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.

MLA Citation

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

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 33

statue of Saint Jean Marie Vianney, by Emilien Cabuchet, 1867; photographed in March 2009 by Andreas König; swiped off WikipediaArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – For whom are we to Pray? – Great Sinners – Father Ravignan and General Exelmans – The Widow in Mourning and the Venerable Cure d’Ars – Sister Catherine of Saint Augustine and the Sinner Dead in a Grotto

Father Ravignan, an illustrious and holy preacher of the Society of Jesus, also cherished great hope for the welfare of sinners carried away by a sudden death, when otherwise they had borne no hatred in the heart for the things of God. He lived to speak of the supreme moment, and it seems to have been his opinion that many sinners are converted in their last moments, and are reconciled to God without being able to give any exterior sign thereof. In certain deaths there are mysteries of Mercy where the eye of man sees nothing but strokes of Justice. As a last glimmer of light, God sometimes reveals Himself to those souls whose greatest misfortune has been to ignore Him; and the last sigh, understood by Him who penetrates hearts, may be a groan that calls for pardon; that is to say, an act of perfect contrition. General Exelmans, a relative of this good father, was suddenly carried to the tomb by an accident, and unfortunately he had not been faithful in the practice of his religion. He had promised that he would one day make his Confession, but had not had the opportunity to do so. Father Ravignan, who, for a long time had prayed and procured prayers for him, was filled with consternation when he heard of such a death. The same day, a person accustomed to receive supernatural communications thought he heard an interior voice, which said to him, “Who then knows the extent of God’s mercy? Who knows the depth of the ocean, or how much water is contained therein? Much will be forgiven to those who have sinned through ignorance.”

The biographer from whom we borrow this incident, Father de Ponlevoy, goes on to say, “Christians, placed under the law of Hope no less than under the law of Faith and Charity, we must continually lift ourselves up from the depths of our sufferings to the thought of the infinite goodness of God. No limit to the grace of God is placed here below; while there remains a spark of life there is nothing which it cannot effect in the soul. Therefore we must ever hope and petition God with humble persistency. We know not to what a degree we may be heard. Great saints and doctors have gone to great lengths in extolling the powerful efficacy of prayer for the dear departed, how unhappy soever their end may have been. We shall one day know the unspeakable marvels of Divine Mercy. We should never cease to implore it with the greatest confidence.”

The following is an incident which our readers may have seen in the Petit Messager du Coeur de Marie, November 1880. A Religious, preaching a mission to the ladies at Nancy, had reminded them in a conference that we must never despair of the salvation of a soul, and that sometimes actions of the least importance in the eyes of man are rewarded by God at the hour of death. When he was about to leave the church, a lady dressed in mourning approached him and said, “Father, you just recommended to us confidence and hope; what has just happened to me fully justifies your words. I had a husband who was most kind and affectionate, and who, although otherwise leading an irreproachable life, entirely neglected the practice of his religion. My prayers and exhortations remained without effect. During the month of May which preceded his death, I had erected in my room, as I was accustomed to do, a little altar of the Blessed Virgin, and decorated it with flowers, which I renewed from time to time. My husband passed the Sunday in the country, and each time he returned he brought me some flowers, which he himself had plucked, and with these I used to adorn my oratory. Did he notice this? Did he do this to give me pleasure, or was it through a sentiment of piety towards the Blessed Virgin? I know not, but he never failed to bring me the flowers.

“In the beginning of the following month he died suddenly, without having had time to receive the consolations of religion. I was inconsolable, especially as I saw all my hopes of his return to God vanish. In consequence of my grief, my health became completely shattered, and my family urged me to make a tour in the south. As I had to pass through Lyons, I desired to see the Cure d’Ars. I therefore wrote to him asking an audience, and recommending to his prayers my husband, who had died suddenly. I gave him no further details.

