Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 2

detail of a fresco depicting Saint Lawrence of Rome assisting a soul from Purgatory; ceiling built in 1732, artist unknown; parish church of Saint Lawrence, Agawang, Kutzenhausen, Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany; photographed on 25 July 2011 by GFreihalter; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Prayer for the Dead – Fear and Confidence

Prayer for the departed, sacrifices, and suffrages for the dead form a part of Christian worship, and devotion towards the souls in Purgatory is a devotion which the Holy Ghost infuses with charity into the hearts of the faithful. It is a holy and wholesome thought, says Holy Scripture, to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. (2 Machabees 12:46).

In order to be perfect, devotion to the souls in Purgatory must be animated both by a spirit of fear and a spirit of confidence. On the one hand, the Sanctity of God and His Justice inspires us with a salutary fear; on the other, His infinite Mercy gives us boundless confidence.

God is Sanctity itself, much more so than the sun is light, and no shadow of sin can endure before His face. Thine eyes are pure, says the prophet, and thou canst not look on iniquity. (Habbakuk 1:13). When iniquity manifests itself in creatures, the Sanctity of God exacts expiation, and when this expiation is made in all the rigor of justice, it is terrible. It is for this reason that the Scripture says again. Holy and terrible is His name (Psalm 110); as though it would say, His Justice is terrible because His Sanctity is infinite.

The Justice of God is terrible, and it punishes with extreme rigor even the most trivial faults. The reason is that these faults, light in our eyes, are in nowise so before God. The least sin displeases Him infinitely, and, on account of the infinite Sanctity which is offended, the slightest transgression assumes enormous proportions, and demands enormous atonement. This explains the terrible severity of the pains of the other life, and should penetrate us with a holy fear.

This fear of Purgatory is a salutary fear; its effect is not only to animate us with a charitable compassion towards the poor suffering souls, but also with a vigilant zeal for our own spiritual welfare. Think of the fire of Purgatory, and you will endeavor to avoid the least faults; think of the fire of Purgatory, and you will practice penance, that you may satisfy Divine Justice in this world rather than in the next.

Let us, however, guard against excessive fear, and not lose confidence. Let us not forget the Mercy of God, which is not less infinite than His Justice. Thy mercy, Lord, is great above the Heavens, says the prophet (Psalm 107); and elsewhere, The Lord is gracious and merciful: patient, and plenteous in mercy (Psalm 144). This ineffable mercy should calm the most lively apprehensions, and fill us with a holy confidence, according to the words, In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in ceternum – “In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be put to confusion.” (Psalm 70).

If we are animated with this double sentiment, if our confidence in God’s Mercy is equal to the fear with which His Justice inspires us, we shall have the true spirit of devotion to the souls in Purgatory.

This double sentiment springs naturally from the dogma of Purgatory rightly understood – a dogma which contains the double mystery of Justice and Mercy: of Justice which punishes, of Mercy which pardons. It is from this double point of view that we are about to consider Purgatory and illustrate its doctrine.

MLA Citation