Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 25

coat of arms of the Abbey of Saint Vincent in Latrobe, PennsylvaniaArticle

Duration of Purgatory – The Abbey of Latrobe – A Hundred Years of Suffering for Delay in the Reception of the Last Sacraments

The following incident is related with authentic proof by the journal, The Monde, in the number of April 1860. It took place in America, in the Abbey of the Benedictines, situated in the village of Latrobe. A series of apparitions occurred during the course of the year 1859. The American press took up the matter, and treated those grave questions with its usual levity. In order to put a stop to scandal, the Abbot Wirnmer, superior of the house, addressed the following letter to the newspapers.

“The following is a true statement of the case: In our Abbey of Saint Vincent, near Latrobe, on 10 September 1859, a novice saw an apparition of a Benedictine in full choir dress. This apparition was repeated every day from 18 September until 19 November, either at eleven o’clock, at noon, or at two o’clock in the morning. It was only on the 19th of November that the novice interrogated the spirit, in presence of another member of the community, and asked the motive of these apparitions. He replied that he had suffered for seventy-seven years for having neglected to celebrate seven Masses of obligation; that he had already appeared at different times to seven other Benedictines, but that he had not been heard, and that he would be obliged to appear again after eleven years if the novice did not come to his assistance. Finally, the spirit asked that these seven Masses might be celebrated for him; moreover, the novice must remain in retreat for seven days, keep strict silence, and during thirty days recite three times a day the psalm Miserere, his feet bare, and his arms extended in the form of a cross. All the conditions were fulfilled between 20 November and 25 December, and on that day, after the celebration of the last Mass, the apparition disappeared.

“During that period the spirit showed itself several times, exhorting the novice in the most urgent manner to pray for the souls in Purgatory; for, said he, they suffer frightfully, and are extremely grateful to those who co-operate in their deliverance, He added, sad to relate, that of the five priests who had died in our Abbey, not one had yet entered Heaven, all were suffering in Purgatory. I do not draw any conclusion, but this is correct.”

This account, signed by the hand of the Abbot, is an incontestable historical document.

As regards the conclusion which the venerable prelate leaves us to draw, it is evident.

Seeing that a Religious is condemned to Purgatory for seventy-seven years, let it suffice for us to learn the necessity of reflecting on the duration of future punishment, as well for priests and Religious as for the ordinary faithful living in the midst of the corruption of the world.

A too frequent cause of the long continuance of Purgatory is that many deprive themselves of a great means established by Jesus Christ for shortening it, by delaying, when dangerously sick, to receive the last Sacraments. These Sacraments, destined to prepare souls for their last journey, to purify them from the remains of sin, and to spare them the pains of the other life, require, in order to produce their effects, that the sick person receive them with the requisite dispositions. Now, the longer they are deferred, and the faculties of the sick person allowed to become weak, the more defective do those dispositions become. What do I say? Very often it happens, in consequence of this imprudent delay, that the sick person dies deprived of this absolutely necessary help. The result is, that if the deceased is not damned, he is plunged into the deepest abysses of Purgatory, loaded with all the weight of his debts.

Michael Alix speaks of an ecclesiastic who, instead of promptly receiving the Extreme Unction, and therein giving a good example to the faithful, was guilty of negligence in this respect, and was punished by a hundred years of Purgatory. Knowing that he was seriously ill and in danger of death, this poor priest should have made known his condition, and immediately had recourse to the succors which the Mother Church reserves for her children in that supreme hour. He omitted to do so; and, whether through an illusion common among sick people, he would not declare the gravity of his situation, or whether he was under the influence of that fatal prejudice which causes weak Christians to defer the reception of the last Sacraments, he neither asked for nor thought of receiving them. But we know how death comes by stealth; the unfortunate man deferred so long that he died without having had the time to receive either the Viaticum or Extreme Unction. Now, God was pleased to make use of this circumstance to give a great warning to others. The deceased himself came to make known to a brother ecclesiastic that he was condemned to Purgatory for a hundred years. “I am thus punished,” he said, “for delaying to receive the grace of the last purification. Had I received the Sacraments as I ought to have done, I should have escaped death through the virtue of Extreme Unction, and I should have had time to do penance.”

MLA Citation