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Introduction Spacer
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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 Third Motive — The Condition of the Souls in Purgatory

Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends; because the hand of the Lord hath touched me. - Job 19:21


Nothing perhaps of all that relates to Purgatory is more difficult to be understood, and at the same time nothing could be more intensely interesting to us all, than the condition of the souls in those purifying flames; for so long as we entertain a hope of Heaven - and God forbid that we should ever despair - we must regard the condition of those dear souls as that in which we ourselves shall be placed after a few short years. This reflection, that Purgatory is almost certainly to be our abode for a time - perhaps for many long years - imparts an interest to all that relates to it which no other consideration could give. Reason was not given to us before we entered this valley of the shadow of death, and we could consequently form no idea of what our lot was to be; and as to Heaven, we have the assurance of the Holy Spirit that its felicity transcends the range of human thought; but of Purgatory, although little is known with absolute certainty except that it exists and is a place of punishment, yet there are opinions of a high probable character which, added to the fact that it is in the near future to be the place of our own purification and punishment, give it an importance to which the most thoughtless cannot afford to be indifferent. Happy, thrice happy for us, if, after years of the most painful purification, we shall be found worthy to enter into the joy of our Lord!


But although the condition of the poor souls in Purgatory is involved in mystery, yet there are not wanting points upon which me may reflect with profit. These things can be affirmed with absolute certainty regarding the souls undergoing their purification:

    • They are certain of their eternal salvation;
    • they suffer the most acute pain of sense;
    • they long most earnestly for the beatific vision of God;
    • they see their unfitness for that kingdom into which nothing defiled can enter; and,
    • they are unable to help themselves.


The lot of these poor prisoners seems then to be, that they must suffer out the period of their painful purification in silent resignation; or with equal resignation expect us to come to their aid. Shall they expect in vain? Reader, reflect and reply.


It may be profitable, however, for us to go a little more into detail on these points, and hear the opinion of those saints and servants of God who by the purity of their lives and their assiduous contemplation of divine things have learned more than we, sinful creatures, of the ways of God and His dealings with His servants.


If God has created these souls for Himself and desires their presence in His Heavenly kingdom, they, on their part, also most ardently long for it. Many happy hours of their lives did they spend in the contemplation of His divine perfections; and their imaginations, kindled into flames of holy love, endeavored to picture to themselves some idea, however faint, of Him who dwells in light inaccessible.


But though enchanted by the picture, and spurred on to greater labors and sacrifices in His service, they found, when after death they were admitted for a moment into His presence, even as their Judge, that His glory and majesty are so great that no man can see God and live. His ineffable beauty created within them so ardent a desire of being united to Him, that it exceeds all their other sufferings. Give them the sweet presence of God and they would be content to remain in Purgatory for all eternity, not indeed to suffer -- for there is no suffering where God appears in His glory -- but to submit themselves lovingly to His holy will.


If St. Augustine, though still on earth and not having as yet seen God, was so transported by the contemplation of His divine perfections that he bewailed the time he had spent in the deceitful pursuits and amusements of the world, and cried out in transports of sorrow, "Too late have I known Thee, O ancient Truth! Too late have I loved Thee, O ancient Beauty!" what must be the longings of the soul that has seen God as only spirits can behold? And you, Christian soul, you, the brother of these suffering ones, can hasten their admission into the Divine Presence, perhaps can set one or more of them entirely free, by having a Mass celebrated for them. See what an act of charity is within your power. You will never repent of having the Mass offered up, but you may endanger your salvation by spending so much in the pleasure you propose to yourself. And granting that you make a sacrifice of something that seems necessary for your comfort in order to succor that soul, can you doubt that God, from whom you receive all, will permit you to suffer in your temporal possessions? Pause and reflect.


On the soul's desire to be united to God, and the pain it suffers by its separation from Him, Father Faber makes the following touching remarks:


