Mrs. James Sadlier.

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instructions, which served him all his life-time after. Do you the
same; and believe it, though Purgatory fire is a kind of baptism, and
is so styled by some of the holy Fathers, because it cleanses a soul
from all the dross of sin, and makes it worthy to see God, yet is it
your sweetest course, here to baptize yourself frequently in the tears
of contrition, which have a mighty power to cleanse away all the
blemishes of sin; and so prevent in your own person, and extinguish in
others, those baptismal flames of Purgatory fire, which are so
dreadful. (Pp. 151, 152.)

[Footnote 1: Baronius, _An_. 874.]

* * * * *

What shall I say of those other nations, whose natural piety led them
to place burning lamps at the sepulchres of the dead, and strew them
over with sweet flowers and odoriferous perfumes. [1] Do they not put
Christians in mind to remember the dead, and to cast after them the
sweet incense of their devout sighs and prayers, and the perfumes of
their alms-deeds, and other good works?

[Footnote 1: Herod lib. 2.]

It was very usual with the old Romans to shed whole floods of tears, to
reserve them in phial-glasses, and to bury them with the urns, in which
the ashes of their dead friends were carefully laid up; and by them to
set lamps, so artificially composed as to burn without end. By which
symbols they would give us to understand, that neither their love nor
their grief should ever die; but that they would always be sure to
have tears in their eyes, love in their hearts, and a constant memory
in their souls for their deceased friends....

They had another custom, not only in Rome but elsewhere, to walk about
the burning pile where the corpse lay, and, with their mournful
lamentations, to keep time with the doleful sound of their trumpets;
and still, every turn, to cast into the fire some precious pledge of
their friendship. The women themselves would not stick to throw in
their rings, bracelets, and other costly attires, nay, their very hair
also, the chief ornament of their sex; and they would have been
sometimes willing to have thrown in both their eyes, and their hearts
too. Nor were there some wanting, that in earnest threw themselves into
the fire, to be consumed with their dear spouses; so that it was found
necessary to make a severe law against it; such was the tenderness that
they had for their deceased friends, such was the excess of a mere
natural affection. Now, our love is infused from Heaven; it is
supernatural, and consequently ought to be more active and powerful to
stir up our compassion for the souls departed; and yet we see the
coldness of Christians in this particular; how few there are who make
it their business to help poor souls out of their tormenting flames. It
is not necessary to make laws to hinder any excess in this article; it
were rather to be wished that a law were provided to punish all such
ungrateful persons as forgot the duty they owe to their dead parents,
and all the obligations they have to the rest of their friends. (Pp.

* * * * *

It is a pleasure to observe the constant devotion of the Church of
Christ in all ages, to pray for the dead. And first, to take my rise
from the Apostles' time, there are many learned interpreters, who hold
that baptism for the dead, of which the Apostle speaks, [1] to be meant
only of the much fasting, prayer, alms-deeds, and other voluntary
afflictions, which the first Christians undertook for the relief of
their deceased friends. But I need not fetch in obscure places to prove
so clear an Apostolical and early custom in God's Church.

[Footnote 1: Cor. xv 29.]

You may see a set form of prayer for the dead prescribed in all the
ancient liturgies of the Apostles. [1] Besides, St. Clement [2] tells
us, it was one of the chief heads of St. Peter's sermons, to be daily
inculcating to the people this devotion of praying for the dead; and
St. Denis [3] sets down at large the solemn ceremonies and prayers,
which were then used at funerals; and receives them no otherwise than
as Apostolical traditions, grounded upon the Word of God. And
certainly, it would have done you good to have seen with what gravity
and devotion that venerable prelate performed the divine office and
prayer for the dead, and what an ocean of tears he drew from the eyes
of all that were present.

[Footnote 1: Liturgia utrinque, S. Jacobi, S. Math., S. Marci, S. Clem.]

[Footnote 2: Epist. I.]

[Footnote 3: S Dion. _Eccles. Hier_. C. 7.]

