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It is, therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead. -
II. Mach. xii. 26.

For the spirits who have fled
From the earth which once they trod;
For the loved and faithful dead,
We beseech the living God!
Oh! receive and love them!
By the grave where Thou wert lying,
By the anguish of Thy dying,
Spread Thy wings above them;
Grant Thy pardon unto them,
_Dona eis requiem!_

Long they suffered here below,
Outward fightings, inward fears;
Ate the cheerless bread of woe, -
Drank the bitter wine of tears: -
Now receive and love them!
By Thy holy Saints' departures,
By the witness of Thy martyrs,
Spread Thy wings above them.
On the souls in gloom who sit,
_Lux eterna luceat_!

Lord, remember that they wept,
When Thy children would divide;
Lord, remember that they slept
On the bosom of Thy Bride;
And receive and love them!
By the tears Thou couldst not smother;
By the love of Thy dear Mother,
Spread Thy wings above them.
To their souls, in bliss with Thee,
_Dona pacem, Domini_!

Grant our prayers, and bid them pray,
O thou Flower of Jesse's stem;
Lend a gracious ear when they,
Plead for us, as we for them.
_Deus Angelorum_,
_Dona eis requiem_,
_Et beatitudinem_.
_Cordibus eorum_
_Jesu, qui salutam das_
_Micat lumen animas_!

- _Acolytus_.


[Footnote 1: New York _Tablet_, Nov. 12, 1864.]


Nothing in the whole grand scheme of Religion is more beautiful than
the tender care of the Church over her departed children. Not content
with providing for their spiritual wants during their lives, and
sending them into eternity armed with and strengthened by the last
solemn Sacraments, blessing their departure from, as she blessed their
entrance into, this world, her maternal solicitude follows them beyond
the grave, and penetrates to the dreary prison in the Middle State
where, happily, they may be, as the Apostle says, "cleansed so as by
fire." With the tender compassion of a fond mother, the Church,
_our_ mother, yearns over the sufferings of her children, all the
dearer to her because they suffer in the Lord, and by His holy will.

By every means within her power she aids these blessed souls who are at
once so near Heaven, and so far from it; by solemn prayers, by
sacrifice, by continual remembrance of them in all her good works, she
gives them help and comfort herself, while encouraging the faithful to
imitate her example in that respect by numerous and great Indulgences,
and by the crown of eternal blessedness she holds out to those who
perform faithfully and in her own proper spirit this Seventh Spiritual
Work of Mercy - "to pray for the living _and the dead_." In every
Mass that is said the long year round on each of her myriad altars, a
solemn commemoration is made for the Dead immediately after the
Elevation of the Sacred Host, the great Atoning Sacrifice of the New
Law; in all the other public offices of the Church, "the faithful
departed" are tenderly remembered, and, to crown the efforts of her
maternal charity, the second day of November of every year is set apart
for the solemn remembrance of these her most beloved and most afflicted
children, for whose benefit and relief all the Masses of that day
throughout the whole Catholic world are specially offered up. Nay, more
than that, the entire month of November is devoted to the Souls in
Purgatory, and the good works and pious prayers of all the holy
communities who spend their lives in commune with God are offered up
with that benign intention during the month.

In Catholic countries, the faithful are touchingly reminded of this sad
though pleasing duty to their departed brethren, by the tolling of the
several convent and church bells at eight o'clock in the evening, at
which time the different communities unite in reciting the solemn _De
Profundis_, and other prayers for the dead. Solemn and sonorous we
have heard that passing-bell, year after year, booming through the
darkness and storm of the November night in a northern land [1] where
the pious customs of the best ages of France, transplanted over two
centuries ago, flourish still in their pristine beauty and touching

[Footnote 1: Eastern, or French Canada, now known as the Province of

But, though all Catholics may not hear the _De Profundis_ bell of
November nights, nor all households kneel at evening hour to join in
spirit with the pious communities who are praying then for the faithful
departed, yet all Catholics know when, on the first of November, they
celebrate the great and joyous festival of All Saints, that the next
day will bring the mournful solemnity of All Souls, when the altars of
the Church will be draped with black, and her ministers robed in the
same sombre garb, whilst offering the "Clean Oblation" of the New Law
for the souls who are yet in a state of purgation in the other life.

