Archive for the ‘Library of the Faith’ Category.

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 44

Saint Peter FaberArticle

Motives and Incentives to Devotion towards the Holy Souls – Saint John of God – Give Alms for your Own Sake – Saint Bridget – Blessed Peter Lefevre

We have just seen how holy and meritorious Charity towards the holy souls is before God – Sancta cogitatio. It remains to show how salutary, at the same time, it is for ourselves – Salubris cogitatio. If the excellence of the work in itself is so powerful an incentive, the precious advantages which we derive from it are no less a stimulus. They consist, on the one hand, of the graces which we receive in recompense for our generosity, and, on the other, of the Christian fervor with which this good work inspires us.

Blessed, said our Saviour, are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7). Blessed is he, says the Holy Ghost, that understands concerning the needy and the poor: the Lord will deliver him in the evil day. (Psalm 40). As long as you did it to one of these My brethren, you did it to Me. (Matthew 25:40). The Lord deal mercifully with you, as you have dealt with the dead. (Ruth 1:8). These different sentences express, in their strongest sense, Charity towards the departed.

All that we offer to God in Charity to the dead, says Saint Ambrose in his book of Offices, is changed into merit for ourselves, and we shall find it after our death increased a hundredfold – O/nne quod defunctis impenditur, in nostrum tandem meritum commutatur, et illud post mortem centuplum recipimus duplicatum. We can say that the spirit of the Church, the sentiments of the doctors and the saints, are expressed in these words: What you do for the dead, you do in a most excellent manner for yourself. The reason of this is, that this work of mercy will be returned to you increased a hundredfold, in the day when you yourself shall be in distress. We may here apply the celebrated words of Saint John of God when he asked the inhabitants of Granada to give him an alms for the love of themselves. To provide for the needs of the sick whom he took into his hospital, the charitable saint traversed the streets of Granada, crying, “Give alms, my brethren, give alms for the love of yourselves .” People were astonished at this new form of expression, because they had always been accustomed to hear: alms for the love of God. “Why,” said they to the saint, “do you ask us to give alms for the love of ourselves?” “Because,” replied he, “it is the great means of redeeming your sins, according to the words of the Prophet: Redeem thou thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor. ” (Dan. 4:24). In giving alms, you labor in your own interest, since you thereby diminish the terrible chastisements which your sins have merited. Must we not conclude that all this is true of alms bestowed upon the souls of Purgatory? To assist them is to preserve ourselves from those terrible expiations which we shall not otherwise escape. We may, therefore, cry with Saint John of God, Give them the alms of your suffrages: assist them for the love of yourself. Generosity towards the departed is always repaid; it finds its recompense in all kinds of graces, the source of which is the gratitude of the holy souls and that of Our Lord, who considers as done to Himself all that we do for the suffering souls.

Saint Bridget declares in her Revelations, and her testimony is quoted by Benedict XII (Serm. 4, 12), that she heard a voice from the depths of the Purgatorial flames pronouncing these words: “May those be blessed, may those be rewarded, who relieve us in these pains!” And on another occasion: “O Lord God, show Thy Almighty power in recompensing a hundredfold those who assist us by their suffrages, and make the rays of the divine light to shine upon us.” In another vision the saint heard the voice of an angel saying: “Blessed be upon earth those who, by their prayers and good works, come to the assistance of the poor suffering souls!”

Blessed Peter Lefevre, of the Company of Jesus, so well known for his devotion towards the holy angels, had also a special devotion towards the souls in Purgatory. “Those souls,” he said, “have bowels of Charity, which are ever open to those who still walk amidst the dangers of this life; they are filled with gratitude towards those who assist them. They can pray for us, and offer up their torments to God in our behalf. It is a most excellent practice to invoke the souls in Purgatory, that we may obtain from God, through their intercession, a true knowledge of our sins and a perfect contrition for them, fervor in the exercise of good works, care to produce worthy fruits of penance, and in general, all virtues, the absence of which has been the cause of their terrible chastisement.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 43

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Catherine of Siena, artist unknown, date unknown, Anglican church of Saint Giles, Cambridge, England; swiped with permission off the flickr site of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

Motives of Justice – Prayer for Departed Parents – Saint Catherine of Siena and her Father, Jacomo

Saint Catherine of Siena has left us a similar example. It is thus related by her biographer, Blessed Raymond of Capua. “The servant of God,” he writes, “had an ardent zeal for the salvation of souls. I will first speak of that which she did for her father, Jacomo, of whom we have already made mention. This excellent man had remarked the sanctity of his daughter, and was filled with respectful tenderness towards her; he advised everyone in his house never to oppose her in anything, but to leave her perfect liberty in the practice of her good works. Thus the affection which united father and daughter increased day by day. Catherine constantly prayed for her father’s salvation; Jacomo took a holy delight in the virtues of his daughter, hoping through her merits to obtain favor before God.

“The life of Jacomo finally approached its end, and he was confined to bed by a dangerous illness. Seeing his condition, his daughter, as was her custom, betook herself to prayer, beseeching her Heavenly Spouse to cure him whom she so tenderly loved. He answered that Jacomo was at the point of death, and that to live longer would not be profitable to him. Catherine then went to her father, and found him so perfectly resigned to leave this world, and without any regret, that she thanked God with all her heart.

