love. Make the prayer of St. Gertrude the Great your daily prayer:
“Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family.”
Holy Souls in Purgatory, pray for us! Anne
A few pretty interesting additional links:
Tract on Purgatory from Catholic Answers