“Arrived at Ars, scarcely had I entered the venerable Cure’s room than, to my great astonishment, he addressed me in these words: ‘Madame, you are disconsolate; but have you forgotten those bouquets of flowers which were brought to you each Sunday of the month of May?’ It is impossible to express my astonishment on hearing M. Vianney remind me of a circumstance that I had not mentioned to anyone, and which he could know only by revelation. He continued, ‘God has had mercy on him who honored His Holy Mother. At the moment of his death your husband repented; his soul is in Purgatory; our prayers and good works will obtain his deliverance.'”

We read in the Life of a holy Religious, Sister Catherine of Saint Augustine (Saint Alphonsus, Paraph, of the Salve Regina), that in the place where she lived there was a woman named Mary, who in her youth had given herself up to a very disorderly life, and as age brought no amendment, but, on the contrary, she grew more obstinate in vice, the inhabitants, no longer willing to tolerate the scandal she gave, drove her from the city. She found no other asylum than a grotto in the forest, where, after a few months, she died without the assistance of the Sacraments. Her body was interred in a field, as though it were something contagious.

Sister Catherine, who was accustomed to recommend to God the souls of all those of whose death she heard, thought not of praying for this one, judging, as did everyone else, that she was surely damned.

Four months later the servant of God heard a voice saying, “Sister Catherine, how unfortunate I am! You recommend to God the souls of all; I am the only one upon whom you take no pity!” “Who then are you?” replied the sister. “I am poor Mary, who died in the grotto.” “What! Mary, are you saved?” “Yes, by the Divine Mercy I am At the point of death, terrified by the remembrance of my crimes, and seeing myself abandoned by all, I called upon the Blessed Virgin. In her tender goodness she heard me, and obtained for me the grace of perfect contrition, with a desire of confessing, had it been in my power to do so. I thus recovered the grace of God and escaped Hell. But I was obliged to go to Purgatory, where I suffer terribly.

My time will be shortened, and I shall soon be liberated, if a few Masses are offered for me. Oh! have them celebrated for me, dear sister, and I shall ever remember you before Jesus and Mary.”

Sister Catherine hastened to fulfill this request, and after a few days the soul again appeared, brilliant as a star, and returning thanks for her charity.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 32

statue of Saint Andrew Avellino by Pedro Alonso de los Ríos, 17th century, façade of Saint Emilian and Saint Cajetan's Church, Madrid, Spain); photographed by Luis García (Zaqarbal), 4 July 2009; swiped off Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – Which of them should be the Objects of our Charity – All the Faithful Departed – Saint Andrew Avellino – Sinners dying without the Sacraments – Saint Francis de Sales

We have seen the resources and the numerous means which Divine Mercy has placed in our hands for relieving the souls in Purgatory; but what souls are in those expiatory flames, and to what souls should we give our assistance? For what souls should we pray and offer our suffrages to God? To these questions we must answer that we should pray for the souls of all the faithful departed, omnium fidelium defunctorum, according to the expression of the Church. Although filial piety imposes special duties upon us with regard to parents and relations, Christian charity commands us to pray for all the faithful departed in general, because they are all our brethren in Jesus Christ, all are our neighbors, whom we must love as ourselves.

By these words , faithful departed, the Church means all those actually in Purgatory, that is to say, those who are neither in Hell, nor as yet worthy to be admitted into the glory of Paradise. But who are these souls? Can we know them? God has reserved this knowledge to Himself, and, except so far as He is pleased to show us, we should remain in total ignorance of the state of souls in the other life. Now, He rarely makes known that a soul is in Purgatory or in the glory of Heaven; still more rarely does He reveal the reprobation of a soul. In this uncertainty we must pray in general, as does the Church, for all the departed, without prejudice to those souls whom we wish to aid in particular.