“But her filial love was not content; she re turned to prayer in order to obtain from God, the Source of all grace, to grant her father not only the pardon of all his faults, but also that at the hour of his death he might be admitted into Heaven, without so much as passing through the flames of Purgatory. She was answered that Justice could not sacrifice its rights; that the soul must be perfectly pure to enter the glory of Paradise. ‘Your father,’ said Our Lord, ‘has led a good life in the married state, and has done much that was very pleasing in My sight; above all, his conduct towards you has been most agreeable to Me; but My Justice demands that his soul should pass through fire, in order to purify it from the stains which it contracted in the world.’ ‘O my loving Saviour,’ replied Catherine, ‘how can I bear the thought of seeing him who has nourished me, who has brought me up with such tender care, who has been so good to me during his whole life, tormented in those cruel flames? I beseech Your Infinite Goodness not to permit his soul to leave his body until in some way or another it shall have been so perfectly cleansed that it shall have no need to pass through the fires of Purgatory.'”

Admirable condescension! God yielded to the prayer and desire of His creature. The strength of Jacomo was exhausted, but his soul could not depart as long as the conflict lasted between Our Lord, who alleged His Justice, and Catherine, who implored His Mercy. Finally, Catherine resumed: “If I cannot obtain this grace without satisfying Thy Justice, let, then, that Justice be exercised upon me; I am ready to suffer for my father all that Thy Goodness may be pleased to send me.” Our Lord consented. “I will accept thy proposal,” He said,” on account of thy love for Me I exempt thy father’s soul from all expiation, but thou shaft suffer as long as thou livest the pain that was destined for him.” Full of joy, Catherine cried out, “Thanks for Thy word, O Lord, and may Thy will be done!”

The saint immediately returned to her father, who had just entered upon his agony. She filled him with courage and joy by giving him, on the part of God, the assurance of his eternal salvation, and she left him not until he had breathed forth his soul.

At the same moment that the soul of her father was separated from the body, Catherine was seized with most violent pains, which remained until her death, without allowing her one moment of repose. “She herself,” adds Blessed Raymond, “often assured me of this, and indeed it was evident to all who saw her. But her patience was greater than her malady. All that I have related I learned from Catherine, when, touched at the sight of her sufferings, I asked her the cause thereof. I must not forget to say that at the moment her father expired she was heard to cry out, her face beaming with joy and a smile upon her lips, ‘May God be praised! My dear father, how I wish I were like you.’ During the celebration of the funeral obsequies, when all were in tears, Catherine seemed transported with delight. She consoled her mother and everyone as though unaffected by her father’s death. It was because she had seen that beloved soul come forth triumphant from the prison of the body and pass without any hindrance into eternal beatitude. This sight had inundated her with consolation, because a short time previous she herself had tasted the joys of eternal light.

“Let us here admire the wisdom of Providence. The soul of Jacomo could surely have been purified in another manner, and have been immediately admitted into Heaven, like the good thief who confessed our Saviour on the Cross. But God willed that his purification should be effected through the sufferings of Catherine, as she herself had requested, and this not to try her, but to increase her merits and her crown.

“It was fitting that this holy maid, who so ardently loved the soul of her father, should receive some recompense for her filial affection; and since she had preferred the salvation of his soul to that of her own body, her bodily suffering contributed to the happiness of her soul. Thus she always spoke of her sweet, her dear sufferings. And she was right, for these afflictions augmented the sweetness of grace in this life and the delights of glory in the next. She confided to me that long after his death her father Jacomo continually came to thank her for the happiness she had procured for him. He revealed many hidden things to her, warned her of the snares of the demon, and preserved her from all danger.”

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 42

detail of the painting 'Estasi di santa Margherita'; 18th century by Jacopo Alessandro Calvi; photographed 9 August 2005 by Pietro Diotti; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Motives of Justice – Barren Tears – Thomas of Cantimpre and his Grandmother – Blessed Margaret of Cortona

We have just spoken of the obligation of Justice which is incumbent upon heirs for the execution of pious legacies. There is another duty of strict Justice which regards children; they are obliged to pray for their deceased parents. Reciprocally in their turn parents are bound by natural right not to forget before God those of their children who have preceded them into eternity. Alas! there are parents who are inconsolable at the loss of a son or of a dearly beloved daughter, and who, instead of praying for them, bestow upon them nothing but a few fruitless tears. Let us hear what Thomas of Cantimpre relates on this subject; the incident happened in his own family.

The grandmother of Thomas had lost a son in whom she had centered her fondest hopes. Day and night she wept for him and refused all consolation. In the excess of her grief she forgot the great duty of Christian love, and did not think of praying for that soul so dear to her. The unfortunate object of this barren tenderness languished amid the flames of Purgatory, receiving no alleviation in his sufferings. Finally God took pity on him. One day, whilst plunged in the depths of her grief, this woman had a miraculous vision. She saw on a beautiful road a procession of young men, as graceful as angels, advancing full of joy towards a magnificent city. She understood that they were souls from Purgatory making their triumphal entry into Heaven. She looked eagerly to see if among their ranks she could not discover her son. Alas! the child was not there; but she perceived him approaching far behind the others, sad, suffering, and fatigued, his garments drenched with water. “Oh, dear object of my grief,” she cried out to him, “how is it that you remain behind that brilliant band? I should wish to see you at the head of your companions.”

