Mrs. James Sadlier.

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But some persons turn in anger from the thought of Purgatory, as if it
were not to be endured, that after trying all our lives long to serve
God, we should accomplish the tremendous feat of a good death, only to
pass from the agonies of the death-bed into fire - long, keen,
searching, triumphant, incomparable fire. Alas! my dear friends; your
anger will not help you nor alter facts. But have you thought
sufficiently about God? Have you tried to realize His holiness and
purity in assiduous meditation? Is there a real divorce between you and
the world, which you know is God's enemy? Do you take God's side? Have
you wedded His interests? Do you long for His glory? Have you put sin
alongside of our dear Saviour's Passion, and measured the one by the
other? Oh! if you had, Purgatory would but seem to you the last,
unexpected, and inexpressibly tender invention of an obstinate love
which was mercifully determined to save you in spite of yourself! It
would be a perpetual wonder to you, a joyous wonder, fresh every,
morning - a wonder that would be meat and drink to your soul; that you,
being what you are, what you know yourself to be, what you may conceive
God knows you to be, should be saved eternally! Remember what the
suffering soul said so simply, yet with such force, to Sister
Francesca: "Ah! those on that side the grave little reckon how dearly
they will pay on this side for the lives they live!" To be angry
because you are told you will go to Purgatory! Silly, silly people!
Most likely it is a great false flattery, and that you will never be
good enough to go there at all. Why, positively, you do not recognize
your own good fortune when you are told of it. And none but the humble
go there. I remember Maria Crocifissa was told that although many of
the Saints while on earth loved God more than some do even in heaven,
yet that the greatest saint on earth was not so _humble_ as are
the souls in Purgatory. I do not think I ever read anything in the
lives of the Saints which struck me so much as that....

But we not only learn lessons for our own good, but for the good of the
Holy Souls. We see that our charitable attentions toward them must be
far more vigorous and persevering than they have been; for that men go
to Purgatory for very little matters, and remain there an unexpectedly
long time. But their most touching appeal to us lies in their
helplessness; and our dear Lord, with His usual loving arrangement, has
made the extent of our power to help them more than commensurate with
their inability to help themselves.... St. Thomas has taught us that
prayer for the dead is more readily accepted with God than prayer for
the living. We can offer and apply for them all the satisfactions of
our Blessed Lord. We can do vicarious penance for them. We can give to
them all the satisfaction of our ordinary actions, and of our
sufferings. We can make over to them by way of suffrage, the
indulgences we gain, provided the Church has made them applicable to
the dead. We can limit and direct upon them, or any one of them, the
intention of the Adorable Sacrifice. The Church, which has no
jurisdiction over them, can yet make indulgences applicable or
inapplicable to them by way of suffrage; and by means of liturgy,
commemoration, incense, holy water, and the like, can reach
efficaciously to them, and most of all by her device of privileged
altars. .... All that I have said hitherto has been, indirectly, at
least, a plea for this devotion; but I must come now to a more direct
recommendation of it.

* * * * *

It is not saying too much to call devotion to the Holy Souls, a kind of
centre in which all Catholic devotions meet, and which satisfies more
than any other single devotion our duties in that way; because it is a
devotion all of love, and of disinterested love. If we cast an eye over
the chief Catholic devotions, we shall see the truth of this. Take the
devotion of St. Ignatius to the glory of God. This, if I may dare to
use such an expression of Him, was the special and favorite devotion of
Jesus. Now, Purgatory is simply a field white for the harvest of God's
glory. Not a prayer can be said for the Holy Souls, but God is at once
glorified, both by the faith and the charity of the mere prayer. Not an
alleviation, however trifling, can befall any one of the souls, but He
is forthwith glorified by the honor of His Son's Precious Blood, and
the approach of the soul to bliss. Not a soul is delivered from its
trial but God is immensely glorified.