We may evidently restrict our intention to those among the dead who are still in need of our assistance, if God grants us the privilege which He accorded to Saint Andrew Avellino, of knowing the condition of souls in the other life. When this holy Religious of the Order of Theatines was, according to his pious custom, praying with angelic fervor for the departed, it sometimes happened that he experienced within himself a sort of resistance, a feeling of invincible repulsion; at other times it was, on the contrary, a great consolation and a particular attraction. He soon understood the meaning of these different impressions; the first signified that his prayer was useless, that the soul which he desired to assist was unworthy of mercy, and condemned to eternal fire; the other indicated that his prayer was efficacious for the relief of the soul in Purgatory. It was the same when he wished to offer the Holy Sacrifice for someone deceased. He felt, on leaving the sacristy, as though withheld by an irresistible hand, and understood that that soul was in Hell; but when he was inundated with joy, light, and devotion, he was sure of contributing to the deliverance of a soul.

This charitable saint prayed, therefore, with the greatest fervor for the dead whom he knew to be suffering, and ceased not to apply his suffrages until the souls came to thank him, giving him the assurance of their deliverance. (Life of the Saint).

As for us, who have not these supernatural lights, we must pray for all the departed, even for the greatest sinners and the most virtuous Christian. Saint Augustine knew the great virtue of his mother, Saint Monica; nevertheless, not content with offering his own suffrages for her to God, he asked his readers not to cease recommending her soul to Divine Mercy.

As regards great sinners, who die without being outwardly reconciled with God, we may not exclude them from our suffrages, because we have not the certainty of their interior impenitence. Faith teaches us that all men dying in the state of mortal sin incur eternal damnation; but who are those that in reality die in that state? God alone, who reserves to Himself the judgment of the living and the dead, knows this. As to ourselves, we can but draw a conjectural conclusion from exterior circumstances, and from [even] this we must refrain. It must, however, be confessed that there is everything to be feared for those who die unprepared for death, and all hope seems to vanish for those who refuse to receive the Sacraments . The latter quit this life with exterior signs of reprobation. Nevertheless, we must leave the judgment to God, according to the words, Dei judicium est – “To God belongs judgment.” (Deuteronomy 1:17). There is more to be hoped for those who are not positively hostile to religion, who are benevolent towards the poor, who retain some practice of Christian piety, or who at least approve and favor piety; there is more, I say, to hope for such persons when it happens that they die suddenly, without having had the time to receive the last Sacraments of the Church.

Saint Francis de Sales will not have us despair of the conversion of sinners until their last breath, and even after their death he forbids us to judge evil of those who have led a bad life. With the exception of those sinners whose reprobation is made manifest by Holy Scripture, we may not, he says, conclude that a person is damned, but must respect the secret of God. His principal reason was, that as the first grace is gratuitous, so also is the last, which is final perseverance or a good death. This is why we must hope for the departed, how sad soever his death may have been, because our conjectures can be based on the exterior only, whereby the most clever may be deceived.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 31

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

Relief of the Holy Souls – The Heroic Act of Charity towards the Holy Souls – Father Mumford – Denis the Carthusian and Saint Gertrude

Thus far we have spoken of the different kinds of good works which we may offer to God as suffrages for the dead. It remains for us to make known an act which comprises all works and means, whereby we can most effectually assist the poor souls; it is the heroic vow, or, as others call it, the Heroic act of Charity towards the souls in Purgatory.

This act consists in ceding to them all our works of satisfaction, that is to say, the satisfactory value of all the works of our life and of all the suffrages which shall be given to us after our death, without reserving anything wherewith to discharge our own debts. We deposit them in the hands of the Blessed Virgin, that she may distribute them, according to her good pleasure, to those souls which she desires to deliver from Purgatory.

It is an absolute donation in favor of the souls of all that we can give them; we offer to God in their behalf all the good we do, of what kind soever, either in thought, words or works, all that we suffer meritoriously during this life, without excepting anything that we may reasonably give them, and adding even those suffrages which we may receive for ourselves after death.

It must be well understood that the matter of this holy donation is the satisfactory value of our works (See Chap. 9), and in no way the merit which has a corresponding degree of glory in Heaven; for merit is strictly personal, and cannot be transferred to another.