To the deep heart of Catholic piety nothing can be more sensibly
touching than "the black Mass" of All Souls' Day. If the feast be not
celebrated by the laity as it so faithfully is by the Church, it
certainly ought to be, if the spirit of the faith be still amongst
them. The funereal solemnity of the occasion touches the deepest,
holiest sympathies in every true Catholic heart, reminding each of
their loved and lost, and filling their souls with the soothing hope
that the Great Sacrifice then offered up for all the departed children
of the Church may release one or more of their nearest and dearest from
the cleansing fires of Purgatory. Then, while the funeral dirge fills
the sacred edifice, and the mournful _Dies Iræ_ thrills the hearts
of all, each one thinks of his own departed ones, and recalls with
indescribable sadness other just such celebrations in the years long
past, when those for whom they now invoke the mercy of Heaven were
still amongst the living. Then comes, too, the solemn thought that
some, perhaps many, of those then present in life and health may be
numbered with the dead before All Souls' Day comes round again, and a
voice from the depths of the Christian heart asks, "May not I, too, be
then with the dead?"

When noting with surprise and regret how many Catholics neglect the
celebration of All Souls' Day, we have often endeavored to account for
such strange apathy. Surely, if the charity of the Church do not
inspire them - if they do not feel, with the valiant Macchabeus of old,
that "it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the Dead that
they may be loosed from their sins" - if natural affection, even, do not
move them to think of the probable sufferings of their own near and
dear - sufferings which they may have it in their power to alleviate - at
least, a motive of self-interest ought to make them reflect that when
they themselves are with the dead, retributive justice may leave them
forgotten by their own flesh and blood, as they forget others now. But
to those who do faithfully unite with the Church in her solemn
commemoration of the faithful departed on All Souls' Day, nothing can
be more soothing to the deep heart of human sadness, as nothing is more
imposing, or more strikingly illustrative of that Catholic charity,
that all-embracing charity which has its life and fountain within the


THE respect due to cemeteries is too closely connected with the
doctrine of Purgatory for us to omit observing here that those asylums
of the dead, being the objects of pious reverence, even amongst
infidels, ought to be still more so amongst us. It was in this
connection that Mgr. Pelletan, Arch-priest of the Cathedral of Algiers,
wrote thus on the 13th of March, 1843:

"Here in Algiers, do we not see, every Friday, the Mussulman Arab,
wandering pensively through his cemetery, placing on some venerated and
beloved grave bouquets of flowers, branches of boxwood; wrapped in his
bornouse, he sits for hours beside it, motionless and thoughtful; lost
in gentle melancholy, it would seem as though he were holding intimate
and mysterious converse with the dear departed one whose loss he

"But for us, Christians, nourished, enlightened by the truth of God,
what special homage, what profound reverence we should manifest towards
the remains of our fathers, our brethren who died in the same faith!
Oh, let us remember the first faithful - the martyrs - the catacombs! The
cemetery is for us the land where grows invisibly the harvest of the
elect; it is the sleeping world of intelligence; sheltered are its
peaceful slumbers in the bosom of nature ever young, ever fruitful; the
crowd of the dead pressed together beneath those crosses, under those
scattered flowers, is the crowd that will one day rise to take
possession of the infinite future, from which it is only separated by
some sods of turf.

"Hence how lively, how motherly has ever been the solicitude of the
Church in this respect! She wishes that the ground wherein repose the
remains of her children be blessed and consecrated ground; she purifies
it with hyssop and holy water; she calls down upon it by her humble
supplications, the benediction of Him who disposes according to His
will of things visible and invisible, of souls and of bodies; she
wishes that the cross should rise in its midst, that her children may
rest in peace in its shade while awaiting the grand awaking; even as a
temple and a sanctuary, she banishes from it games, noise of all kinds,
and even all that savors of levity or irreverence." - _Dictionnaire
d'Anecdotes Chrétiens, p_. 993.