"A most tremendous pain is caused by knowing that God loves it with an infinite love, that He is the Chief Good, that He regards the soul as His daughter, and that He has predestined it to enjoy Him forever in company with the Blessed; and hence the soul loves Him with a pure and most perfect charity. At the same time, it perceives that it cannot see Him or enjoy Him yet, though it so intensely yearns to do so, and this afflicts it so much the more, as it is quite uncertain when the term of its penal exile, away from its Lord and paradise, will be fulfilled. This is the pain of Loss in Purgatory, of which the Saint (St. Catharine of Genoa) says that it is a pain so extreme that no tongue can tell it, no understanding grasp the least portion of it. 'Though God in His favor showed me a little spark thereof, yet can I not in any way express it with my tongue.' This pain of loss she likens to the longing for a loaf of bread. 'If in all the world there were but one loaf, which was able to satisfy the hunger of all creatures, who would be satiated by simply beholding it, what would be the feelings of a man who possesses by nature an instinct to eat, what, I say, would be his feelings if he were neither able to eat, nor yet to be ill or to die? His hunger would be always increasing, and knowing that there was but that one loaf to satisfy him, and yet not being able to get at it, he would remain in unbearable torture.' This similitude, however, puts before us but a shadow of what the soul really suffers. It is continually borne with an imperceptible loving violence towards God, who alone can perfectly satisfy it. This violence is always on the increase, the longer the hungry sou1 is deprived of its divine Object, for which it is unspeakably ravenous; and its torture would thus keep increasing also, were it not daily mitigated by hope, yea, rather by the certainty that it is approaching nearer and nearer to its eternal bliss. In the words of the prophet, the sufferer knows that 'because his soul hath labored, he shall see and be filled.'"*

St. Catharine of Genoa makes the following remarks on the suffering of the souls at the sight of their unfitness for union with God;


"The great importance of Purgatory, neither mind can conceive nor tongue describe. I see only that its pains are as great as those of Hell; and yet I see that a soul stained with the slightest fault, receiving this mercy, counts its pains as naught in comparison with this hindrance to her love. And I know that the greatest misery of the souls in Purgatory is to behold in themselves any part that displeases God, and to discover that in spite of His goodness, they bad consented to it. And this is because, being in the state of grace, they see the reality and the importance of the impediments which hinder their approach to God."


And again:


"When the soul beholds within herself the amorous flame by which she is drawn towards her sweet Master and her God, the burning heat of love overpowers her, and she melts. Then, in that divine light she sees how God, by His great care and constant providence, never ceases to attract her to her last perfection, and that He does so through pure love alone. She sees, too, that she herself, clogged by sin, cannot follow that attraction towards God -- that is, that reconciling glance, -- which He casts upon her that He may draw her to Himself. Moreover, a comprehension of that great misery which it is to be hindered from gazing upon the light of God, is added to the instinctive desire of the soul to be wholly free to yield herself to that unifying flame. I repeat, it is the view of all these things which causes the pain of the suffering souls in Purgatory, not that they esteem their pains great (cruel though they be), but they count as far worse that opposition which they find in themselves to the will of that God whom they behold burning for them with so ardent and so pure a love. This love, with its unifying regard, is ever drawing these souls, as if it had no other thing to do; and when the soul beholds this, if she could find a yet more painful Purgatory in which she could be more quickly cleansed, she would plunge at once therein, impelled by the burning, mutual love between herself and God."*


The condition of the soul, especially as regards its punishment, is thus further described by Father Faber:


"It loves God above everything, and it loves Him with a pure and disinterested love. It is constantly consoled by angels, and cannot but rejoice in the confirmed assurance of its own salvation. Nay, its very bitterest agonies are accompanied by a profound, unshaken peace, such as the language of this world has no words to tell.


There are revelations which speak of some who are in Purgatory, but have no fire. They languish detained from God, and that is enough chastisement for them.


There are revelations, too, which tell of multitudes who are in no local prison, but abide their purification in the air, or by their graves, or near altars where the Blessed Sacrament is, or in the rooms of those who pray for them, or amid the scenes of their former vanity and frivolity.


If silent suffering, sweetly, gracefully endured, is a thing so venerable on earth, what must this region of the Church be like? Compared with earth, its trials, doubts, exciting and depressing risks, how much more beautiful, how much more desirable, that still, calm patient realm, over which Mary is crowned Queen, and Michael is the perpetual ambassador of her mercy."*


The reader will not fail to notice in the foregoing extract the expression of opinions that would seem to conflict with what has been stated in the early part of this work on the authority of Bellarmine and other eminent theologians; but he must bear in mind that, on the one hand, much that relates to Purgatory is shrouded in impenetrable mystery, while, on the other, by a dispensation of Providence, the soul may be permitted to leave its prison for a time, without being exempted from the pains which it suffered there.


The following words of Father Coleridge breathe more of the rigorous justice of God than of His tender love, but yet they are not without the support of some of the most learned and saintly minds of the Church, as we have seen, and for that reason they are entitled to our respectful consideration, however much they may be at variance with our ideas, or, it may be, with our wishes:


"Does the permission which God accords to the evil spirits in this life," he asks, "to molest and annoy us, extend to the world beyond the grave? Are they to be our tormentors in Purgatory, as they are allowed to be the tormentors of the lost souls in Hell?"