Formula of the Heroic Act: “O Holy and Adorable Trinity, desiring to co-operate in the deliverance of the souls in Purgatory, and to testify my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cede and renounce in behalf of those holy souls all the satisfactory part of my works, and all the suffrages which may be given to me after my death, consigning them entirely into the hands of the most Blessed Virgin, that she may apply them according to her good pleasure to those souls of the faithful departed whom she desires to deliver from their sufferings. Deign, O my God, to accept and bless this offering which I make to Thee at this moment. Amen.”

The Sovereign Pontiffs, Benedict XIII, Pius VI, and Pius IX have approved this heroic act, and have enriched it with indulgences and privileges, of which the principal are the following:

1) To priests who have made this act the indult of a privileged altar every day in the year.

2) The simple faithful can gain a plenary indulgence, applicable to the souls in Purgatory only, each time they communicate, provided they visit a church or public oratory, and there pray for the intention of His Holiness.

3) They may apply to the holy souls all those indulgences which are not otherwise applicable by virtue of concession, and which have been granted up to the present time, or which shall be granted in the future. (Pius IX, Deer. 30 September 1852).

“I advise all true Christians,” says Father Mumford (Charity to the Departed), “to cede with holy disinterestedness to the faithful departed all the fruit of their good works which are at our disposal. I do not believe that they can make a better use of them, since they render them more meritorious and more efficacious, as well for obtaining grace from God as for expiating their own sins and shortening the term of their Purgatory, or even of acquiring an entire exemption therefrom.”

These words express the precious advantages of the Heroic Act; and in order to dissipate all subsequent fear which might arise in the mind, we add three remarks:

1) This act leaves us perfect liberty to pray for those souls in whom we are most interested; the application of these prayers is subject to the disposition of the adorable will of God, which is always infinitely perfect and infinitely loving.

2) It does not oblige under pain of mortal sin, and can at any time be revoked. It may be made without using any particular formula; it suffices to have the intention, and to make it from the heart. Nevertheless it is useful to recite the formula of offering from time to time, in order to stimulate our zeal for the relief of the holy souls by prayer, penance, and good works.

3) The Heroic Act does not subject us to the direful consequences of having to undergo a long Purgatory ourselves; on the contrary, it allows us to rely with more assured confidence on the mercy of God in our regard, as is shown by the example of Saint Gertrude.

Venerable Denis, the Carthusian, relates that the Virgin, Saint Gertrude, had made a complete donation of all her works of satisfaction in favor of the faithful departed, without reserving anything wherewith to discharge the debts which she herself might have contracted in the sight of God. Being at the point of death, and, like all the saints, considering with much sorrow the great number of her sins on the one hand, and, on the other, remembering that she had employed all her works of satisfaction for the expiation of the sins of others, she was afflicted, lest, having given all to others and reserved nothing for herself, her soul, on its departure from this world, should be condemned to horrible suffering. In the midst of her fears Our Lord appeared to her and consoled her, saying: “Be reassured, My daughter, your charity towards the departed will be no detriment to you. Know that the generous donation you have made of all your works to the holy souls has been singularly pleasing to Me; and to give you a proof thereof, I declare to you that all the pains you would have had to endure in the other life are now remitted; moreover, in recompense for your generous charity, I will so enhance the value of the merits of your works as to give you a great increase of glory in Heaven.”

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 30

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Francis of Assisi; date unknown, artist unknown; Church of Sainte Marguerite, Le Vésinet, Yvelines, France; photographed on 21 August 2012 by Reinhardhauke; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – Almsgiving – Christian Mercy – Saint Francis de Sales and the Widow at Padua

Christian almsgiving, that mercy which Jesus Christ so much recommends in the Gospel, comprises not only corporal assistance given to the needy, but also all the good we do for our neighbor by working for his salvation, supporting his defects, and pardoning his offenses. All these works of charity may be offered to God for the dead, and contain great satisfactory virtue. Saint Francis de Sales relates that at Padua, where he pursued part of his studies, there existed a detestable custom The young men amused themselves by running through the streets at night armed with arquebuses, and crying out to all those they met, “Who goes there?”