Some say, like Lessing in his "Treatise on Theology," "What hinders us
from admitting a Purgatory? as if the great majority of Christians had
not really adopted it. No, this intermediate state being taught and
recognized by the ancient Church, notwithstanding the scandalous abuses
to which it gave rise, should not be absolutely rejected."

Others, with Dr. Forbes (_controv. pontif. princip., anno_ 1658):
cannot be rejected as useless by Protestants. They should respect the
judgment of the primitive Church, and adopt a practice sanctioned by
the continuous belief of so many ages. We repeat that prayer for the
dead is a salutary practice."

Several others, rising to our point of view, drawing their inspiration
from the sources of Catholic charity, tell you, with the theologian
Collier (Part II. p. 100): "Prayer for the dead revives the belief in
the immortality of the soul, withdraws the dark veil which covers the
tomb, and establishes relations between this world and the other. Had
it been preserved, we should probably not have had amongst us so much
incredulity. I cannot conceive why our Church, which is so remote from
the primitive times of Christianity, should have abandoned or disdained
a custom that had never been interrupted; which, on the contrary, as we
have reason to believe from Scripture, existed in ancient times; which
was practiced in the Apostolic age, in the time of miracles and
revelations; introduced amongst the articles of faith, and never
rejected, except by Arius."

"It was evidently in use in the Church in the time of St. Augustine,
and down to the sixteenth century. If we do nothing for our dead, if we
omit to occupy ourselves with them and pray for them, as was formerly
done in the Holy Supper, we break off all intercourse with the Saints;
and then, how could we dare to say that we remain in communion with the
blessed? And if we break off in this way from the most noble part of
the universal Church, may it not be said that we mutilate our belief
and reject one of the articles of the Christian faith?"

"Yes," says the German Sheldon, in his turn, "prayer for the dead is
one of the most ancient and most efficacious practices of the Christian

You have just heard the sound of some bells; listen again and you shall
hear something different.

You think, then, that there are Protestants who admit Purgatory and
others who deny it? You are mistaken! There are some who at once admit
and do not admit it. This is difficult to comprehend, but it is so,
nevertheless, and this is how they take it:

On the one side, they will have nothing but hell, pure and simple; this
is the Catholic side; but on the other is the philosophic side, the
eternity of horrible pains is something too hard; and then, why not a
hell that will end a little sooner, or a little later? For, in fine,
there are small criminals and great criminals. So that their temporary
hell - that is to say, having an end - being, after all, nothing more
than one Purgatory, it follows that, having broken with us because they
did not want Purgatory, they broke off again because they wanted
Purgatory only. - _Dictionnaire d'Anecdotes_, 998-9.

Mr. Thorndike, a Protestant theologian, says: "The practice of the
Church of interceding for the dead at the celebration of the Eucharist,
is so general and so ancient, that it cannot be thought to have come in
upon imposture, but that the same aspersion will seem to take hold of
the common Christianity."

The Protestant translators of Du Pin observe, that St. Chrysostom, in
his thirty-eighth homily on the Philippians, says, that to pray for the
faithful departed in the tremendous mysteries, was decreed by the

The learned Protestant divine, Dr. Jeremy Taylor, writes thus: "We find
by the history of the Machabees, that the Jews did pray and make
offerings for the dead, which appears by other testimonies, and by
their form of prayer still extant, which they used in the captivity.
Now, it is very considerable, that since our Blessed Saviour did
reprove all the evil doctrines and traditions of the Scribes and
Pharisees, and did argue concerning the dead and the resurrection, yet
He spake no word against this public practice, but left it as He found
it; which He who came to declare to us all the will of His Father would
not have done, if it had not been innocent, pious, and full of charity.
The practice of it was at first, and was universal: it being plain both
in Tertullian and St. Cyprian, and others."

"Clement," says Bishop Kaye, "distinguishes between sins committed
before and after baptism: the former are remitted at baptism, the
latter are purged by discipline.... The necessity of this purifying
discipline is such, that if it does not take place in this life, it
must after death, and is then to be effected by fire, not by a
destructive, but a discriminating fire, pervading the soul which passes
through it." - _Clem_., ch. xii.


