Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 34

photograph of a Saint Thomas Aquinas roundel, Convento de Las Duenas, Salamanca, Spain; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Excellence of this Work – Saint Francis de Sales – Saint Thomas of Aquin – Saint Bridget

We have just passed in review the means and resources which Divine Mercy has placed in our hands for the relief of our brethren in Purgatory. These means are powerful, the resources rich; but do we make an abundant use thereof? Having it in our power to assist the poor souls, have we zeal enough to do so? Are we as rich in Charity as God is rich in mercy? Alas! how many Christians do little or nothing for the departed! And those who forget them not, those who have sufficient Charity to aid them by their suffrages, how often are they not lacking in zeal and fervor! Compare the care we bestow upon the sick with the assistance which we give to the suffering souls. When a father or mother is afflicted with some malady, when a child or any person dear to us is a prey to suffering, what care, what solicitude, what devotion on our part! But the holy souls, who are no less dear to us, languish under the weight, not of a painful malady, but of expiatory torments a thousand times more cruel. Are we equally fervent, solicitous, eager to procure them relief? “No,” says Saint Francis de Sales, “we do not sufficiently remember our dear departed friends. Their memory seems to perish with the sound of the funeral bells, and we forget that the friendship which finds an end, even in death, was never genuine friendship.”

From whence this sad and culpable forgetfulness? Its principal cause is want of reflection. Quia nullus est qui recogitat corde – “Because there is none that considers in the heart.” (Jeremiah 12:2). We lose sight of the great motives which urge us to the exercise of this Charity towards the dead. It is, therefore, to stimulate our zeal that we are about to recall to mind these motives, and to place them in the strongest possible light.

We may say that all these motives are summed up in these words of the Holy Ghost: It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins, that is, from the temporal punishment due to their sins. (2 Maccabees 12:46). In the first place, it is a work, holy and excellent in itself, as also agreeable and meritorious in the sight of God. Accordingly, it is a salutary work, supremely profitable for our own salvation, for our welfare in this world and the next.

“One of the holiest works, one of the best exercises of piety that we can practice in this world,” says Saint Augustine, “is to offer sacrifices, alms, and prayers for the dead.” (Homil . 16). “The relief which we procure for the departed,” says Saint Jerome, “obtains for us a like mercy.”

Considered in itself, prayer for the dead is a work of Faith, Charity, and frequently even of Justice.

First, who are, indeed, the persons whom there is question of assisting? Who are those holy, predestined souls, so dear to God and Our Ford Jesus Christ, so dear to their Mother, the Church, who unceasingly recommends them to our charity; souls who are dear also to ourselves, that were, perhaps, intimately united to us upon earth, and who supplicate us in these touching words: Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends. (Job 19:21). Second, in what necessities do they find themselves? Alas! their necessities being very great, the souls who thus suffer have a right to our assistance proportionate to their utter helplessness to do anything for themselves. Third, what good do we procure for the souls? The greatest good, since we put them in possession of eternal beatitude.

“To assist the souls in Purgatory,” says Saint Francis de Sales, “is to perform the most excellent of the works of Mercy, or rather it is to practice in a most sublime manner all the works of Mercy together: it is to visit the sick; it is to give drink to those who thirst for the vision of God; it is to feed the hungry, to ransom prisoners, to clothe the naked, to procure for poor exiles the hospitality of the Heavenly Jerusalem; it is to comfort the afflicted, to instruct the ignorant – in fine, to practice all works of Mercy in one.” This doctrine agrees very well with that of Saint Thomas, who says in his Summa, “Suffrages for the dead are more agreeable to God than suffrages for the living; because the former stand in more urgent need thereof, not being able to assist themselves, as are the living.” (Supplem, Q. 71, art. 5).

Our Lord regards every work of Mercy exercised towards our neighbor as done to Himself. “It is to Me,” says He, “that you have done it,” – Mi hi fecistis. This is most especially true of Mercy practiced towards the poor souls.

It was revealed to Saint Bridget that he who delivers a soul from Purgatory has the same merit as if he delivered Jesus Christ Himself from captivity.

MLA Citation