“Mother,” replied the child in a plaintive tone, “it is you, it is these tears which you shed over me that moisten and soil my garments, and retard my entrance into the glory of Heaven. Cease to abandon yourself to a blind and useless grief. Open your heart to more Christian sentiments. If you truly love me, relieve me in my sufferings; apply some indulgences to me, say prayers, give alms, obtain for me the fruits of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is by this means that you will prove your love; for by so doing you will deliver me from prison where I languish, and bring me forth to eternal life, which is far more desirable than the life terrestrial which you have given me.”

Then the vision disappeared, and that mother, thus admonished and brought back to true Christian sentiments, instead of giving way to immoderate grief, applied to the practice of every good work which could give relief to the soul of her son.

The great causes of this forgetfulness, this indifference, guilty neglect, and injustice towards the dead, is lack of faith. For do we not see that true Christians, those animated by a spirit of faith, make the most noble sacrifices in behalf of their departed friends? Descending in spirit into those penal flames, there contemplating the rigors of Divine Justice, listening to the voice of the dead who implore their compassion, they think only how to give relief to those poor souls, and consider it their most sacred duty to procure for their parents and departed friends all the suffrages possible, according to their means and condition. Happy are those Christians; they show their faith by their works; they are merciful, and in their turn they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed Margaret of Cortona was at first a great sinner; but after she had been sincerely converted, she blotted out her past disorders by great penances and works of mercy. Her charity towards the poor souls knew no bounds; she sacrificed everything, time, repose, satisfactions, to obtain their deliverance from Almighty God. Understanding that devotion towards the holy souls, when well directed, has for its first object our parents, her father and mother being dead, she never ceased to offer for them her prayers, mortifications, vigils, sufferings, Communions, and the Masses at which she had the happiness to assist. In reward for her filial piety, God revealed to her that by all her prayers she had shortened the long term of suffering which her parents would have had to endure in Purgatory; that she had obtained their complete deliverance and entrance into Paradise.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 41

detail from 'Saint Bernardino' by El Greco, 1603, oil on canvas, Museo del Greco, Toledo, SpainArticle

Motives of Justice – Saint Bernardine of Siena and the Unfaithful Widow – Disguised Restitutions – Neglect to Execute the Last Will

Saint Bernardine relates that a married couple having no children made a contract that in case one should die before the other, the one who survived was to distribute the property left by the other, for the repose of the soul of the deceased. The husband died first and his widow neglected to fulfill her promise. The mother of the widow was still living, and the deceased appeared to her, begging her to go to her daughter and urge her in the name of God to fulfill her engagement. “If she delays,” he said, “to distribute in alms the sum which I have destined for the poor, tell her on the part of God that in thirty days she will be struck by a sudden death.” When the impious widow heard this solemn warning, she had the audacity to treat it as a dream, and persisted in her sacrilegious infidelity to her promise. Thirty days passed and the unfortunate woman having gone to an upper room in the house, fell through the window and was killed on the spot.

Injustice towards the dead, of which we have just spoken, and fraudulent maneuvers to escape the obligation of executing their pious legacies, are grievous sins, crimes which merit the eternal punishment of Hell. Unless a sincere Confession and at the same time due restitution be made, this sin will meet its chastisement not in Purgatory but in Hell.

Alas! yes, it is especially in the other life that Divine Justice will punish the guilty usurpers of the property of the dead. Judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy, says the Holy Ghost. (James 2:13). If these words be true, how rigorous a judgment awaits those whose detestable avarice has left the soul of a parent, a benefactor, for months, years, perhaps even for centuries, in the frightful torments of Purgatory. This crime, as we have said above, is the more grievous, because in many cases these suffrages which the deceased asks for his soul are but disguised restitutions. This fact is in some families but too often overlooked. People find it very convenient to speak of intrigue and clerical avarice. The finest pretexts are made use of to invalidate a last will and testament, which often, perhaps in the majority of cases, involves a necessary restitution. The priest is but a medium in this indispensable act, bound to absolute secrecy by virtue of his sacramental ministry.

Let us explain this more clearly. A dying man has been guilty of some injustice during his life. This is of a more frequent occurrence than we imagine, even in regard to men who are most upright in the eyes of the world. At the moment when he is about to appear before God, this sinner makes his Confession; he wishes to make a full reparation, as he is bound to do, of all the injury which he has caused his neighbor, but he has not the time left to do so himself, and is not willing to reveal the sad secret to his children. What does he do? He covers his restitution under the veil of a pious legacy.

Now, if this legacy is not paid, and consequently the injustice not repaired, what will become of the soul of the deceased? Will it be detained for an indefinite length of time in Purgatory? We know not all the laws of Divine Justice, but numerous apparitions serve to give us some idea of them, since they “all declare that they cannot be admitted into eternal beatitude so long as any part of the debt of Justice remains to be cancelled.” Moreover, are not these souls culpable for having deferred until their death the payment of a debt of Justice which they had owed for so long a time? And if now their heirs neglect to discharge it for them, is it not a deplorable consequence of their own sin, of their own guilty delay? It is through their fault that these ill-gotten goods remain in the family, and they will not cease to cry out against them as long as restitution be not made. Res clamat domino, property cries out for its lawful owner; it cries out against its unjust possessor.

If, through the malice of the heirs, restitution is never made, it is evident that that soul cannot remain in Purgatory forever; but in this case a long delay to his entrance into Heaven seems to be a fitting chastisement for an act of injustice, which the soul has retracted, it is true, but which still abides in its efficacious cause. Let us therefore think of these grave consequences when we allow days, weeks, months, and perhaps even years to elapse before discharging so sacred a debt.