People were obliged to answer, for they fired upon those who gave no reply, and many persons were thus wounded or killed. It happened one evening that a student, not having responded to the question, was struck in the head by a ball and mortally wounded. The perpetrator of this deed, seized with terror, took to flight and sought refuge in the house of a good widow whom he knew, and whose son was his fellow student. He confessed to her with tears that he had just killed someone unknown to him, and begged her to give him an asylum in her house. Touched with compassion, and not suspecting that she had before her the murderer of her son, the lady concealed the fugitive in a place of safety where the officers of justice would be unable to discover him.

Half an hour had not elapsed, when a tumultuous noise was heard at the door; a corpse was carried in and placed before the eyes of the widow. Alas! it was her son who had been killed, and whose murderer now lay concealed in her house. The poor mother broke forth into heart rending cries, and entering the hiding place of the assassin, “Miserable man,” said she, “what had my son done to you that you should thus cruelly have murdered him?”

The guilty wretch, learning that he had killed his friend, cried aloud, tearing his hair, and wringing his hands in despair. Then throwing himself upon his knees, he asked pardon of his protectress, and besought her to deliver him up to the magistrate, that he might expiate so horrible a crime.

The disconsolate mother remembered at this moment that she was a Christian, the example of Jesus Christ praying for His executioners stimulated her to heroic action. She replied that provided he asked pardon of God and amended his life, she would let him go, and stay all legal proceedings against him.

This pardon was so agreeable to God, that He wished to give the generous mother a striking proof thereof. He permitted that the soul of her son should appear to her, resplendent with glory, saying that he was about to enjoy eternal beatitude. “God has shown mercy to me, dear mother,” said the blessed soul, “because you showed mercy towards my assassin. In consideration of the pardon which you granted, I have been delivered from Purgatory, where, without the assistance which you have afforded me, I should have had to undergo long years of intense suffering.”

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 29


Relief of the Holy Souls – Alms, Raban-Maur and Edelard at the Monastery of Fulda

It remains for us to speak of a last and very powerful means of relieving the poor souls: viz., almsgiving. The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas, gives the preference to alms before fasting and prayer, when there is a question of expiating past faults. “Almsgiving,” he says, “possesses more completely the virtue of satisfaction than prayer, and prayer more completely than fasting. This is why the great servants of God and the great saints have chosen it as a principal means of assisting the dead. Amongst them we may mention as one of the most remarkable the holy Abbot Raban-Maur, first Abbot of Fulda, in the tenth century, and afterwards Archbishop of Mayence.

Father Trithemius, a well-known writer of the Order of Saint Benedict, caused abundant alms to be distributed for the dead. He had established a rule that whenever a Religious died, his portion of food should be distributed among the poor for thirty days, that the soul of the deceased might be relieved by the alms. It happened in the year 830 that the monastery of Fulda was attacked by a contagious disease, which carried off a large number of the Religious. Raban-Maur, full of zeal and charity for their souls, called Edelard, the Procurator of the monastery, and reminded him of the rule established regarding the alms for the departed. “Take great care,” said he, “that our constitutions be faithfully observed, and that the poor be fed for a whole month with the food destined for the brethren we have lost.”

Edelard failed both in obedience and charity. Under pretext that such liberality was extravagant, and that he must economize the resources of the monastery, but in reality because he was influenced by a secret avarice, he neglected to distribute the food, or did so in a manner far short of the command he had received. God did not leave this disobedience unpunished.

A month elapsed, when one evening, after the community had retired, he walked across the chapter room with a lamp in his hand. What was his astonishment when, at an hour that the room should be unoccupied, he found there a great number of Religious. His astonishment turned into fear when, looking at them attentively, he recognized the Religious lately deceased. Terror seized him, an icy coldness ran through his veins and riveted him to the spot like a lifeless statue.