It has been thought by some Catholic writers that the presence and sight of the devils form a part of the sufferings of the holy souls: indeed, it seems to have been held by some that the devils had a part in the infliction of these torments. We have no certain authority speaking on these subjects, although the lives of the Saints and the chronicles of Religious Orders contain several visions which seem to support this view. On the other hand, other writers have thought it best altogether to deny that God will permit His enemies either to afflict, or insult, or distress by their presence and their blasphemies against Him, the souls which are in that holy prison. These writers rely on the dignity of the souls there detained, and on the immense love with which God regards them, for arguments in support of their opinion. They say that the holy souls are, after all, victors in their conflict with the powers of evil, and that it is not becoming that the vanquished foes should be allowed to insult or annoy their conquerors.


"Perhaps the truth may be that there are very many and very great differences between various classes of souls in Purgatory, as, indeed, there are great and wide differences between various souls in Heaven and in Hell. In the case of those who have been saved by a late penitence, assisted by the Sacraments of the Church, after a long period of sin, during which they have been, more or less, led captive by the devil at will, as the Apostle speaks, it need not be thought impossible that the devils should be allowed to be visible to them during their detention in Purgatory, perhaps to upbraid and revile them, or to afflict them by the blasphemies which they are continually hurling against God. The torment caused by their presence alone would be very great and intense. . . . Inasmuch as Purgatory is the place of God's justice which is most particular, and accurate, and discriminating in allotting to every offense the punishment which it deserves, it does not seem unnatural that, as everything which has been used as an instrument or an occasion of sin is here made an occasion or instrument of punishment, the devils also may be made in some special manner such instruments to those who have been their willing dupes and slaves during life. There are some sins which are in a manner more diabolical than others, such as pride, calumny, blasphemy, and the many various forms of unlawful intercourse with the unseen world. Even if we consider that the mercy of God shields other sufferers in Purgatory from the terrible anguish of such sufferings, it may be supposed that in such cases as those mentioned it is not always so."*


Of the manner in which the evil spirits may indirectly increase the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory, the same writer remarks:


"At the same time it may be remembered, that even although the visible presence and activity of the evil spirits may not be among the ordinary pains of Purgatory, there is a sense in which all who are there detained may have to suffer intensely on their account. For among the pains which are there suffered, those are certainly not the least which are the results of the:

    • neglect of grace,
    • the misuse of opportunities,
    • the yielding to temptations, and the like


The souls who are there suffering have been enabled to look upon the whole of their former lives and on the course of God's providence towards them in the light of truth, caught from the close presence of our Lord at the Particular Judgment. Conscience then wakes up, and discerns everything as it has never discerned anything before, and if they have an altogether new intelligence concerning the mercies and the bounties of God towards them, they have the same new intelligence as to the means of grace, the value of the opportunities of merit, the importance of every moment of time, which have been vouchsafed to them. The same clear light must of necessity show their sins and negligence's and omissions in colors of heinousness such as they did not before perceive; and it will be by a gleam of the same illumination that they will understand, not only the true malice and hatefulness of the spiritual foes who have assailed them, their intense activity and cunning, the perseverance with which they have plied their work, but also the treachery and disloyalty of their own want of vigilance and faithfulness in the service of their Master, whose sovereign goodness was assailed in every temptation and evil suggestion with which they were themselves beset. They are enabled thus to see that what seemed at the time the prompting's of natural weakness or indolence were in truth the suggestions of the evil spirits, who despise nothing in their warfare against men, and count it a gain worthy of all their exertions if they can make Him be served imperfectly by those whom they cannot persuade to offend Him openly and grievously. In proportion as the holy souls are filled with His love and raised above the world of sense, in the same measure must the thought of having so often been the occasion of unholy triumph to His enemies have grieved and cut them to the heart when it was presented to them at the moment of their judgment. . . . At the moment of death, the veil which has so often concealed him [Satan] will be torn away, and it cannot but be an intense grief to those who suffer there to see how often he may have deceived them. "Thoughts of this kind may enable us to understand that everything that is a source of grief to the holy souls, in consequence of the details of their past lives, may be connected in their sorrow with the evil spirits, who have always gained something whenever they have themselves failed in perfect faithfulness to God, and whose malignity and loathsomeness they have learned for the first time fully to conceive."*