Alas! how feeble is our faith! If a domestic animal, a little dog, falls into the fire, do you delay to draw it out? And see, your parents, benefactors, persons most dear to you, writhe in the flames of Purgatory, and you do not consider it your urgent duty to relieve them; you delay, you allow long days of suffering to pass for those poor souls, without making an effort to perform those good works which will release them from their pains.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 40


Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Obligation not only of Charity, but also of Justice – Pious Legacies – Father Rossignoli and the Devastated Property – Thomas of Cantimpre and the Soldier of Charlemagne

We have just considered devotion to the souls in Purgatory as a work of Charity. Prayer for the dead, we have said, is a holy work, because it is a very salutary exercise of that most excellent of virtues, Charity. This Charity towards the departed is not only optional and of counsel, but it is also of precept, no less than to give alms to the poor. As there exists a general obligation of Charity for almsgiving, with how much greater reason are we not bound by the general law of Charity to assist our suffering brethren in Purgatory?

This obligation of Charity is often joined to an obligation of strict Justice. When a dying person, either by word of mouth or by written testament, expresses his last wishes in regard to works of piety; when he charges his heirs to have a certain number of Masses celebrated, to distribute a certain sum in alms, for any good work what so ever, the heirs are obliged in strict justice, from the moment they come into possession of the property, to fulfill without delay the last wishes of the deceased.

This duty of Justice is the more sacred as these pious legacies are frequently but disguised restitutions. Now, what does daily experience teach us? Do people hasten with religious exactitude to acquit themselves of these pious obligations which concern the soul of the departed? Alas! quite the contrary. A family which comes into possession of a considerable fortune doles out to its poor departed relative the few suffrages that he has reserved for his own spiritual benefit; and if the subtilities of the civil law favor them, the members of this family are not ashamed, under the pretext of some informality, to fraudulently set aside the will in order to rid themselves of the obligation of making those pious legacies. It is not in vain that the author of the Imitation counsels us to make satisfaction for our sins during our life and not to depend too much upon our heirs, who often neglect to execute the pious endowments made by us for the relief of our poor souls.

Let such families beware! This is sacrilegious injustice combined with atrocious cruelty. To steal from a poor person, says the Fourth Council of Carthage, is to become his murderer. (Egentium necatores). What, then, shall we say of those who rob the dead, who unjustly deprive them of their suffrages, and leave them without assistance in the terrible torments of Purgatory?

Moreover, those who render themselves guilty of this infamous theft are frequently most severely punished by God even in this life. We are sometimes astonished to see a considerable for tune melt away, as it were, in the hands of certain heirs; a sort of malediction seems to hover over certain inheritances. In the Day of Judgment, when that which is now hidden shall be made manifest, we shall see that the cause of this ruin has frequently been the avarice and injustice of the heirs, who neglected the obligations imposed upon them in regard to pious bequests when they succeeded to the property.

It happened in Milan, says Father Rossignoli, that a magnificent estate, situated a short distance from the city, was completely devastated by hail, whilst the neighboring fields remained uninjured. This phenomenon attracted attention and astonishment; it reminded one of the plagues of Egypt. The hail ravaged the fields of the Egyptians and respected the land of Gessen, inhabited by the children of Israel. This was looked upon as a similar scourge. The mysterious hail could not have confined itself exclusively within the limits of one property without obeying an intelligent cause. People knew not how to explain this phenomenon, when an apparition of a soul from Purgatory revealed that it was a chastisement inflicted upon ungrateful and culpable children, who had neglected to execute the last will of their departed father relative to certain works of piety.

We know that in all countries and in all places there are spoken of haunted houses, rendered uninhabitable, to the great loss of their proprietors. Now, if we try to fathom the cause of this, we shall generally find that a soul forgotten by its relatives returns to claim the suffrages justly due to it. Whether it be attributed to credulity, to the excitement of imagination, to hallucination, or even to deception, it will ever remain a well-proved fact to teach unfeeling heirs how God punishes such unjust and sacrilegious conduct even in this life.

The following incident, which we borrow from Thomas of Cantimpre (Rossign., Merv., 15), proves clearly how culpable in the sight of God are those heirs who defraud the dead. During the wars of Charlemagne, a valiant soldier had served in the most important and honorable positions. His life was that of a true Christian. Content with his pay, he refrained from every act of violence, and the tumult of the camp never prevented him from the fulfillment of his essential duties, although in matters of minor importance he had been guilty of many little faults common to men of his profession. Having reached a very advanced age, he fell ill; and seeing that his last hour had come, he called to his bedside an orphan nephew, to whom he had been a father, and expressed to him his dying wishes. “My son,” he said, “you know that I have no riches to bequeath to you: I have nothing but my weapons and my horse. My weapons are for you. As to my horse, sell it when I shall have rendered my soul to God, and distribute the money among the priests and the poor, that the former may offer the Holy Sacrifice for me, and the others may assist me by their prayers.” The nephew wept, and promised to execute without delay the last wishes of his dying uncle and benefactor. The old man dying soon after, the nephew took possession of the weapons and led away the horse. It was a very beautiful and valuable animal. Instead of selling it immediately, as he had promised his deceased uncle, he began by using it for short journeys, and as he was well pleased with it, he did not wish to part with it so soon. He deferred under the double pretext that there was nothing that urged the prompt fulfillment of his promise, and that he would await a favorable opportunity to obtain a high price for him. Thus delaying from day to day, from week to week, and from month to month, he ended by stifling the voice of conscience, and forgot the sacred obligation which he had towards the soul of his benefactor.

