Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 9

detail of a painting of Saint Gertrude the Great, by Miguel Cabrera, 1763; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, USA; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Assistance given the Holy Souls – Suffrages – Meritorious, Impetratory, and Satisfactory Works – God’s Mercy – Saint Gertrude – Judas Machabeus

If God consoles the souls with so much goodness, His mercy shines forth still more clearly in the power which He gives to His Church to shorten the duration of their sufferings. Desiring to execute with clemency the severe sentence of His Justice, He accords abatement and mitigation of the pain; but He does so in an indirect manner through the intervention of the living. To us He gives all power to succor our afflicted brethren by way of suffrage, that is to say, by means of impetration and satisfaction.

The word suffrage in ecclesiastical language is a synonym of prayer, yet, when the Council of Trent declares that the souls in Purgatory are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, the sense of the word is more comprehensive; it includes in general all that we can offer to God in behalf of the departed. Now, we can thus offer to God, not only our prayers, but all our good works, in so far as they are impetratory or satisfactory.

To understand these terms, let us recall to mind that each of our good works, performed in the state of grace, ordinarily possesses a triple value in the sight of God.

1. The work is meritorious, that is to say, it increases our merit; it gives us right to a new degree of glory in Heaven.

2. It is impetratory (impetrate, obtain), that is to say that, like a prayer, it has the virtue of obtaining some grace from God.

3. It is satisfactory, that is to say that as having, as it were, a pecuniary value, it can satisfy Divine Justice and pay our debts of temporal punishment before God.

The merit is inalienable, and remains the property of the person who performs the action. On the contrary, the impetratory and satisfactory value can benefit others, in virtue of the communion of saints. This understood, let us put this practical question – What are suffrages by which, according to the doctrine of the Church, we may aid the souls in Purgatory?

To this question we answer: They consist of prayers, alms, fasts, and penances of any kind, indulgences, and above all the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. All the works performed in the state of grace Jesus Christ allows us to offer to the Divine Majesty for the relief of our brethren in Purgatory, and God applies them to those souls according to His Justice and Mercy. By this admirable arrangement, whilst protecting the rights of His Justice, our Heavenly Father multiplies the effects of His Mercy, which is thus exercised at the same time in favor of the Church Suffering and of the Church Militant. The merciful assistance which He allows us to give to our suffering brethren is of excellent profit to ourselves. It is a work not only advantageous to the departed, but also holy and salutary for the living. Sancta et salubris est cogitatio pro defunctis exorare.

We read in the Revelations of Saint Gertrude that a humble Religious of her community, having crowned an exemplary life with a very pious death, God deigned to show the saint the state of the deceased in the other life. Gertrude saw her soul adorned with ineffable beauty, and dear to Jesus, who regarded her with love. Nevertheless, on account of some slight negligence not yet atoned for, she could not enter Heaven, but was obliged to descend into the dismal abode of suffering. Scarcely had she disappeared into its depths, when the saint saw her come forth and rise towards Heaven, transported thither by the suffrages of the Church. Ecclesiae precibus sursum ferri. (Le gains Div. Pietatis, lib. 5., c. 5).

Even in the Old Law prayers and sacrifices were offered for the dead. Holy Scripture relates as praiseworthy the pious action of Judas Machabeus after his victory over Gorgias, general of King Antiochus. The soldiers had committed a fault by taking from among the spoils some objects offered to the idols, which by law they were forbidden to do. Then Judas, chief of the army of Israel, ordered prayers and sacrifices for the remission of their sin, and for the repose of their souls. Let us see how this fact is related in Scripture. (2 Machabees 12:39).

“After the Sabbath, Judas went with his company to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers.

“And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews; so that all plainly saw that for this cause they were slain.

“Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.

“And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought Him that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, for so much as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sin of those that were slain.

“And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.

“(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid up for them).

“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

MLA Citation