Regarding the helplessness of the poor souls, Father Faber says:


"They lie like the paralytic at the pool. Not even the coming of the angel is any blessing to them, unless there be some one of us to help them. Some have even thought they cannot pray. Anyhow, they have no means of making themselves heard by us on whose charity they depend. Some writers have said that our Blessed Lord will not help them without our cooperation; and that our Blessed Lady cannot help them, except in direct ways, because she is no longer able to make satisfaction; though I never like to hear of anything our dearest Mother cannot do. Whatever may come of these opinions, they at least illustrate the strong way in which theologians apprehend the helplessness of the holy souls. Then, another feature in their helplessness is the forgetfulness of the living, or the cruel flattery of relations who will always have it that those near or dear to them die the death of saints. They would surely have a scruple, if they knew of how many Masses and prayers they rob the souls by the selfish exaggeration of their goodness. I call it selfish, for it is nothing more than a miserable device to console themselves in their sorrow. The very state of the holy souls is one of the most unbounded helplessness. They cannot do penance; they cannot merit; they cannot satisfy; they cannot gain Indulgences; they have no Sacraments; they are not under the jurisdiction of Christ's Vicar, overflowing with the plenitude of means of grace and manifold benedictions. They are a portion of the Church without either priesthood or altar at their own command."*

From an attentive consideration of this subject, we must conclude that all the most distressing conditions of human misery unite in the poor souls in Purgatory, and are intensified to a degree that surpasses the reach of our comprehension. The soul is an exile from her native land, banished to a distant shore in punishment of her faults, from which she looks with plaintive yearnings towards her true country. Never did convict in the fatal mines of Siberia or in the unreclaimed wilds of sea-girt Tasmania feel the pain of his exile like the afflicted soul that is banished for a time from Heaven and from God; all her thoughts and desires are centered in the Supreme Good, and she is consumed with a most insatiable longing to repose in Him. With the enraptured Apostle she cries out: "Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us"; or with the royal Prophet: "I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear." But though every moment is like an age, yet these moments must be multiplied and extended to fifty or perhaps a hundred years, before the happy moment of her deliverance shall at length arrive.

Not only is the soul an exile in a strange land; she is also a prisoner there, deprived of liberty, and forced to lie helpless until time and suffering, aided by our tardy suffrages, shall have paid the last farthing of the debt she owes to a just and inexorable Judge. How pitiable the lot of those who are confined to a narrow cell with no beam of pleasing sunlight, no breath of refreshing air to cheer them in their dark and solitary dungeon? Who would not petition for their delivery? Who would not cheerfully part with a portion of his worldly goods to secure them the glorious boon of liberty? Yet they frequently cry for aid, and there is none to hear their cry. So it is with the imprisoned soul. She asks in vain to escape and fly to the bosom of God: but she is powerless to move. Her liberation is left in a very great measure to us, and yet what efforts are we making to pay her debt and open her prison doors by means of the Adorable Sacrifice? No; may not the poor soul say truly, as Christ did in the person of these souls among others: "I was sick and in prison, and you visited me not"?


The poor soul is also a window, and the trials and sorrows of widowhood are added to her other afflictions. Jesus Christ, her loving Spouse, to whom she is united by the bonds of a holy union, is far from her, and in silence and sorrow she mourns His absence. Like the virgin daughter of Zion: "Weeping she hath wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: there is none to comfort her of all that were dear to her." May we not go yet further and add the remaining words of the lamentation, when me see her friends neglect her in order to honor the corruptible and corrupting body she once animated: "All her friends have despised her, and are become her enemies"? Are not you, Christian reader, of that number? If so, reflect on the cruelty of your vanity.


Finally, the poor soul in Purgatory is an orphan. Of all the conditions of human life there is none more deserving of commiseration than that of orphans. Deprived of their natural guardians and protectors, they are thrown upon the world to excite the compassion of the charitable, or to perish. Their strongest claim for sympathy and aid is their utter helplessness. And what picture could better illustrate the condition of the souls in Purgatory? They are even more helpless than orphans, for orphans are able at least to make known their wants; but the poor forgotten souls cannot so much as make their appeals for aid be heard. They must burn out the long period assigned to them, or be relieved by us. But though we have time for amusements, time for visits, time even for sin, how little time do we seem to have to relieve the famished, helpless, orphaned souls? Do we even study to gain and apply to the poor prisoners of Jesus Christ the Indulgences with which the prayers and good works which we are accustomed to perform are enriched? This, though requiring no additional expenditure of time or trouble, is frequently, perhaps commonly, neglected. Then, we have money to spend for luxuries and superfluities, perhaps for sin: how little do we seem to have to expend that the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ may be poured on the flames that prey upon our brethren of the Suffering Church! How little pains do we take to wash their souls and make them white in the Blood of the Lamb mystically shed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar! The reader must permit me to plead the cause of the poor souls in as strong language as possible. Happy for him, in time and in eternity, if these reproaches do not apply to him, as they undoubtedly do apply to a very large number of Catholics. Let us reflect seriously; the day is fast approaching when we shall be only too fortunate if we are received into Purgatory. Who will remember us then? We have, so to say, the key of our Purgatory in our own hands, for, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." But, on the contrary, "Judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy"; -- "for with the same measure that you shall measure with that, it shall be measured to you again."