Six months had elapsed, when one morning the deceased appeared to him addressing him in terms of severe reproach. “Unhappy man,” he said, “thou hast forgotten the soul of thy uncle; thou hast violated the sacred promise which thou didst make at my deathbed. Where are the Masses which thou oughtest to have had offered? Where the alms that thou shouldst have distributed to the poor for the repose of my soul? Because of thy guilty negligence I have suffered unheard-of torments in Purgatory. Finally, God has taken pity on me; today I am to enjoy the company of the blessed in Heaven. But thou, by a just judgment of God, shalt die in a few days, and be subjected to the same tortures which would have remained for me to endure had God not shown mercy to me. Thou shalt suffer for the same length of time that I should have suffered, after which thou shalt commence the expiation of thine own faults.”

A few days later the nephew fell dangerously ill. He immediately called a priest, related to him the vision, and confessed his sins, weeping bitterly. “I shall soon die,” said he, “and I accept death from the hands of God as a chastisement which I have but too well merited.” He expired in sentiments of humble repentance. This was but the least part of the sufferings which had been announced to him in punishment of his injustice; we tremble with horror at the thought of the remaining portion which he was about to undergo in the other life.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 39

detail of a painting of San Pedro Damiani, 18th century by Andrea Barbiani; currently in the Classense Library, Ravenna, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Motives and Incentives to Devotion towards the Holy Souls – Examples of Generosity – Saint Peter Damian and his Father – A Young Annamite – The Doorkeeper at the Seminary and the Propagation of the Faith

Examples of generous Charity towards the departed are by no means rare, and it is always useful to recall them to mind. We may not omit the beautiful and touching example of Saint Peter Damian, Bishop of Ostia, Cardinal and Doctor of the Church, an example which never wearies by repetition. Whilst still young, Peter had the misfortune to lose his mother, and soon afterwards his father marrying again, he was left to the care of a stepmother. Although he showed all possible affection for her, this woman was incapable of returning the love of this dear child; she treated him with barbarous severity, and, in order to rid herself of him, sent him away to her eldest brother, who employed him to take care of the swine. His father, whose duty it was to have prevented this, left him to his unhappy fate. But the child lifted up his eyes to Heaven, where he saw another Father, in whom he placed all his confidence. He accepted all that happened as corning from His divine hands, and resigned himself to the hardships of his situation. “God,” he said, “has His designs in all that He does, and they are designs of mercy; we have but to abandon ourselves into His hands, He will direct all things for our good.” Peter was not deceived; it was in this painful trial that the future Cardinal of the Church, he who was to astonish his age by the extent of his learning, and to edify the world by the luster of his virtues, laid the foundation of his future sanctity.

Barely covered with rags, his biographer tells us that he had not always sufficient to appease his hunger, but he prayed to God and was satisfied.

Meanwhile his father died. The young saint forgot the harshness with which he had been treated, and, like a good son, prayed continually for the repose of his father’s soul. One day he found upon the road a gold piece, which Providence seemed to have placed there for him. It was quite a fortune for the poor child. But, instead of making use of it to relieve his own misery, his first thought was to carry it to a priest, and beg him to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the soul of his deceased father. Holy Church considers this trait of filial devotion so touching that she has inserted it at length in the Office of the feast.

“May I be allowed,” says the missionary, Father Louvet, “to add one more incident of my own personal experience? When I was preaching the faith in Cochin-China, a poor little Annamite girl, who had just been baptized, lost her mother. At the age of fourteen she saw herself obliged to provide for her own support and that of her two younger brothers from her scanty earnings, which amounted to about eight sous, or about seven cents a day. What was my surprise when, at the end of the week, I saw her bring me the earnings of two days, that I might say Mass for the repose of their dear mother’s soul. Those poor little ones had fasted during a part of the week to procure this humble suffrage for their departed mother. Oh, holy alms of the poor and the orphan! If my own heart was so deeply touched by it, how much more so the heart of our Heavenly Father, and what blessings it will have called down upon that mother and upon her children.

“Behold the generosity of the poor! What an example and reproach to so many of the rich, extravagant in luxury and pleasure, but miserly when there is question of giving an alms to have Masses celebrated for their deceased relatives.

“Although before all other intentions they should devote part of their alms to have Masses offered for their own souls, or those of their friends, it is proper to use a portion for the relief of the poor, or for other good works, such as for the benefit of Catholic schools, the Propagation of the Faith, and other purposes, according to circumstances. This is a holy liberality, conformable to the spirit of the Church, and very profitable to the souls in Purgatory.”

The Abbe Louvet, from whom we have taken the above, relates another incident which de serves a place here. It concerns a man in humble circumstances who made a generous sacrifice in favor of the Propagation of the Faith, but under circumstances which rendered this act particularly valuable for the future needs of his soul in Purgatory.

