Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 17

detail of a statue of Saint Maria Magdalena of Pazzi; date and artist unknown; Estrela basilica, Lisbon, Portugal; photographed in April 2010 by Alvesgaspar, and a great job he did, too; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Relief of the Souls – The Sacrifice of the Mass – Brother John of Alvernia at the Altar – Saint Magdalen de Pazzi – Saint Malachy and his Sister

The annals of the Seraphic Order tell us of a holy Religious named John of Alvernia. He ardently loved Our Lord Jesus Christ, and embraced in the same love the souls ransomed by His Blood and so dear to His Heart. Those who suffered in the prisons of Purgatory had a large share in his prayers, his penances, and his sacrifices. One day God was pleased to manifest to him the admirable and consoling effects of the Divine Sacrifice offered on All Souls’ Day upon every altar. The Servant of God was celebrating Mass for the departed on that solemnity when he was rapt in ecstasy. He saw Purgatory opened, and souls coming forth delivered by virtue of the Sacrifice of Propitiation; they resembled innumerable sparks which escaped from a burning furnace. We shall be less astonished at the powerful effects of holy Mass if we call to mind that it is identically the same as that offered by the Son of God Himself upon the Cross. It is the same Priest, says the Council of Trent, it is the same Victim, the only difference is in the manner of immolation; on the Cross the immolation was bloody, on our altar it is unbloody.

Now, that sacrifice of the cross was of infinite value; that of the altar is, in the eyes of God, of equal value. Let us remark, however, that the efficacy of this Divine Sacrifice is only partially applied to the dead, and in a measure known only to the justice of God. The Passion of Jesus Christ and His Precious Blood shed for our salvation are an inexhaustible ocean of merit and satisfaction. It is by virtue of that Passion that we obtain all gifts and mercies from God. The mere commemoration which we make of it by way of prayer, when we offer to God the Blood of His only-begotten Son, to implore His mercy, this prayer I say, thus strengthened by the Passion of Jesus Christ, has great power with God. Saint Magdalen de Pazzi learned from Our Lord to offer to the Eternal Lather the Blood of His Divine Son. It was a simple commemoration of the Passion. She did it fifty times a day, and in one of her ecstasies she saw a large number of sinners converted, and of souls delivered from Purgatory by this practice. “Each time,” He added, “that a creature offers to my Lather the Blood by which she has been redeemed, she offers Him a gift of infinite value.” If such be the value of an offering commemorative of the Passion, what must be said of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the actual renewal of that same Passion?

Many Christians do not sufficiently know the greatness of the Divine Mysteries accomplished upon our altars; the feebleness of their faith, together with their lack of knowledge, prevents them from appreciating the treasure which they possess in the Divine Sacrifice, and causes them to look upon it with a sort of indifference. Alas! they will see later on, with bitter regret, how they have deceived themselves. The sister of Saint Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, in Ireland, affords us a striking example of this.

In his beautiful Life of Saint Malachy Saint Bernard highly praises that prelate for his devotion towards the souls in Purgatory. When he was as yet deacon, he loved to assist at the funerals of the poor, and at the Mass which was celebrated for them; he even accompanied their remains to the cemetery with as much zeal as he ordinarily saw those unfortunate creatures neglected after their death. But he had a sister, who, filled with the spirit of the world, thought that her brother degraded himself and his whole family by thus associating with the poor. She reproached him, showing by her language that she understood neither Christian Charity nor the excellence of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Malachy, notwithstanding, continued the exercise of his humble Charity, contenting himself with replying to his sister that she had forgotten the teaching of Jesus Christ, and that she would one day repent of her thoughtless words.

In the meantime the imprudent rashness of this woman was not to remain unpunished; she died whilst still young, and went to render an account to the Sovereign Judge of the worldly life she had led.

Malachy had reason to complain of her conduct, but when she was dead he forgot all the wrongs she had done him, and thinking only of the needs of her soul, he offered the Holy Sacrifice and prayed much for her. In the course of time, however, having many others to pray for, he neglected his poor sister. “We may believe,” says Lather Rossignoli, “that God permitted that she should be forgotten, in punishment for the want of compassion which she showed towards the dead.”

However this may be, she appeared to her holy brother during his sleep. Malachy saw her standing in the middle of the area before the church, sad, clad in mourning, and entreating his compassion, complaining that for the last thirty days he had neglected her. He thereupon awoke suddenly, and remembered that in reality it was thirty days since he had celebrated Mass for his sister. On the following day he began anew to offer the Holy Sacrifice for her. Then the deceased appeared to him at the door of the church, kneeling upon the threshold, and lamenting that she was not allowed to enter. He continued his suffrages. Some days later he saw her enter the church and advance as far as the middle of the aisle, without being able, notwithstanding all her efforts, to approach the altar. He saw, therefore, it was necessary to persevere, so he continued to offer the Holy Sacrifice for the repose of her soul. Finally, after a few days he saw her near the altar, clad in magnificent attire, radiant with joy, and free from suffering.

“By this we see,” adds Saint Bernard, “how great is the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice to remit sins, to combat the powers of darkness, and to open the gates of Heaven to those souls which have quitted this earth.”

MLA Citation