It may not be out of place, however, to remind the reader that although the sufferings of the holy souls are such as I have endeavored to describe, they are yet filled with a celestial joy. The operations of souls disengaged from their bodies are far different from those of such as are still in this mortal life; and yet joy and sorrow are compatible even in this valley of tears. Witness the holy martyrs, who rejoiced in the midst of the most cruel torments, and even, like St. Andrew and others, welcomed the instruments of death in the most touching terms. Of this joy of the holy souls St. Catharine of Genoa says:


"There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls in Purgatory, save that of the saints in Paradise, and this peace is ever augmented by the in flowing of God into these souls, which increases in proportion as the impediments to it are removed. The rust of sin is the impediment, and this the fire continually consumes, so that the soul in this state is continually opening itself to admit the divine communication."*


The holy souls have various sources of joy, a few of which will be briefly referred to here.*


First among these must be reckoned the certainty of their eternal salvation and of their speedy admittance into the enjoyment of the beatific vision of God. We can readily imagine with what joy this reflection must inundate pure souls.


Closely allied to this is the certainty that they can no longer wound the Heart of God, or lose His friendship by sin. The greatest affliction of loving souls is the fear of offending God and of being forever separated from Him; yet no one in this life can be certain of his eternal salvation unless by a special revelation from Heaven. Hence it is that when on earth these souls felt the war in their members, they cried out in anguish with the Apostle: "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Now, however, it is no longer possible for them to forfeit the friendship of God; and in this security they find inexpressible joy.


Another source of consolation is the reflection that they are conforming themselves perfectly to the holy will of God, and are fitting themselves for admittance into the realms of everlasting bliss. "They accept their pains, as from the hand of their loving Father, who, out of His paternal care, makes choice of those rough instruments to polish and refine them so as to fit them for His presence. They look upon them as love-tokens sent from their Beloved, and esteem them rather as precious gifts of their loving Lord than as cruel punishments inflicted by a severe enemy. They kiss the rod, and the fatherly hand that makes use of it for their sovereign good. . . . They judge it so necessary for them to suffer in these flames, that though they should discover a thousand gates open, and a free passage for them to fly out of Purgatory into Paradise, not so much as one soul would stir out before she had fully satisfied the divine justice.*


Besides, we may well believe with St. Catharine of Genoa, and other holy writers, that God imparts certain special graces to them, which constitute another source of joy.


But we must not permit ourselves to fall into the error of imagining that the joy of the holy souls diminishes their sufferings, -- an error for which our limited intelligence and our ignorance of the condition of these poor prisoners prepare us. On this point St. Catharine of Genoa expressly says:

"It is true that the divine love which overwhelms the soul gives, as I think, a peace greater than can be expressed; yet this peace does not in the least diminish her pains; nay, it is love delayed which occasions them, and they are greater in proportion to the perfection of the love of which God as made her capable. Thus have these souls in Purgatory great pleasure and great pain; nor does the one impede the other."*


And again (Chapter 16) the Saint remarks:


"The souls see all things not in themselves nor by themselves, but as they are in God, on whom they are more intent than on their sufferings. For the least vision they can have of God overbalances all woes and all joys that can be conceived. Yet their joy in God does by no means abate their pain."

1. All for Jesus, pp. 388-389.

2. Treatise on Purgatory, chap. 8,9.

3. All for Jesus, pp. 382-83.

4. The Prisoners of the King, pp 49-51.

5. The Prisoners of the King, pp 51-53.

6. All for Jesus, pp 396-397.

7. Treatise on Purgatory, chap. 2.

8. Purgatory Surveyed, pp 47-80.

9. Purgatory Surveyed, pp. 59-60.

10. Treatise on Purgatory, chap. 12.


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