* * * * *

Again, what devotion is more justly dear to Christians than the
devotion to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus? It is rather a family of
various and beautiful devotions, than a devotion by itself. Yet see how
they are all, as it were, fulfilled, affectionately fulfilled, in
devotion to the Holy Souls. The quicker the souls are liberated from
Purgatory, the more is the beautiful harvest of His Blessed Passion
multiplied and accelerated. An early harvest is a blessing, as well as
a plentiful one; for all delay of a soul's ingress into the praise of
heaven is an eternal and irremediable loss of honor and glory to the
Sacred Humanity of Jesus. How strangely things sound in the language of
the Sanctuary! yet so it is. Can the Sacred Humanity be honored more
than by the Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass? And here is our chief
action upon Purgatory....

Devotion to our dearest Mother is equally comprehended in this devotion
to the Holy Souls, whether we look at her as the Mother of Jesus, and
so sharing the honors of His Sacred Humanity, or as Mother of mercy,
and so specially honored by works of mercy, or, lastly, as, in a
particular sense, the Queen of Purgatory, and so having all manner of
dear interests to be promoted in the welfare and deliverance of those
suffering souls.

Next to this we may rank devotion to the Holy Angels, and this also is
satisfied in devotion to the Holy Souls. For it keeps filling the
vacant thrones in the angelic choirs, those unsightly gaps which the
fall of Lucifer and one-third of the heavenly host occasioned. It
multiplies the companions of the blessed spirits. They may be supposed
also to look with an especial interest on that part of the Church which
lies in Purgatory, because it is already crowned with their own dear
gift and ornament of final perseverance, and yet it has not entered at
once into its inheritance as they did. Many of them also have a tender
personal interest in Purgatory. Thousands, perhaps millions of them,
are guardians to those souls, and their office is not over yet.
Thousands have clients there who were especially devoted to them in
life. Will St. Raphael, who was so faithful to Tobias, be less faithful
to his clients there? Whole choirs are interested about others, either
because they are finally to be aggregated to that choir, or because in
life-time they had a special devotion to it. Marie Denise, of the
Visitation, used to congratulate her angel every day on the grace he
had received to stand when so many around him were falling. It was the
only thing she could know for certain of his past life. Could he
neglect her, if by the will of God she went to Purgatory? Again, St.
Michael, as prince of Purgatory, and Our Lady's regent, in fulfilment
of the dear office attributed to him by the Church in the Mass for the
Dead, takes as homage to himself all charity to the Holy Souls; and if
it be true, that a zealous heart is always a proof of a grateful one,
that bold and magnificent spirit will recompense us one day in his own
princely style, and perhaps within the limits of that his special

Neither is devotion to the Saints without its interests in this
devotion for the dead. It fills them with the delights of charity as it
swells their numbers and beautifies their ranks and orders. Numberless
patron saints are personally interested in multitudes of souls. The
affectionate relation between their clients and themselves not only
subsists, but a deeper tenderness has entered into it, because of the
fearful suffering, and a livelier interest, because of the accomplished
victory. They see in the Holy Souls their own handiwork, the fruit of
their example, the answer to their prayers, the success of their
patronage, the beautiful and finished crown of their affectionate

* * * * *

Another point of view from which we may look at this devotion for the
dead, is as a specially complete and beautiful exercise of the three
theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which are the
supernatural fountains of our whole spiritual life. It exercises faith,
because it leads men not only to dwell in the unseen world, but to work
for it with as much energy and conviction as if it was before their
very eyes. Unthoughtful or ill-read persons almost start sometimes at
the minuteness, familiarity, and assurance with which men talk of the
unseen world, as if it were the banks of the Rhine, or the olive-yards
of Provence, the Campagna of Rome, or the crescent shores of Naples,
some place which they have seen in their travels, and whose
geographical features are ever in their memory, as vividly as if before
their eyes. It all comes of faith, of prayer, of spiritual reading, of
knowledge of the lives of the Saints, and of the study of theology. It
would be strange and sad if it were not so. For, what to us, either in
interest or importance, is the world we see, to the world we do not
see? This devotion exercises our faith also in the effects of the
sacrifice and sacraments, which are things we do not see, but which we
daily talk of in reference to the dead as undoubted and accomplished
facts. It exercises our faith in the communion of Saints to a degree
which would make it seem impossible to a heretic that he ever could
believe so wild and extravagant a creed. It acts with regard to
indulgences as if they were the most inevitable material transactions
of this world. It knows of the unseen treasure out of which they come,
of the unseen keys which open the treasury, of the indefinite
jurisdiction which places them infallibly at its disposal, of God's
unrevealed acceptance of them, and of the invisible work they do, just
as it knows of trees and clouds, of streets and churches - that is, just
as certainly and undoubtingly; though it often can give others no proof
of these things, nor account for them to itself.... It exhibits the
same quiet faith in all those Catholic devotions which I mentioned
before as centering themselves in this devotion for the dead.