Let Tertullian [1] speak for the next age. He tells us how carefully
devout people in his time kept the anniversaries of the dead, and made
their constant oblations for the sweet rest of their souls. "Here it
is," says this grave author, "that the widow makes it appear whether or
no she had any true love for her husband; if she continue yearly to do
her best for the comfort of his soul." ... Let your first care be, to
ransom him out of Purgatory, and when you have once placed him in the
empyrean heaven, he will be sure to take care for you and yours. I know
your excuse is, that having procured for him the accustomed services of
the Church, you need do no more for him; for you verily believe he is
already in a blessed state. But this is rather a poor shift to excuse
your own sloth and laziness, than that you believe it to be so in good
earnest. For there is no man, says Origen, but the Son of God, can
guess how long, or how many ages, a soul may stand in need of the
purgation of fire. Mark the word _ages_; he seems to believe that
a soul may, for whole ages - that is, for so many hundred years - be
confined to this fiery lake, if she be wholly left to herself and her
own sufferings.

[Footnote 1: Tertull. _De cor. mil. c 3; _De monogam, c. 10.]

It was not without confidence, says Eusebius, of reaping more fruit
from the prayers of the faithful, that the honor of our nation, and the
first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, took such care to be
buried in the Church of the Apostles, whither all sorts of devout
people resorting to perform their devotions to God and His Saints,
would be sure to remember so good an emperor. Nor did he fail of his
expectation; for it is incredible, as the same author observes, what a
world of sighs and prayers were offered up for him upon this occasion.

St. Athanasius [1] brings an elegant comparison to express the
incomparable benefit which accrues to the souls in Purgatory by our
prayers. As the wine, says he, which is locked up in the cellar, yet is
so recreated with the sweet odor of the flourishing vines which are
growing in the fields, as to flower afresh, and leap, as it were, for
joy, so the souls that are shut up in the centre of the earth feel the
sweet incense of our prayers, and are exceedingly comforted and
refreshed by it.

[Footnote 1: St. Augustine's views on this subject may be seen from the
extract elsewhere given, from his "Confessions," on the occasion of the
death of his mother, St. Monica.]

We do not busy ourselves, says St. Cyril, with placing crowns or
strewing flowers at the sepulchres of the dead; but we lay hold on
Christ, the very Son of God, who was sacrificed upon the Cross for our
sins: and we offer Him up again to His Eternal Father in the dread
Sacrifice of the Mass, as the most efficacious means to reconcile Him,
not only to ourselves, but to them also.

St. Epiphanius stuck not to condemn Arius for this damnable heresy
amongst others, that he held it in vain to pray for the dead: as if our
prayers could not avail them.

St. Ambrose prayed heartily for the good Emperor Theodosius as soon as
he was dead, and made open profession that he would never give over
praying for him till he had, by his prayers and tears, conveyed him
safe to the holy mountain of Our Lord, whither he was called by his
merits, and where there is true life everlasting. He had the same
kindness for the soul of the Emperor Valentinian, the same for Gratian,
the same for his brother Satyrus and others. He promised them Masses,
tears, prayers, and that he would never forget them, never give over
doing charitable offices for them.

"Will you honor your dead?" says St. John Chrysostom; "do not spend
yourselves in unprofitable lamentations; choose rather to sing psalms,
to give alms, and to lead holy lives. Do for them that which they would
willingly do for themselves, were they to return again into the world,
and God will accept it at your hands, as if it came from them." (Pp.

St. Paulinus, that charitable prelate who sold himself to redeem
others, could not but have a great proportion of charity for captive
souls in the other world. No; he was not only ready to become a slave
himself to purchase their freedom, but he became an earnest solicitor
to others in their behalf; for, in a letter to Delphinus, alluding to
the story of Lazarus, he beseeches him to have at least so much
compassion as to convey, now and then, a drop of water wherewith to
cool the tongues of poor souls that lie burning in the Church which is
all a-fire.

I am astonished when I call to mind the sad regrets of the people of
Africa when they saw some of their priests dragged away to martyrdom.
The author says they flocked about them in great numbers and cried out:
"Alas! if you leave us so, what will become of us? Who must give us
absolution for our sins? Who must bury us with the wonted ceremonies of
the Church when we are dead? and who will take care to pray for our
souls?" Such a general belief they had in those days, that nothing is
more to be desired in this world than to leave those behind us who will
do their best to help us out of our torments. (Pp. 167-8.)