Then one of the dead brothers addressed him with terrible reproaches. “Unfortunate creature,” said he, “why didst thou not distribute the alms which were destined to give relief to the souls of thy departed brethren? Why hast thou deprived us of that assistance amid the torments of Purgatory? Receive, from this moment, the punishment of thy avarice; another and more terrible chastisement is reserved for thee, when, after three days, thou shall appear before thy God.”

At these words Edelard fell as though struck by a thunderbolt, and remained immovable until after midnight, at the hour when the community went to choir. There they found him half dead, in the same condition as was Heliodorus of old, after he had been scourged by the angels in the temple of Jerusalem. (2 Machabees 3).

He was carried to the infirmary, where all possible care was lavished upon him, so that he recovered consciousness. As soon as he was able to speak, in the presence of the Abbot and of all his brethren, he related with tears the terrible occurrence to which his sad condition but too evidently bore witness. Then adding that he was to die within three days, he asked for the last Sacraments, with all signs of humble repentance. He received them with sentiments of piety, and three days later expired, assisted by the prayers of his brethren.

Mass for the dead was immediately sung, and his share of food was distributed to the poor, for the benefit of his soul. Meanwhile, his punishment was not at an end. Edelard appeared to Abbot Raban, pale and disfigured. Touched with compassion, Raban inquired what he could do for him. “Ah!” replied the unfortunate soul, “notwithstanding the prayers of our holy community, I cannot obtain the grace of my deliverance until all my brethren, whom my avarice defrauded of the suffrages due to them, have been released. That which has been given to the poor for me has been of no profit but to them, and this by order of Divine Justice. I entreat you, therefore, O venerated and merciful Father, redouble your alms. I hope that by these powerful means Divine clemency will vouchsafe to deliver us all, my brethren first, and afterwards myself, who am the least deserving of mercy.”

Raban-Maur increased his alms, and scarcely had another month elapsed, when Edelard again appeared; but clad in white, surrounded with rays of light and his countenance beaming with joy. He thanked, in the most touching manner, his Abbot and all the members of the monastery for the charity exercised towards him (Vie de Raban-Maur, Rossignoli, Merv., 2).

What instruction does not this history contain! In the first place, the virtue of almsgiving for the dead shines forth in a most striking manner. Then we see how God chastises, even in this life, those who through avarice fear not to deprive the dead of their suffrages. I speak not here of those heirs who render themselves culpable, by neglecting to make the endowments which devolve upon them by last will and testament of their deceased relatives, a negligence which constitutes a sacrilegious injustice; but of those children or relatives who, through miserable motives of interest, have as few Masses as possible celebrated, are sparing in the distribution of alms, having no pity for the souls of their departed relatives, which they leave to languish in the horrible torments of Purgatory. It is the blackest ingratitude, a hardness of heart entirely opposed to Christian charity, and which will meet its punishment perhaps even in this world.

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Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 28


Relief of the Holy Souls – Indulgences – Indulgenced Prayers

There are certain indulgences which are easy to be gained, and are applicable to the dead. We hope to afford pleasure to the reader by indicating the principal ones.

1) The prayer: Oh, good and most sweet Jesus – A plenary indulgence for those who, having confessed and communicated, recite this prayer before an image of Christ crucified, and adding some other prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.

2) Indulgenced Rosary Beads – Great indulgences are attached to the recitation of the Holy Rosary, if we make use of beads indulgenced either by our Holy Father, the Pope, or by a priest who has received the faculties.