* * * * *

Neither is this devotion a less heroic exercise of the theological
virtue of hope, the virtue so sadly wanting in the spiritual life of
these times. For, look what a mighty edifice this devotion raises;
lofty, intricate, and of magnificent proportions, into which somehow or
other all creation is drawn, from the little headache we suffer up to
the Sacred Humanity of Jesus, and which has to do even with God
Himself. And upon what does all this rest, except on a simple, child-
like trust in God's fidelity, which is the supernatural motive of hope?
We hope for the souls we help, and unbounded are the benedictions which
we hope for in their regard. We hope to find mercy ourselves, because
of our mercy; and this hope quickens our merits without detracting from
the merit of our charity.... For the state of the dead is no dream, nor
our power to help them a dream, any more than the purity of God is a
dream, or the Precious Blood a dream.

* * * * *

As to the charity of this devotion, it dares to imitate even the
charity of God Himself. What is there in heaven or on earth which it
does not embrace, and with so much facility, with so much gracefulness,
as if there were scarcely an effort in it, or as if self was charmed
away, and might not mingle to distract it? It is an exercise of the
love of God, for it is loving those whom He loves, and loving them
because He loves them, and to augment His glory and multiply His
praise.... To ourselves also it is an exercise of charity, for it gains
us friends in heaven; it earns mercy for us when we ourselves shall be
in Purgatory, tranquil victims, yet, oh! in what distress! and it
augments our merits in the sight of God, and so, if only we persevere,
our eternal recompense hereafter. Now if this tenderness for the dead
is such an exercise of these three theological virtues, and if, again,
even heroic sanctity consists principally in their exercise, what store
ought we not to set upon this touching and beautiful devotion?

* * * * *

Look at that vast kingdom of Purgatory, with its empress-mother, Mary!
All those countless throngs of souls are the dear and faithful spouses
of Jesus. Yet in what a strange abandonment of supernatural suffering
has His love left them! He longs for their deliverance; He yearns for
them to be transferred from that land, perpetually overclouded with
pain, to the bright sunshine of their heavenly home. Yet He has tied
His own hands, or nearly so. He gives them no more grace; He allows
them no more time for penance; He prevents them from meriting; nay,
some have thought they could not pray. How, then, stands the case with
the souls in the suffering Church? Why, it is a thing to be meditated
on when we have said it - they depend almost more on earth than they do
on heaven, almost more on us than on Him; so He has willed it on whom
all depend, and without whom there is no dependence. It is clear, then,
that Jesus has His interests there. He wants His captives released.
Those whom He has redeemed He now bids us redeem, us whom, if there be
life at all in us, He has already Himself redeemed. Every satisfaction
offered up to God for these suffering souls, every oblation of the
Precious Blood to the Eternal Father, every Mass heard, every communion
received, every voluntary penance undergone; the scourge, the hair-
shirt, the prickly chain, every indulgence gained, every jubilee whose
conditions we have fulfilled, every _De Profundis_ whispered,
every little alms doled out to the poor who are poorer than ourselves,
and, if they be offered for the intention of these dear prisoners, the
interests of Jesus are hourly forwarded in Mary's Kingdom of
Purgatory.... There is no fear of overworking the glorious secretary of
that wide realm, the blessed Michael, Mary's subject. See how men work
at the pumps on ship-board when they are fighting for their lives with
an ugly leak. Oh! that we had the charity so to work, with the sweet
instrumentality of indulgence, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory! The
infinite satisfactions of Jesus are at our command, and Mary's sorrows,
and the Martyr's pangs, and the Confessor's weary perseverance in well-
doing! Jesus will not help Himself here, because He loves to see us
helping Him, and because He thinks our love will rejoice that He still
leaves us something we can do for Him. There have been Saints who have
devoted their whole lives to this one work, mining in Purgatory; and,
to those who reflect in faith, it does not seem, after all, so strange.
It is a foolish comparison, simply because it is so much below the
mark; but on all principles of reckoning, it is a much less work to
have won the battle of Waterloo, or to have invented the steam-engine,
than to have freed one soul from Purgatory.



