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Masses for the Faithful Departed Spacer
Introduction Spacer
General Remarks Spacer
1st Motive: The Pains of Purgatory Spacer
2nd Motive: The Duration of ... Spacer
3rd Motive: The Condition of ... Spacer
4th Motive: The Number of Souls Spacer
5th Motive: The Honor/Glory of God Spacer
6th Motive: The Church Triumphant Spacer
7th Motive: Own Spiritual Advantage Spacer
8th Motive: Natural Affection Spacer
9th Motive: The Value of the Mass Spacer
Certain Practical Questions Spacer
The First Motive — The Pains of Purgatory

If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. - 1 Corinthians 3:15


The first motive for assisting the souls in Purgatory that presents itself to the reflecting mind, is the nature of Purgatory; the question, What do the souls detained there suffer?


We know that Purgatory is a place of temporal punishment, but in what that punishment precisely consists, the Church has not explicitly defined. but we have been taught to regard it as the pain of fire; and that this is the almost universal opinion of the Saints and Doctors of the Church will not for a moment admit of dispute. The Church herself favors this opinion, as well by the tacit approval she gives to the writings of these Fathers, as by the express words of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, a work of the highest authority. Speaking of the different abodes of the departed, the Catechism [of the Council of Trent] says (13. 63):


"Among them is also the fire of Purgatory, in which the souls of the just are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, ‘into which nothing defiled enters.' The truth of this doctrine, founded, as holy Councils declare, on Scripture, and confirmed by apostolic tradition, demands diligent and frequent exposition,’ etc.


In the discussion of this question, where so much is shrouded in impenetrable mystery, I shall present the reader with some points freely translated from the works of the learned Cardinal Bellarmine; which if they appear somewhat dry and uninteresting, are yet worthy of his attentive perusal, as tending, as far as may be, to elucidate our subject, and furnish material for fuller development as we proceed.


In regard to Purgatory, Bellarmine [renowned Catholic theologian and Doctor of the Church] says, some things are certain while others are doubtful. In the first place, it is certain that despair and the fear of Hell form no part of the sufferings of the souls there detained; for their eternal salvation is placed beyond doubt by the very fact of their being in Purgatory.


Secondly, it is certain that one of the pains of Purgatory is the temporary deprivation of the beatific vision of God; for these souls cannot but grieve when they see that, through their own fault, they are hindered for a time from enjoying the Supreme Good. This suffering is called the pain of loss.


Thirdly, it is certain that besides this pain of loss, there is another, which theologians call the pain of sense, which consists in something more than being deprived of the consoling presence of God; for, since he who sins not only turns himself away from the Supreme Good but also turns inordinately to creatures, it is fitting that he should be punished not only by being deprived for a time of the vision of God, but also by afflictions from creatures.


Fourthly, it is certain that in Purgatory, as well as in Hell, there is the pain of fire, whether this is to be understood in a literal or a figurative sense, whether it is a pain of sense or a pain of loss. That there is a fire in Purgatory as well as in Hell, is evident from these words of St. Paul: "He shall be saved, yet so as by fire"; as also by the testimony of the Fathers, all of whom call the pain of Purgatory fire.


These things being stated, upon which all agree, certain other questions naturally follow:


First, whether the fire of Purgatory is material fire or not.


Secondly, if it be material fire, how can it act upon souls separated from their bodies, which are spiritual substances?


Thirdly, by whom is this fire administered, or made to act upon the souls; by demon or by angel, or does it act of itself, by its own innate power?


And fourthly, are the pains of Purgatory greater and more acute than any pain that could be suffered on earth, or are they not?


As regards the first of these questions, all the Fathers call the pain of Purgatory that of fire; and they adduce such authorities and reasons as prove, if not to a demonstration, at least to a very high degree of probability, that it is a material fire, and not at all to be understood in a figurative sense.


As to the second question: if the fire be material, and such as we have here upon earth, how can it act upon disembodied souls? This we cannot tell; but, although it is beyond the reach of our comprehension, it may yet be true. "For why," as St. Augustine asks, "may we not assert that even immaterial spirits may, in some extraordinary way, yet really, be pained by the punishment of material fire, if the spirits of men, which also are certainly immaterial, are both now contained in the material members of the body, and in the world to come shall be indissolubly united to their own bodies."*


It is wholly uncertain with regard to the third question. But it is not by demons or by angels, say the scholastics, that the souls are tormented; for, having been victorious over the demons in the last struggle upon earth, it does not seem fitting the divine justice that the souls should again be subject to them. Yet some of the revelations of the saints would go to show that certain souls in Purgatory are tormented by demons. I shall have occasion to return to this subject when treating of the condition of the souls in Purgatory. It is most probable that the fire acts of itself, by a special power that God has given it. But the question must remain a mystery so long as we are in this mortal life.