I stood upon an unknown shore,
A deep, dark ocean, rolled beside;
Dear, loving ones were wafted o'er
That silent and mysterious tide.

To most persons, the idea of Purgatory is simply one of pain; they try
to avoid thinking about it, because the subject is unpleasant, and
people's thoughts do not naturally revert to painful subjects; they
feel that it is a place to which they must go at least, if they escape
worse; they must suffer, they cannot help it, and so the less they
think about it beforehand, the better. Purgatory and suffering are to
them synonymous terms; perhaps fear keeps them from some sins which,
without this salutary apprehension, they would readily fall into; but,
on the whole, they take their chance, and hope for the best. This,
perhaps, is the view of a large class of people, and of those who will
scarcely own to themselves what they think on the subject; but their
lives are the tell-tales, and we cannot but fear that to escape hell is
the utmost effort of many who apparently are good Catholics. Still, we
would not say that they do not love God, that they are not in many ways
pleasing to Him; but, oh! how many there are who only want a little
more generosity to become Saints! Then, there is another class, further
on in their heavenward journey - souls who do love God, who do seek only
to please Him, who are generous, often even noble-hearted, in their
Master's service; souls who can say, "Our Father," and look up with
child-like love to Heaven; but even with such, and perhaps with almost
all, the feeling about Purgatory is much the same; it is a sort of
necessary evil; a something that must be endured. They feel strongly
all that justice demands; their very sanctity and goodness lead them to
desire that that which is evil in them should be taken out, even by
fire; but still there are few that do really see the deep, deep love of
Purgatory. We are very far from wishing to hinder people from thinking
less of its sufferings - nay, rather their very intenseness and severity
only pleads our case more strongly. All that has been revealed to the
Saints, all that has been made known to us by the Church or tradition,
proclaims the same fact. Suffering, intense, unearthly anguish, is the
portion of those most blessed souls; and it has been said that the
pains of Purgatory only differ in duration from those of hell. Still,
there is this difference - oh! blessed be God, there is this difference,
and it is all we could ask: in hell, the damned blaspheme their Master
with the demons that torment them; in Purgatory, the holy souls love
their God with the angelic choirs who await their entrance to the land
of bliss. If the souls of the damned could love, hell would cease to be
hell; if the souls of the blessed ones in prison could cease to love,
Purgatory would be worse to them than a thousand such hells.

* * * * *

Yes; Purgatory is love, and if it be true that the love of God extends
even to hell, because its torments might be worse, did not His infinite
mercy temper His infinite justice, how much more truly may this be said
of Purgatory! We have no wish to enter into any detailed account of
what the pains of Purgatory are supposed to be; this is a subject for
the pen of the theologian, or the raptures of the Saint. Awful and
terrible we know they are. But there is one suffering which we wish to
speak of, because we cannot but hope, if people reflected upon it
seriously, that they would learn to think of Purgatory less as a
necessary evil, and more as a most tender mercy, and be more inclined
to enter into a hearty co-operation with those who are anxious to help
the poor souls in this awful prison.

Surely, the one object of our whole lives is, not so much to get to
Heaven because we shall be happy there, as to see Jesus forever and
forever, to be near Him, to gaze on Him, and to love Him without fear;
for then love will be fearless, because suffering and sin will have