[Footnote 1: Charity to the Holy Souls in Purgatory]

We have just seen that the Jews believed in the doctrine of Purgatory;
we have seen that their charity for the dead was so great that the Holy
Ghost could not help praising them for it. Yet for all that, we may
assert in truth that the people of God under the Old Law were not so
well instructed in this doctrine as we are, nor had they such powerful
means to relieve the souls - in Purgatory as we have. Our faith,
therefore, should be more lively, and our charity for the souls in
Purgatory more ardent and generous.

A short time ago a fervent young priest of this country had the
following conversation with a holy Bishop on his way to Rome. The
Bishop said to him: "You make mementoes now and then, for friends of
yours that are dead - do you not?" The young priest answered:
"Certainly, I do so very often." The Bishop rejoined: "So did I, when I
was a young priest. But one time I was grievously ill. I was given up
as about to die. I received Extreme Unction and the Viaticum. It was
then that my whole past life, with all its failings and all its sins,
came before me with startling vividness. I saw how much I had to atone
for; and I reflected on how few Masses would be said for me, and how
few prayers. Ever since my recovery I have most fervently offered the
Holy Sacrifice for the repose of the pious and patient souls in
Purgatory; and I am always glad when I can, as my own offering, make
the 'intention' of my Masses for the relief of their pains."

Indeed, dear reader, no one is more deserving of Christian charity and
sympathy than the poor souls in Purgatory. They are _really_ POOR
_souls_. No one is sooner forgotten than they are.

How soon their friends persuade themselves that they are in perfect
peace! How little they do for their relief when their bodies are
buried! There is a lavish expense for the funeral. A hundred dollars
are spent where the means of the family hardly justify the half of it.
Where there is more wealth, sometimes five hundred or a thousand, and
even more, dollars are expended on the poor dead body. But let me ask
you what is done for the _poor living soul_? Perhaps the poor soul
is suffering the most frightful tortures in Purgatory, whilst the
lifeless body is laid out in state, and borne pompously to the
graveyard. You must not misunderstand me: it is right and just to show
all due respect even to the body of your deceased friend, for that body
was once the dwelling-place of his soul. But tell me candidly, what joy
has the departed, and, perhaps, suffering soul, in the fine music of
the choir, even should the choir be composed of the best singers in the
country? What consolation does the poor suffering soul find in the
superb coffin, in the splendid funeral? What pleasure does the soul
derive from the costly marble monument, from all the honors that are so
freely lavished on the body? All this may satisfy, or at least seem to
satisfy, the living, but it is of no avail whatever to the dead.

Poor unhappy souls! how the diminution of true Catholic faith is
visited upon you while you suffer, and those that loved you in life
might help you, and do not, for want of knowledge or of faith!

Poor unhappy souls! your friends go to their business, to their eating
and drinking, with the foolish assurance that the case cannot be hard
on one they knew to be so good! Oh, how much and how long this _false
charity_ of your friends makes you suffer!