* * * * *

Almighty God has often miraculously made it appear how well He is
pleased to be importuned by us in the souls' behalf, and what comfort
they receive by our prayers. St. John Climacus writes, [1] that while
the monks were at service, praying for their good father, Mennas, the
third day after his departure, they felt a marvellous sweet smell to
rise out of his grave, which they took for a good omen that his sweet
soul, after three days' purgation, had taken her flight into heaven.
For what else could be meant by that sweet perfume but the odor of his
holy and innocent conversation, or the incense of their sacrifices and
prayers, or the primitial fruits of his happy soul, which was now flown
up to the holy mountain of eternal glory, there enjoying the
odoriferous and never-fading delights of Paradise?

[Footnote 1: In 4, gradu scalæ.]

Not unlike unto this is that story which the great St. Gregory relates
of one Justus, a monk. [1] He had given him up at first for a lost
creature; but, upon second thoughts, having ordered Mass to be said for
him for thirty days together, the last day he appeared to his brother
and assured him of the happy exchange he was now going to make of his
torments for the joys of heaven.

[Footnote 1: Dial. c. 55, lib. 4.]

Pope Symmachus and his Council [1] had reason to thunder out anathemas
against those sacrilegious persons who were so frontless as to turn
pious legacies into profane uses, to the great prejudice of the souls
for whose repose they were particularly deputed by the founders. And,
certainly, it is a much fouler crime to defraud souls of their due
relief than to disturb dead men's ashes and to plunder their graves.
(Pp. 168-9.)

[Footnote 1: 6 Synod., Rom.]

St. Isidore delivers it as an apostolic tradition and general practice
of the Catholic Church in his time, to offer up sacrifices and prayers,
and to distribute alms for the dead; and this, not for any increase of
their merit, but either to mitigate their pains or to shorten the time
of their durance.

Venerable Bede is a sure witness for the following century; whose
learned works are full of wonderful stories, which he brings in
confirmation of this Catholic doctrine and practice.

St. John Damascene made an elegant oration on purpose to stir up this
devotion; where, amongst other things, he says it is impossible to
number up all the stories in this kind which bear witness that the
souls departed are relieved by our prayers; and that, otherwise, God
would not have appointed a commemoration of the dead to be daily made
in the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass, nor would the Church have so
religiously observed anniversaries and other days set apart for the
service of the dead.

Were it but a dog, says Simon Metaphrastes, that by chance were fallen
into the fire, we should have so much compassion for him as to help him
out; and what shall we do for souls who are fallen into Purgatory fire?
I say, souls of our parents and dearest friends; souls that are
predestinate to eternal glory, and extremely precious in the sight of
God? And what did not the Saints of God's Church for them in those
days? Some armed themselves from head to foot in coarse hair-cloth;
others tore off their flesh with chains and rude disciplines; some,
again, pined themselves with rigorous fasts; others dissolved
themselves into tears; some passed whole nights in contemplation;
others gave liberal alms or procured great store of Masses; in fine,
they did what they were able, and were not well pleased that they were
able to do no more, to relieve the poor souls in Purgatory. Amongst
others, Queen Melchtild [1] is reported to have purchased immortal fame
for her discreet behavior at the death of the king, her husband; for
whose soul she caused a world of Masses to be said, and a world of alms
to be distributed, in lieu of other idle expenses and fruitless

[Footnote 1: Luitprand, c. 4, c. 7.]

There is one in the world, to whom I bear an immortal envy, and such an
envy as I never mean to repent of. It is the holy Abbot Odilo, who was
the author of an invention which I would wittingly have found out,
though with the loss of my very heart's blood.

Reader, take the story as it passed, thus: [1] A devout religious man,
in his return from Jerusalem, meets with a holy hermit in Sicily; he
assures him that he often heard the devils complain that souls were so
soon discharged of their torments by the devout prayers of the monks of
Cluny, who never ceased to pour out their prayers for them. This the
good man carries to Odilo, then Abbot of Cluny; he praises God for His
great mercy in vouchsafing to hear the innocent prayers of his monks;
and presently takes occasion to command all the monasteries of his
Order, to keep yearly the commemoration of All Souls, next after the
feast of All Saints, a custom which, by degrees, grew into such credit,
that the Catholic Church thought fit to establish it all over the
Christian world; to the incredible benefit of poor souls, and singular
increase of God's glory. For who can sum up the infinite number of
souls who have been freed out of Purgatory by this invention? or who
can express the glory which accrued to this good Abbot, who thus
fortunately made himself procurator-general of the suffering Church,
and furnished her people with such a considerable supply of necessary
relief, to alleviate the insupportable burthen of their sufferings?