With regard to the fourth question: that the pains of Purgatory are most acute, and so far transcend all the pains that can be suffered in this mortal life, is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, the revelations of the saints, and reason.*


The remarks that I shall have occasion to make as we proceed will tend still further to confirm this opinion, and give the reader matter for serious and salutary reflection.


The different opinions that have been held by saints and ascetic writers in regard to Purgatory, and the extent to which they have been carried, are fitly set forth in the following extracts from the writings of Father Faber:


"There have always been," says this distinguished author, "two views of Purgatory prevailing in the Church, not contradictory the one of the other, but rather expressive of the mind and devotion of those who have embraced them.


One is the view met with in by far the greater number of the lives and revelations of Italian and Spanish saints, the works of the Germans of the Middle Ages, and the popular delineations of Purgatory in Belgium, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, and elsewhere.


The other is the view which has been made popular by St. Francis de Sales, though he drew it originally from his favorite treatise on Purgatory by St. Catharine of Genoa; and it is also borne out by many of the revelations of Sister Francesca of Pampeluna, a Theresian nun. Each of these two views, though neither denies the other, has its own peculiar spirit of devotion.

"The first view is embodied in the terrifying sermons of Italian Quaresimali (Lenten sermons), and in those wayside pictures which so often provoke the fastidiousness of the English traveler. It loves to represent Purgatory simply as a Hell which is not eternal. Violence, confusion, wailing, horror, preside over its descriptions. It dwells, and truly, on the terribleness of the pain of sense which the soul is mysteriously permitted to endure. The fire is the same fire as that of Hell, created for the single and express purpose of giving torture. Our earthly fire is as painted fire compared to it. Besides this, there is a special and indefinable horror to the unbodied soul in becoming the prey of this material agony. The sense of imprisonment close and intolerable, and the intense palpable darkness, are additional features in the horror of the scene, which prepare us for that sensible neighborhood to Hell, which many saints have spoken of as belonging to Purgatory. Angels are represented as active executioners of God's awful justice. Some have even held that the demons were permitted to touch and harass the spouses of Christ in those ardent fires. Then, to this terribleness of the pain of sense is added the dreadfulness of the pain of loss. The beauty of God remains in itself the same immensely desirable object it ever was. But the soul is changed. All that in life and in the world of sense dulled its desires after God is gone from it, so that it seeks Him with an impetuosity which no imagination can at all conceive. The very burning excess of its love becomes the measure of its intolerable pain. . . To these horrors we might add many more which depict Purgatory simply as a Hell which is not eternal."*


This view, it may be remarked, was rather that of the early and middle ages than of recent times. We are unfortunately deficient in the courage and spirit of self-denial necessary for contemplating this picture of Purgatory as the probable future lot of our own poor souls for a longer or shorter period of time. Yet it is a true picture, although unaccompanied by those touches of love which tone down its terrible aspect in some degree.


Says Fr. Faber:


"The spirit of this view is a holy fear of offending God, a desire of bodily austerities, a great value put upon Indulgences, an extreme horror of sin, and an habitual trembling before the judgments of God. Those who have led lives of unusual penance, and severe Orders in religion, have always been impregnated with this view, and it seems to have been borne out in its minutest details by the conclusions of scholastic theologians, as may be seen at once by referring to Bellarmine, who in each section of his treatise on Purgatory compares the revelations of the saints with the consequences of theology. It is remarkable also that when the Blessed Henry Suso, through increased familiarity and love of God, began to think comparatively lightly of the pains of Purgatory, our Lord warned him that this was very displeasing to Him. For what judgment can be light which God has prepared for sin? Many theologians have said, not only that the least pain of Purgatory was greater than the greatest pain of earth, but greater than all the pains of earth put together. This, then, is a true view of Purgatory, but not a complete one. Yet it is not one which we can safely call coarse or grotesque. It is the view of many saints and servants of God: and it is embodied in the popular celebrations of All-Souls' Day in several Catholic countries "


The other view of Purgatory is stated by the same writer, in the following few words:


"The second view of Purgatory does not deny any one of the features of the preceding view but almost puts them out of sight by the other considerations which it brings more prominently forward. It goes into Purgatory with its eyes fascinated and spirit sweetly tranquilized by the face of Jesus, its first sight of the Sacred Humanity, at the Particular Judgment which it has undergone. That vision abide, with it still, and beautifies the uneven terror of this prison, as if with perpetual silvery showers of moonlight which seem to fall from our Savior's loving eyes. In the sea of fire it holds fast by that image. The moment that in His sight it perceives its unfitness for Heaven, it wings its voluntary flight to Purgatory, like a dove to her proper nest in the shadows of the forest. . . .