A poor porter at a seminary during his long life had, penny by penny, amassed the sum of eight hundred francs, Having no family, he destined this sum for the celebration of Masses after his death. But what can charity not effect when once it has inflamed the heart with its sacred fire? A young priest was on the point of quitting the seminary for the foreign missions. The old man felt himself inspired to give him his little treasure for the beautiful work of the Propagation of the Faith. He therefore gave it and said, “Dear sir, I beg you to accept this small alms to aid you in the work of spreading the Gospel. I kept it to have Masses said after my death, but I would rather remain a little longer in Purgatory that the name of the good God be glorified.” The seminarian was moved even to tears. He would not accept the too generous offer of the poor man, but the latter insisted so earnestly that he had not the heart to refuse him.

A few months later the good old man died. No apparition has revealed his fate in the other world. But is he in need? Do we not know that the Heart of Jesus cannot allow itself to be surpassed in generosity? Do we not understand that a man who was generous enough to consign himself to the flames of Purgatory in order that Jesus Christ might be made known to infidel nations will surely have found abundant mercy before the Sovereign Judge?

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 38


Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Examples of Holy Persons – Father James Laynez – Father Fabricius – Father Nieremberg, a Victim of his Charity

He who forgets his friend, after death has taken him away from his sight, never had a true friendship.” These words Father Laynez, second General of the Society of Jesus, continually repeated to the sons of Saint Ignatius. He desired that the interests of souls should be as dear to them after death as they were during life. Joining example to precept, Laynez applied to the souls in Purgatory a large part of his prayers, sacrifices, and the satisfaction which he merited before God by his labors for the conversion of sinners. The Fathers of the Society, faithful to his lessons of charity, ever manifested particular zeal for this devotion, as may be seen in the book entitled Heroes and Victims of Charity in the Society of Jesus, from which I will here transcribe but one page.

“At Munster, in Westphalia, towards the middle of the seventeenth century, an epidemic broke out which each day swept away innumerable victims. Fear paralyzed the charity of the greater part of the inhabitants, and few were found to devote themselves to the relief of the unfortunate plague-stricken creatures. Then Father John Fabricius, animated with the spirit of Laynez and Ignatius, rushed into the arena of self-sacrifice. Putting aside all personal precaution, he employed his time in visiting the sick, in procuring remedies for them, and in disposing them to die a Christian death. He heard their Confessions, administered the other Sacraments, buried them with his own hands, and finally celebrated the Holy Sacrifice for the repose of their souls.

“In fact, during his whole lifetime this servant of God had the greatest devotion towards the holy souls.

“Among all his exercises of piety, the one most dear to him, and which he always earnestly recommended, was that of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the departed whenever the Rubrics permitted. As a result of this counsel, all the Fathers in Munster resolved to consecrate one day in each month to the faithful departed; they draped their church in black, and prayed with all solemnity for the dead.

“God deigned, as He often does, to recompense Father Fabricius, and encouraged his zeal by several apparitions of the suffering souls. Some besought him to hasten their deliverance, others thanked him for the relief he had procured for them; others, again, announced to him the happy moment of their deliverance.

“His greatest act of Charity was that which he accomplished at the moment of his death. With a generosity truly admirable, he made a sacrifice of all the suffrages, prayers, Masses, indulgences, and mortifications which the Society applies to her deceased members. He asked God to deprive him of them for the relief of the suffering souls most pleasing to His Divine Majesty.”

We have already spoken of Father Nieremberg, renowned as well for the works of piety which he published as for the eminent virtue which he practiced. His devotion for the holy souls, not content with sacrifices and frequent prayers, urged him to suffer for them with a generosity which often amounted to heroism.

There was among his penitents at the court of Madrid a lady of rank, who, under his wise direction, had attained a high degree of virtue in the midst of the world, but she was tormented with an excessive fear of death in view of Purgatory which follows it. She fell dangerously ill, and her fears increased to such a degree that she almost lost her Christian sentiments. Her holy confessor employed every means that his zeal could suggest, but to no purpose; he could not succeed in restoring her to tranquillity, nor could he prevail upon her even to receive the last Sacraments.

To crown this misfortune, she suddenly lost consciousness, and was reduced to the last extremity. The Father, justly alarmed at the peril of this soul, retired into a chapel near the chamber of the dying woman. There he offered the Holy Sacrifice with the greatest fervor to obtain for the sick person time sufficient to receive the Sacraments of the Church. At the same time, prompted by truly heroic charity, he offered himself as a victim to Divine Justice, to undergo during this life all the sufferings reserved for that poor soul in the next.

His prayer was heard. The Mass was no sooner ended than the sick lady regained consciousness, and found that she was entirely changed. She was so well disposed that she asked for the last Sacraments, which she received with the most edifying fervor. Then her confessor, having told her that she had nothing to fear from Purgatory, she expired perfectly calm, and with a smile upon her lips.

From that hour, Father Nieremberg was afflicted with all manner of suffering, both of body and soul. The remaining sixteen years of his life was one long martyrdom and a most rigorous Purgatory. No human remedy could give him relief; his only consolation was in the remembrance of the holy cause for which he endured them. Finally, death came to terminate his terrible sufferings, and at the same time, we may reasonably believe, to open to him the gates of Paradise, since it is written, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

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Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 37


Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Facility in Relieving them – The Example of the Saints and of all Fervent Christians – The Servant of God, Mary Villani – The Burned Forehead

We have already seen how Saint Catherine de Ricci and several others carried their heroism so far as to suffer instead of the souls in Purgatory. Let us add a few more examples of this admirable Charity. The servant of God Mary Villani, of the Order of Saint Dominic, whose life was written by Father Marchi (Cf. Rossignoli, Merv., 41) applied herself day and night to the practice of satisfactory works in favor of the departed.