3) The Stations of the Cross – As we have said elsewhere, several plenary indulgences, and a great number of partial indulgences, are attached to the Stations of the Cross. These indulgences do not require Confession and Communion; it suffices to be in the state of grace, and to have a sincere sorrow for all our sins. As to the exercise itself of the Stations of the Cross, it requires but two conditions – 1st, to visit the fourteen Stations, passing from one to the other, as much as circumstances will permit; 2nd, to meditate at the same time on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Persons who do not know how to make connected meditation may content themselves with thinking affectionately of some circumstance of the Passion suited to their capacity. We exhort them, without, however, imposing it as an obligation, to recite a Pater and Ave before each cross, and to make an act of contrition for their sins.

4) The Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity – An indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines each time they are recited.

5) The Litany of the Blessed Virgin – Three hundred days each time.

6) The Sign of the Cross – Fifty days each time; with holy water, a hundred days.

7) Diverse prayers, My Jesus, mercy! – A hundred days each time. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine. – Three hundred days, one a day. Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation. – Three hundred days each time.

8) Praised be Jesus Christ. R. For ever and ever. Amen, – Fifty days each time that two persons salute each other with these words.

9) The Angelus – An indulgence of a hundred days each time it is recited, either in the morning, at noon, or in the evening, at the sound of the bell, kneeling, and with a contrite heart.

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 27

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 Holy Souls – Indulgences – Mother Frances of Pampeluna and the Bishop de Ribera – Saint Magdalen de Pazzi – Saint Teresa

Venerable Mother Frances, of the Blessed Sacrament, of whose charity towards the holy souls we have already spoken, was also most zealous in relieving them by indulgences. One day God showed her the souls of three prelates who had previously occupied the See of Pampeluna, and who still languished in the sufferings of Purgatory. The servant of God understood that she must employ every means to effect their deliverance. As the Holy See had then granted to Spain the Bulls of the Crusade, which permitted the gaining of a plenary indulgence under certain conditions, she believed that the best means of assisting those poor souls would be to procure for each of them the advantage of a plenary indulgence.

She spoke to her Bishop, Christopher de Ribera, acquainting him with the fact that three of his predecessors were still in Purgatory, and urging him to procure for her three indulgences of the Crusade. She fulfilled all the conditions required, and applied a plenary indulgence to each of the three Bishops. The following night they all appeared to Mother Frances, delivered from all their sufferings. They thanked her, and begged her to thank also the Bishop Ribera for the indulgences which had opened Heaven to them. (Vie de Franqoise du Sacrem., Merv., 26).

The following is related by Father Cepari in his Life of Saint Magdalen de Pazzi. A professed Religious, who, during her last sickness, had been most tenderly cared for by Saint Magdalen, died, and as it was the custom to expose the body in the church, Magdalen felt herself inspired to go and look upon it once more. She went, therefore, to the grid of the chapter room, whence she could see it; but scarcely had she done so, than she was ravished in ecstasy, and saw the soul of the departed sister take its flight to Heaven. Transported with joy, she was heard to say, “Adieu, dear sister; adieu, blessed soul! Like a pure dove, you fly to your celestial home, and leave us in this abode of misery. Oh, how beautiful and glorious you are! Who can describe the glory with which God has crowned your virtues? What a short time you have passed in Purgatory! Your body has not yet been consigned to the tomb, and behold! your soul is already received into the sacred mansions. You now know the truth of those words I so lately addressed to you, ‘That all the sufferings of this life are nothing in comparison with the reward which God has reserved for His friends.’ ” In the same vision. Our Lord revealed to her that this soul had passed but fifteen hours in Purgatory, because she had suffered much during life, and because she had been careful to gain the indulgences granted by the Church to her children, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ.

Saint Teresa in her works speaks of a Religious who set the highest value on the smallest indulgence granted by the Church, and endeavored to gain all in her power. She led otherwise a very ordinary life, and her virtue was of a very common order. She died, and the saint, to her great surprise, saw her soul ascend to Heaven almost immediately after her death, so that she had, so to say, no Purgatory. When Saint Teresa expressed her astonishment at this, Our Lord made known to her that it was due to the great care she had taken to gain all the indulgences possible during life. “It was by that means,” He added, “that she had discharged almost the whole of her debt, which was quite considerable, before her death; and had therefore appeared with great purity before the tribunal of God.”