And what will happen when we die? Oh! if we were sent to Purgatory
without seeing Jesus, we might bear it better. There have been souls on
earth privileged to suffer for months the pains of the holy souls, and
they have lived and borne the pain, and longed, if it were possible,
even for more; but they had not seen Jesus as we shall see Him at the
moment of our death. The very thought makes us shudder and our life-
blood run cold. What if we should indeed be saved, we who have so
trembled and feared, and known not whether we were worthy of love or
hatred? What if we should behold the face of Divinest Majesty gaze upon
us even for one moment in tenderness? And yet, unless we see it in
unutterable wrath, this will be. But what then? Shall we see it
forever? Shall our eyes gaze on and on, and feast themselves on that
sight for all eternity? ... Ah! not yet; we must lose sight of that
vision of delight; it must be withdrawn from us - not, thank God, in
anger, but in sorrow. Oh! what are the pains of Purgatory, what the
burning of its fire, in comparison with the suffering which the soul
endures when separated, even for a moment, from her God? Who can tell,
who can understand, who can even faintly guess, what will be the
anguish of longing which shall consume our very being? But why must
this be? Why does love, infinite, tender love, inflict such intense
pain? Why does the parent turn away from his child, and forbid him his
presence for a time? Is it that he loves him less than when he lavished
on him the tenderest caresses? ... Why, but because suffering is needed
as an atonement to justice, because love cannot be perfected without
fear. "It is here tried and purified, but hath in Heaven its perfect
rest." Oh! the love of Purgatory! we shall never know it, or understand
it, until we are there. Yes, we cannot but think that the greatest, the
keenest suffering of the soul will be the remembrance of that which it
has seen for a passing moment, and the pining to behold again and
forever the face of God. It has been revealed to Saints that so intense
is this desire, that the soul would gladly place itself even in the
most fearful tortures, could it thus become more quickly purged from
that which withholds it from the presence of God. Did we but well
consider, and enter into this feeling, we should be much more careful
about our imperfections and our venial sins.

* * * * *

The Saints have ever desired suffering, and consider it as the greatest
favor which could be bestowed upon them; not that it is in itself
desirable, but because it perfects love. Let us, then, we who are not
Saints, think of Purgatory with more affection; let us rejoice that, if
we are not privileged to have keen, unearthly anguish in this life, we
shall yet suffer, and suffer intensely, in the next. Our love will be
purified; our dross be purged away; the weary pain which we feel
continually when we think how vile we are in the sight of God, how the
eye of Jesus, with all its tenderness, must often turn from us in
sorrow - the weary pain, the deep degradation of misery and sin, will
one day cease; we shall not tremble under our Father's eye, or long to
hide ourselves from our Father's countenance. Now we must often feel,
when trying with our whole hearts to please God, how impure, how
sullied we are before Him. Our pride, our vanity, our impatience, our
self-love, are all there. God sees them; how can He, then, look on us
as we desire He should? And often we almost long to be in those purging
flames, even should it be for years and years, that this vileness might
be burned away.



Well beseems
That we should help them wash away the stains
They carried hence; that so, made pure and light,
They may spring upward to the starry spheres.
Ah! so may mercy tempered justice rid
Your burdens speedily; that ye have power
To stretch your wing, which e'en to your desire
Shall lift you.




The day of wrath, that dreadful day
Shall the whole world in ashes lay,
As David and Sybils say.

What horror will invade the mind,
When the strict Judge, who would be kind,
Shall have few venial faults to find!

The last loud trumpet's wondrous sound
Must thro' the rending tombs rebound,
And wake the nations underground.

Nature and death shall with surprise
Behold the pale offender rise,
And view the Judge with conscious eyes.

Then shall with universal dread,
The sacred mystic book be read,
To try the living and the dead.

The Judge ascends His awful throne,
He makes each secret sin be known,
And all with shame confess their own.

O then! what int'rest shall I make,
To save my last important stake,
When the most just have cause to quake!

Thou mighty formidable King!
Thou mercy's unexhausted spring!
Some comfortable pity bring.
Forget not what my ransom cost,
Nor let my dear-bought soul be lost,
In storms of guilty terror tost.

Thou, who for me didst feel such pain,
Whose precious blood the cross did stain,
Let not those agonies be vain.

Thou whom avenging powers obey,
Cancel my debt (too great to pay)
Before the said accounting day.

Surrounded with amazing fears,
Whose load my soul with anguish hears,
I sigh, I weep, accept my tears.

Thou, who wast mov'd with Mary's grief,
And by absolving of the thief,
Hast given me hope, now give relief.

Reject not my unworthy prayer,
Preserve me from the dangerous snare,

Which death and gaping hell prepare.

Give my exalted soul a place
Among the chosen right hand race,
The sons of God, and heirs of grace.

From that insatiate abyss,
Where flames devour and serpents hiss,
Promote me to Thy seat of bliss.

Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 26 of 35)