[Footnote 1: Sigeb. in _Chron_. An. 998.]

St. Bernard would triumph when he had to deal with heretics that denied
this privilege of communicating our suffrages and prayers to the souls
in Purgatory. And with what fervor he would apply himself to this
charitable employment of relieving poor souls, may appear by the care
he took for good Humbertus, though he knew him to have lived and died
in his monastery so like a Saint, that he could scarce find out the
fault in him which might deserve the least punishment in the other
world; unless it were to have been too rigorous to himself, and too
careless of his health: which in a less spiritual eye than that of St.
Bernard, might have passed for a great virtue. But it is worth your
hearing, that which he relates of blessed St. Malachy, who died in his
very bosom. This holy Bishop, as he lay asleep, hears a sister of his,
lately dead, making lamentable moan, that for thirty days together she
had not eaten so much as a bit of bread. He starts up out of his sleep;
and, taking it to be more than a dream, he concludes the meaning of the
vision was to tell him, that just thirty days were now past since he
had said Mass for her; as probably believing she was already where she
had no need of his prayers.... Howsoever, this worthy prelate so plied
his prayers after this, that he soon sent his sister out of Purgatory;
and it pleased God to let him see, by the daily change of her habit,
how his prayers had purged her by degrees, and made her fit company for
the Angels and Saints in heaven. For, the first day, she was covered
all over with black cypress; the next, she appeared in a mantle
something whitish, but a dusky color; but the third day, she was seen
all clad in white, which is the proper livery of the Saints....

This for St. Bernard. But I cannot let pass in silence one very
remarkable passage, which happened to these two great servants of God.
St. Malachy had passionately desired to die at Clarvallis, [1] in the
hands of the devout St. Bernard; and this, on the day immediately
before All Souls' Day; and it pleased God to grant him his request. It
fell out, then, that while St. Bernard was saying Mass for him, in the
middle of Mass it was revealed to him that St. Malachy was already
glorious in heaven; whether he had gone straight out of this world, or
whether that part of St. Bernard's Mass had freed him out of Purgatory,
is uncertain; but St. Bernard, hereupon, changed his note; for, having
begun with a Requiem, he went on with the Mass of a bishop and
confessor, to the great astonishment of all the standers-by.

[Footnote 1: Clairvaux.]

St. Thomas of Aquin, that great champion of Purgatory, gave God
particular thanks at his death, for not only delivering a soul out of
Purgatory, at the instance of his prayers, but also permitting the same
soul to be the messenger of so good news. (Pp. 169-174.)

* * * * *

And now, we are come down to the fifteenth age, where the Fathers of
the Council of Florence, both Greeks and. Latins, with one consent,
declare the same faith and constant practice of the Church, thus handed
down to them from age to age, since Christ and His Apostles' time, as
we have seen; viz., that the souls in Purgatory are not only relieved,
but translated into heaven, by the prayers, sacrifices, alms, and other
charitable works, which are offered up for them according to the custom
of the Catholic Church. Nor did their posterity degenerate, or vary the
least, from this received doctrine, until Luther's time; when the holy
Council of Trent thought fit again to lay down the sound doctrine of
the Church, in opposition to all our late sectaries. And I wish all
Catholics were but as forward to lend their helping hands to lift souls
out of Purgatory, as they are to believe they have the power to do it;
and that we had not often more reason than the Roman Emperor to
pronounce the day lost; since we let so many days pass over our heads,
and so many fair occasions slip out of our hands, without easing, or
releasing, any souls out of Purgatory, when we might do it with so much
ease. (P. 175.)