MLA Citation

Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 26

detail of an engraving of Saint Mariana de Jesus of Quito; 1732 by Francisco Sylverio de Sotomayor; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – Indulgences – Blessed Mary of Quito and the Heaps of Gold

Let us pass to those indulgences applicable to the dead. Here Divine Mercy reveals itself with a sort of prodigality. We know that an indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, granted by the power of the Keys, outside of the Sacrament of Penance.

In virtue of the power of the Keys, which she has received from Jesus Christ, the Church may free the faithful from every obstacle to their entrance into glory. She exercises this power in the Sacrament of Penance, where she absolves them from their sins; she exercises it also outside of the Sacrament, in remitting the debt of temporal punishment which remains after the absolution; in this second instance it is the indulgence. The remission of temporal punishment by indulgences is granted to the faithful in this life only; but the Church may authorize her children whilst still living to transfer to their departed friends the remission accorded to themselves; this is the indulgence applicable to the souls in Purgatory. To apply an indulgence to the dead is to offer it to God in the name of His Holy Church, that He may deign to employ it for the benefit of the suffering souls. The satisfactions thus offered to the Divine Justice in the name of Jesus Christ are always accepted, and God applies it either to some soul in particular or to certain souls which He Himself wishes to benefit, or to all in general. Indulgences are either plenary or partial. A plenary indulgence is, to such as gain it, a remission of all the temporal punishment which it deserves in the sight of God. Suppose that, in order to acquit ourselves of this debt, we should be obliged to perform a hundred years of canonical penance upon earth, or suffer for a still longer time in Purgatory, by the virtue of a plenary indulgence properly gained all this punishment is remitted, and the soul no longer retains in the sight of God any shadow of sin, which prevents it from seeing His Divine face.

The partial indulgence consists in the remission of a certain number of days or years. These days and years in no way represent days and years of suffering in Purgatory; it must be understood of days and years of public canonical penance, consisting principally in fasts, and such as were formerly imposed upon sinners, according to the ancient discipline of the Church. Thus, an indulgence of forty days or seven years is a remission such as was merited before God by forty days or seven years of canonical penance. What proportion exists between those days of penance and the duration of the sufferings of Purgatory? This is a secret which it has not pleased God to reveal to us.

Indulgences are, in the Church, a true spiritual treasure laid open to all the faithful; all are permitted to draw therefrom, to pay their own debts and those of others. It was under this figure that God was one day pleased to show them to Blessed Mary of Quito. One day, rapt in ecstasy, she saw in the midst of a large space an immense table covered with heaps of silver, gold, rubies, pearls, and diamonds, and at the same time she heard a voice saying, “These riches are public property; each one may approach and take as much as he pleases.” God made known to her that this was a symbol of indulgences. (Rossignoli, Merv., 29). We may say with the pious author of the Merveilles how culpable we are if in such abundance we remain poor and destitute ourselves and neglect to assist others. Alas! the souls in Purgatory are in such extreme necessity, they supplicate us with tears in the midst of their torments; we have the means of paying their debts by indulgences, and we make no endeavor to do so.

Does access to this treasury demand painful efforts on our parts, such as fastings, journeys, and privations insupportable to nature? “Even though such were the case,” says with reason the eloquent Father Segneri, “we should submit to them” Do we not see how men for love of gold, in order to preserve a work of art, to save a part of their fortune or a precious fabric, expose themselves to the flames of a fire? Ought we not then to do at least as much to save from expiatory flames those souls ransomed by the Blood of Jesus Christ? But Divine goodness asks nothing so painful: it requires only such works as are ordinary and easy – a Rosary, a Communion, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, an alms or the teaching of the elements of the Catechism to abandoned children. And we neglect to acquire the most precious treasures by such easy means, and have no desire to apply them to our poor relatives languishing in the flames of Purgatory.

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