"In that moment the soul loves God most tenderly, and in return is most tenderly loved by Him. To the eyes of those who take this view, that sou1 seems most beautiful. How should a dear spouse of God be anything but beautiful? The soul is in punishment, true; but it is in unbroken union with God. 'It has no remembrance,' says St. Catharine of Genoa, most positively, 'no remembrance at all of its past sins, or of earth. Its sweet prison, its holy sepulchre is in the adorable will of its Heavenly Father, and there it abides the term of its purification with the most perfect contentment and the most unutterable love.'"*


Contrasting this picture of Purgatory with the other, Fr. Faber says:


"The spirit of this view is love, an extreme desire that God should not be offended, a yearning for the interests of Jesus. It takes its tone from the soul's first flight into that heritage of suffering. As it took God's part against itself in that act, so is it throughout. This view of Purgatory turns on the worship of God's purity and sanctity. It looks at things from God's point of view, and merges its own interests in His. It is just the view we might expect to come from St. Francis de Sales, or the loving St. Catharine of Genoa. And it is the helplessness rather than the wretchedness of the souls detained which moves those who take this view to compassion and devotion; but it is God's glory and the interests of Jesus which influence them most of all."


How sweet the spirit of love with which he exclaims: "Oh how solemn and subduing is the thought of that holy kingdom, that realm of pain! There is no cry, no murmur; all is silent, silent as Jesus before His enemies. We shall never know we really love Mary till we look up to her out of those deeps, those vales of dreadful mysterious fires. 0 beautiful region of the Church of God! O lovely troop of the flock of Mary! What a scene is presented to our eyes when me gaze upon that consecrated empire of sinlessness, and yet of keenest suffering! There is the beauty of those immaculate souls, and then the loveliness, yea, the worshipfulness of their patience, the majesty of their gifts, the dignity of their solemn and chaste sufferings, the eloquence of their silence; the moonlight of Mary's throne lighting up their land of pain and unspeakable expectation; the silver-winged angels voyaging through the deeps of that mysterious realm; and above all, that unseen Face of Jesus which is so well remembered that it seems to be almost seen!"*


Enumerating the points of agreement between these two view's, - for it must not be forgotten that they do not contradict each other, - the writer just quoted remarks:


"Both these views agree that the pains are extremely severe, as well because of the office which God intends them to fulfil, as because of the disembodied soul being the subject of them. Both also agree in the length of the suffering. . . . Both views agree again in holding that what we in the world call very trivial faults are most severely visited in Purgatory. St. Peter Damian gives us many instances of this, and others are collected and quoted by Bellarmine. Slight feelings of self-complacency, trifling inattention in the recital of the Divine Office, and the like, occur frequently among them. Sister Francesca mentions the case of a girl of fourteen in Purgatory because she was not quite conformed to the will of God in dying so young; and one soul said to her: 'Ah! men little think in the world how dearly they are going to pay here for faults they hardly note there.' She even saw souls there immensely punished only for having been scrupulous in this life; either, I suppose, because there is mostly self-will in scruples, or because they did not lay them down when obedience was commanded. . . . Then, again, both views agree in the helplessness of the holy souls."*

It is wholly unnecessary to add more to this picture, drawn by a writer as remarkable for the precision and extent of his knowledge as for the beauty and eloquence of his language. If, along with the excruciating pain which the souls are forced to endure; their longing to repose in God, their last end; their utter inability to help themselves, or even to cry to us for aid, anything further was necessary to excite our compassion and zeal in their behalf, it is found in a consideration of the length of time during which these poor prisoners of Jesus Christ are forced to remain in Purgatory, buried in that lake of fire. Let us pause for a moment and reflect on the nature of fire and the pain it causes. Nothing is so universally dreaded as fire; it is in vain that the wealth of nations would be offered to the starving beggar, trained in the severe school of privation and suffering; to win it all he would not permit his finger to be held in the flame of a candle for five short minutes. Yet we are assured by authority the most deserving of credit, that many souls languish in Purgatory, wholly submerged in fire, for fifty or a hundred years, and that not a few will be there, in all probability, until the Day of Judgment. The consideration of this shall form a second motive to excite our zeal and cause us to pour the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, mystically shed in the Adorable Sacrifice of the Altar, on those purifying flames.


1. The City of God, B. XXI, Chapter 10.

2. Bellarmini, The Purgatorio, L.II, cap. 10-14.
3. All for Jesus, pp. 378-379.

4. All for Jesus, pp. 380-382.
5. All for Jesus, pp. 383-384.
6. All for Jesus, pp. 394-396.


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