The venerable Sister, Catherine Paluzzi, offered up, for a long time,
and with the utmost fervor, prayers and pious works for the soul of her
deceased father. At last she thought she had good reason to believe
that her father was already enjoying the bliss of Paradise. But how
great was her consternation and grief when Our Lord, in company with
St. Catherine, her patroness, led her one day, in spirit, to Purgatory.
There she beheld her father in an abyss of torments, imploring her
assistance. At the sight of the pitiful state the soul of her father
was in, she melted into tears; she cast herself at the feet of her
Heavenly Spouse, and begged Him, through His precious Blood, to free
her father from his excruciating sufferings. She also begged St.
Catherine to intercede for him, and then turning to Our Lord, she said:
"Charge me, O Lord, with my father's indebtedness to Thy justice. In
expiation of it, I am ready to take upon myself all the afflictions
Thou art pleased to bestow upon me." Our Lord graciously accepted this
act of heroic charity, and released at once her father's soul from
Purgatory. But how heavy were the crosses which she, from that time,
had to suffer, may be more easily imagined than described. This pious
sister seemed to have good reason to believe that her father's soul was
in Paradise. Yet she was mistaken. Alas! how many are there who
resemble her! How many are there whose hope as to the condition of
their deceased friends is far more vain and false than that of this
religious, because they pray much less for the souls of their departed
friends than she did for her father.

* * * * *

It is related in the life of St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, that one day
she saw the soul of one of her deceased sisters kneeling in adoration
before the Blessed Sacrament, in the church, wrapped up in a mantle of
fire, and suffering great pains, in expiation of her neglecting to go
to Holy Communion on one day, when she had her confessor's permission
to communicate.

The Venerable Bede relates that it was revealed to Drithelm, a great
servant of God, that the souls of those who spend their whole lives in
the state of mortal sin, and are converted only on their death-bed, are
doomed to suffer the pains of Purgatory to the day of the last

In the life and revelations of St. Gertrude we read that those who have
committed many grievous sins, and who die without having done due
penance, are not assisted by the ordinary suffrages of the Church until
they are partly purified by Divine Justice in Purgatory.

After St. Vincent Ferrer had learned the death of his sister Frances,
he at once began to offer up many fervent prayers and works of penance
for the repose of her soul. He also said thirty Masses for her, at the
last of which it was revealed to him that, had it not been for his
prayers and good works, the soul of his sister would have suffered in
Purgatory to the end of the world.

From these examples you may draw your own conclusion as to the state of
your deceased friends and relatives. Rest assured that the judgments of
God are very different from the judgments of men.

* * * * *

In heaven, love for God is the happiness of the elect; but in Purgatory
it is the source of the most excruciating pains. It is principally for
this reason that the souls in Purgatory are called "poor souls," they
being, as they are, in the most dreadful state of poverty - that of the
privation of the beatific vision of God.

After Anthony Corso, a Capuchin Brother, a man of great piety and
perfection, had departed this life, he appeared to one of his brethren
in religion, asking him to recommend him to the charitable prayers of
the community, in order that he might receive relief in his pains. "For
I do not know," said he, "how I can bear any longer the pain of being
deprived of the sight of my God. I shall be the most unhappy of
creatures as long as I must live in this state. Would to God that all
men might understand what it is to be without God, in order that they
might firmly resolve to suffer anything during their life on earth
rather than expose themselves to the danger of being damned, and
deprived forever of the sight of God." [1]

[Footnote 1: 1 Aunal. Pp. Capuc., A.D. 1548.]

* * * * *

The souls in Purgatory are _poor_ souls, because they suffer the
greatest pain of the senses, which is that of _fire_. Who can be
in a poorer or more pitiful condition than those who are buried in
fire? Now, this is the condition of these poor souls. They are buried
under waves of fire. It is from the smallest spark of this purgatorial
fire that they suffer more intense pains than all the fires of this
world put together could produce....

Could these poor souls leave the fire of Purgatory for the most
frightful earthly fire they would, as it were, take it for a pleasure-
garden; they would find a fifty years' stay in the hottest earthly fire
more endurable than an hour's stay in the fire of Purgatory. Our
terrestrial fire was not created by God to torment men, but rather to
benefit them; but the fire of Purgatory was created by God for no other
purpose than to be an instrument of His justice; and for this reason it
is possessed of a burning quality so intense and penetrating that it is
impossible for us to conceive even the faintest idea of it.

* * * * *

In the year 1150 it happened that, on the Vigil of St. Cecilia, a very
old monk, one hundred years of age, at Marchiennes, in Flanders, fell

Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 8 of 35)