One day – it was the Vigil of the Epiphany – she remained a long time in prayer, beseeching God to alleviate their sufferings in consideration of those of Jesus Christ, offering to Him the cruel scourging of our Saviour, His crown of thorns, His cords, the nails and cross – in a word, all His bitter pains and all the instruments of His Passion. The following night God was pleased to manifest how agreeable to Him was this holy practice.

During her prayer she was rapt in ecstasy, and saw a long procession of persons robed in white garments and radiant with light. They were carrying the emblems of the Passion and entering into the glory of Paradise. The servant of God knew that they were the souls delivered by her fervent prayers and by the merits of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

On another occasion, the Feast of All Souls, she was ordered to work at a manuscript, and to pass the day in writing. This task, imposed by obedience, was a trial to her piety: she experienced some repugnance to obey, because she wished to devote that whole day to prayer, penance, and pious exercises for the relief of the suffering souls. She forgot for a moment that obedience should take precedence over all else, as it is written, Mel i or est obedientia quam victimce – ”Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (1 Kings 15:22). Seeing her great charity towards the poor souls, God vouchsafed to appear to her, in order to instruct and console her. “Obey, My daughter,” He said to her; “do the work imposed upon you by Obedience, and offer it for the souls: each line which you shall write today in the spirit of Obedience and Charity, will procure the deliverance of a soul.” It will be easily understood that she labored with the greatest diligence, and wrote as many as possible of those lines, so acceptable to God.

Her charity towards the holy souls did not confine itself to prayer and fasting; she desired to endure a part of their sufferings. One day, whilst praying for that intention, she was rapt in spirit and led into Purgatory. There, amongst the multitude of suffering souls, she saw one more grievously tormented than the others, and which excited her most tender compassion. “Why,” she asked, “have you to suffer such excruciating torture? Do you receive no alleviation?” “I have been,” replied the soul, “a great length of time in this place, enduring the most frightful torments, in punishment for my former vanity and scandalous extravagance. Thus far I have not received the least relief, because God has permitted that I should be forgotten by my parents, my children, my relatives, and friends: they offer not a single prayer for me. When I was upon earth, being exclusively occupied with my extravagant toilet and worldly vanities, with feasting and pleasure, I cast but a passing thought upon God and my duties. My only serious desire was to further the worldly interests of my family. I am well punished; for you see I am entirely forgotten by all.”

These words made a painful impression upon Mary Villani. She begged this soul to allow her to feel something of what she suffered; and at the same instant it seemed as though a finger of fire touched her forehead, and the pain which she felt was so acute as to cause her ecstasy to cease. The mark remained so deeply impressed upon her forehead, that two months afterwards it was still visible, and caused her intolerable suffering. The servant of God offered this, together with prayers and other good works, for the soul to which we have just referred. This soul appeared to Mary at the end of two months, and said that having been delivered by her intercession, she was about to enter Heaven. At the same moment the scar on the forehead disappeared.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 36

detail from a painting of Saint John of God saving sick people from a fire at the royal hospital, by Manuel Gomez-Moreno Gonzalez, 1880; Museo de Bellas Artres, Granada, Spain; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Intimate Ties which Unite us to them – Filial Piety – Cimon of Athens and his Father in Prison – Saint John of God saving the Sick from the Conflagration

If we are obliged to assist the holy souls because of the extreme necessity in which they are, how much greater does this motive become when we remember that these souls are united to us by the most sacred ties, the ties of blood, by the Blood of Jesus Christ, and by the ties of human flesh and blood, whence we have been brought forth according to the flesh?

Yes, there are in Purgatory souls united to us by the closest family ties. It may be a father or a mother, who, languishing in those horrible torments, extend their arms in supplication towards me. What would we not do for our father or for our mother, if we knew they were pining away in some loathsome dungeon? An ancient Athenian, the celebrated Cimon, had the grief to see his father imprisoned by heartless creditors whom he was unable to satisfy. What was worse, he could not raise a sum sufficient to effect his father’s ransom, and the old man died in prison. Cimon hastened to the prison and requested that they would at least grant him the body of his father that he might give it burial. This was refused him, under pretext that, not having had wherewith to pay his debts, he could not be set at liberty. “Allow me first to bury my father,” cried Cimon, “I will then return and take his place in prison.”

We admire this act of filial piety, but are we not also bound to imitate it? Have we not also, perhaps, a father or a mother in Purgatory? Are we not obliged to deliver them at the cost of the greatest sacrifices? More fortunate than Cimon, we have wherewith to pay their debts; we need not take their place; on the contrary, to deliver them is to purchase our own ransom.