Although we are mercifully freed from the necessity of descending into
hell to seek and promote the interests of Jesus, it is far from being
so with Purgatory. If heaven and earth are full of the glory of God, so
also is that most melancholy, yet most interesting land, where the
prisoners of hope are detained by their Saviour's loving justice, from
the Beatific Vision; and if we can advance the interests of Jesus on
earth and in heaven, I may almost venture to say that we can do still
more in Purgatory. And what I am endeavoring to show you in this
treatise is, how you may help God by prayer, and the practices of
devotion, whatever your occupation and calling may be: and all these
practices apply especially to Purgatory. For although some theologians
say that in spite of the Holy Souls placing no obstacle in the way,
still the effect of prayer for them is not infallible; nevertheless, it
is much more certain than the effect of prayer for the conversion of
sinners upon earth, where it is so often frustrated by their perversity
and evil dispositions. Anyhow, what I have wanted to show has been
this: that each of us, without aiming beyond our grace, without
austerities for which we have not courage, without supernatural gifts
to which we lay no claim, may, by simple affectionateness and the
practices of sound Catholic devotion, do great things, things so great
that they seem incredible, for the glory of God, the interests of
Jesus, and the good of souls. I should, therefore, be leaving my
subject very incomplete if I did not consider at some length devotion
to the Holy Souls in Purgatory; and I will treat, not so much of
particular practices of it, which are to be found in the ordinary
manuals, as of the spirit of the devotion itself.

* * * * *

By the doctrine of the Communion of Saints and of the unity of Christ's
mystical body, we have most intimate relations both of duty and
affection with the Church Triumphant and Suffering; and Catholic
devotion furnishes us with many appointed and approved ways of
discharging these duties toward them.... For the present it is enough
to say that God has given us such power over the dead that they seem,
as I have said before, to depend almost more on earth than on heaven;
and surely that He has given us this power, and supernatural methods of
exercising it, is not the least touching proof that His Blessed Majesty
has contrived all things for love. Can we not conceive the joy of the
Blessed in Heaven, looking down from the bosom of God and the calmness
of their eternal repose upon this scene of dimness, disquietude, doubt
and fear, and rejoicing in the plenitude of their charity, in their
vast power with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to obtain grace and blessing
day and night for the poor dwellers upon earth? It does not distract
them from God, it does not interfere with the Vision, or make it waver
and grow misty; it does not trouble their glory or their peace. On the
contrary, it is with them as with our Guardian Angels - the affectionate
ministries of their charity increase their own accidental glory. The
same joy in its measure may be ours even upon earth. If we are fully
possessed with this Catholic devotion for the Holy Souls, we shall
never be without the grateful consciousness of the immense powers which
Jesus has given us on their behalf. We are never so like Him, or so
nearly imitate His tender offices, as when we are devoutly exercising
these powers.... Oh! what thoughts, what feelings, what love should be
ours, as we, like choirs of terrestrial angels, gaze down on the wide,
silent, sinless kingdom of suffering, and then with our own venturous
touch wave the sceptred hand of Jesus over its broad regions all richly
dropping with the balsam of His saving Blood!

* * * * *

Oh! how solemn and subduing is the thought of that holy kingdom, that
realm of pain! There is no cry, no murmur; all is silent, silent as
Jesus before His enemies. We shall never know how we really love Mary
till we look up to her out of those deeps, those vales of dread
mysterious fire. O beautiful region of the Church of God. O lovely
troop of the flock of Mary! What a scene is presented to our eyes when
we gaze upon that consecrated empire of sinlessness and yet of keenest
suffering! There is the beauty of those immaculate souls, and then the
loveliness, yea, the worshipfulness of their patience, the majesty of
their gifts, the dignity of their solemn and chaste sufferings, the
eloquence of their silence; the moonlight of Mary's throne lighting up
their land of pain and unspeechful expectation; the silver-winged
angels voyaging through the deeps of that mysterious realm; and above
all, that unseen Face of Jesus which is so well remembered that it
seems to be almost seen! Oh! what a sinless purity of worship is here
in this liturgy of hallowed pain! O world! O weary, clamorous, sinful
world! Who would not break away if he could, like an uncaged dove, from
thy perilous toils and unsafe pilgrimage, and fly with joy to the
lowest place in that most pure, most safe, most holy land of suffering
and of sinless love!

* * * * *

Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 7 of 35)