We admire, also, the charity of Saint John of God, who braved the fury of the flames to save the poor sick during a conflagration. This great servant of God died at Granada in the year 1550, kneeling before an image of Jesus crucified, which he embraced and continued to hold clasped tightly within his arms, even after he had breathed forth his soul to God. Born of very poor parents, and obliged to support himself by tending flocks, he was rich in faith and confidence in God. He took great delight in prayer and hearing the Word of God; this was the foundation of the great sanctity which he afterwards attained. A sermon by the Venerable Father John d’Avila, the Apostle of Andalusia, made such an impression upon him, that he resolved to consecrate his entire life to the service of the sick poor. Without other resource than his charity and confidence in God, he succeeded in purchasing a house, in which he assembled all poor abandoned sick, that he might give them nourishment for soul and body. This asylum soon developed into the Royal Hospital of Granada, an immense establishment, filled with a multitude of the aged and infirm. One day a fire having broken out in the hospital, many of the sick were in danger of perishing by a most horrible death. They were surrounded on all sides by flames, so that it was impossible for anyone to attempt their rescue. They uttered the most heartrending cries, calling Heaven and earth to their assistance. John sees them, his charity is inflamed, he rushes into the fire, battles through flame and smoke until he reaches the beds of the sick; then raising them upon his shoulders, he carries these unfortunate creatures one after another to a place of safety. Obliged to traverse this vast furnace, working in the heat of the fire for a whole half-hour, the saint had not sustained the least injury; the flames respected his person, his clothing, and even the least hair of his head, God wishing to show by a miracle how pleasing to Him was the charity of His servant. And those who save, not the body, but souls from the flames of Purgatory, is their work less agreeable to God? Are the necessities, the cries and moans of those souls less touching to a heart of faith? Is it more difficult to aid them? Is it necessary to cast ourselves into the flames in order to rescue them?

Assuredly, we have every facility in our power for affording them relief, and God does not demand great efforts on our part. Yet the charity of fervent souls inspires them to make the most heroic sacrifices, and even to share the torments of their brethren in Purgatory.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 35


Motives for Aiding the Holy Souls – Excellence of the Work – Controversy between Brother Benedict and Brother Bertrand

When we so highly extol the merits of prayer for the dead, we do not in any way infer that other good works must be omitted; for all other works must be exercised according to time, place, and circumstances. The only intention we had in view was to give a correct idea of Mercy towards the dead, and to inspire others with a desire to practice it.

Moreover, the spiritual works of Mercy, which have for object the salvation of souls, are all of equal excellency, and it is only in certain respects that we may place the assistance of the dead above zeal for the conversion of sinners.

It is related in the Chronicles of the Friars Preachers (Cf. Rossign., Merv. I), that a spirited controversy arose between two Religious of that Order, Brother Benedict and Brother Bertrand, on the subject of suffrages for the departed. It was occasioned by the following: Brother Bertrand often celebrated Holy Mass for sinners, and prayed continually for their conversion, imposing upon himself the most severe penances; but he was rarely seen to say Mass in black for the dead. Brother Benedict, who had great devotion towards the souls in Purgatory, having remarked this conduct, asked him why he thus acted.

“Because,” replied he, “the souls in Purgatory are sure of their salvation, while sinners are continually exposed to the danger of falling into Hell. What more deplorable condition than that of a soul in the state of mortal sin? She is in enmity with God, and bound in the chains of the devil, suspended over the abyss of Hell by the frail thread of life, that may be broken at any moment. The sinner walks in the way of perdition; if he continues to advance, he will fall into the eternal abyss. We must, therefore, come to his assistance, and preserve him from this, the greatest of misfortunes, by laboring for his conversion. Moreover, was it not to save sinners that the Son of God came upon earth and died upon a cross? Saint Denis also assures us that the most divine of all divine things is to work with God for the salvation of souls. As regards the souls in Purgatory, they are safe, their eternal salvation is secure. They suffer, they are a prey to great torments, but they have nothing to fear from Hell, and their sufferings will have an end. The debts they have contracted diminish each day, and they will soon enjoy eternal light; whilst sinners are continually menaced with damnation, the most terrible misfortune that can befall one of God’s creatures.”

“All that you have said is true,” replied Brother Benedict, “but there is another consideration to be made. Sinners are slaves of Satan, of their own free will. Their yoke is of their own choosing, they could break their chains if they pleased; whereas the poor souls in Purgatory can but sigh and implore the assistance of the living. It is impossible for them to break the fetters which hold them captive in those penal flames. Suppose you met two beggars, the one sick, maimed, and helpless, absolutely incapable of earning his livelihood; the other, on the contrary, although in great distress, young and vigorous; which of the two would deserve the greater share of your alms?”

“Assuredly the one who was unable to work,” answered Brother Bertrand.

“Well, my dear Father,” continued Benedict, “this is just the case with regard to sinners and the holy souls. They can no longer help themselves. The time of prayer, Confession, and good works is past for them; we alone are able to relieve them. It is true they have deserved these sufferings in punishment for their sins, but they now bewail and detest those sins. They are in the grace and friendship of God; whereas sinners are His enemies. Certainly we must pray for their conversion, but without prejudice to that which we owe to the suffering souls, so dear to the heart of Jesus. Fet us compassionate sinners, but let us not forget that they have all the means of salvation at their disposal; they must break the bonds of sin and fly the danger of damnation which threatens them. Does it not appear evident that the suffering souls are in greater need and merit a larger share in our charity?”

Notwithstanding the force of these arguments, Brother Bertrand persisted in his first opinion. But the night following he had an apparition of a soul from Purgatory, which made him experience for a short time the pain which she herself endured. This suffering was so atrocious that it seemed impossible to bear it. Then, as Isaias says, torture gave him understanding: Vexatio intellectum dabit (Is. 28:19), and he was convinced that he ought to do more for the suffering souls. The next morning, filled with compassion, he ascended the altar steps vested in black, and offered the Holy Sacrifice for the dead.

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