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Preface: An Essay on Masses ...
Introduction
General Remarks
1st Motive: The Pains of Purgatory
2nd Motive: The Duration of ...
3rd Motive: The Condition of ...
4th Motive: The Number of Souls
5th Motive: The Honor/Glory of God
6th Motive: The Church Triumphant
7th Motive: Own Spiritual Advantage
8th Motive: Natural Affection
9th Motive: The Value of the Mass
Certain Practical Questions
The Fourth Motive — The number of souls in Purgatory

O that they would be wise, and would understand, and would provide for their last end. - Deuteronomy 32:29.

 

Upon this, as upon so many other points relating to Purgatory, we have no certain knowledge. All that is left for us is to put together such considerations as are calculated to throw light on the subject, and then draw the conclusions which they would seem to justify.

 

We shall begin by inquiring, Who are condemned to Purgatory? There are two classes, as is well known:

 

All those who die in venial sin; and
all who have not fully satisfied the temporal punishment due to their mortal sins, the eternal punishment of which was forgiven in this life.

 

If we take the great body of Catholics as we see them in the world around us, it would appear safe to say that the first class embraces all lukewarm, all good, and all pious Christians. There is hardly one who can say that he has spent a single day of his life without having fallen into at least one or more venial faults; and although he should confess himself a sinner out of humility, as the saints have done, he would nevertheless do so with entire truth. I am well aware that many of these venial faults are to be attributed rather to human frailty than to malice; that many, very many of them are remitted by the various means by which venial sins may be blotted out; and that not a few persons may gain a plenary Indulgence at the moment of death; but yet when no one feels perfectly prepared to die upon any given day of his entire life, it is to he feared that few are found ready to submit their souls to the All-searching eye of God when the dread summons calls. The Apostle of the Gentiles himself feared the judgment, and said: "I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judges me is the Lord." I do not assert that no one reaches Heaven without passing through Purgatory; what I maintain is that few are so perfect as to escape those purifying flames. Father Faber is of the same opinion, and is more personal:

 

"Let us look at our lives," says he; "let us trace our hearts faithfully through but one day, and see of what mixed intentions, human respect, self-love and pusillanimous temper/(cowardly temper) our actions, nay, even our devotions are made up; and does not Purgatory, heated sevenfold, and endured to the day of doom, seem but a gentle novitiate for the Vision of the All-Holy?"*

 

Then, as to the second class: those who have not fully paid the debt of temporal punishment due for forgiven mortal sins. This debt must be paid by penitential exercises and indulgences in this life, or become the fuel for the fires of Purgatory in the life to come. We live in so ease-loving an age, that, so far from practicing penances, we are hardly capable of forming an idea of the rigorous austerities of the early ages of the Church. Do Christians of our day -- those even who are regarded as more exemplary than common -- impose voluntary fasts upon themselves, or do they not rather with a doubtful conscience frequently excuse themselves from observing such as are imposed by the Church? As to Lent, the study of a regimen by which the object of the Church in instituting this fast may be in a measure defeated, has been brought down to so fine a point, that a cook-book for Lent has actually been prepared and sold extensively. By this means it has been attempted, and with a fair measure of success, to change a season of mortification into one for the gratification of the palate. Alas, the great body of Christians hardly know what penance and mortification are! As to disciplines, hair-shirts, and other instruments for subduing rebellious nature, their names are almost forgotten. People are content to enjoy themselves here, and run the risk of burning in Purgatory for years, neglected by their friends; and no doubt many of them will find fault with me for telling them the truth too plainly. Truly, "with desolation is the land made desolate, because there is no one that thinks in his heart."

 

It may be that the people of today are not so hardy a race as their ancestors, or the climate of this country may be more exhaustive than that of the nations which the Christians of the early and middle ages illustrated by their austerities; but it is to be feared that the will is more wanting than the opportunity, else why is not the inability to practice mortification in one way supplied in some other? What is done in the way of almsgiving to satisfy temporal punishment? Certainly no more than was done in other days, and the alms that are given are bestowed, in all probability, with less desire to let them be known only to God. Anything considerable must generally be balanced by the reading of the donor's name in the Church, or by the appearance of a flattering notice in the newspaper. Supernatural motives are weak in our day. How comparatively little, too, do we see in the world of fervent prayer? Where are now the vigils and watchings, assisting at the Offices of the Church, pious pilgrimages, and many other exercises that were not uncommon in days gone by? Doubtless in other days men sinned, and as grievously as at present: hut did they not endeavor more than we to make atonement? Or where do we see tears of true contrition in the sacred tribunal of Penance? Do not confessors frequently hesitate to impose a penance at all proportioned to the sins confessed, lest it might not be accepted and performed? And although many hear Mass on week-days, the number is small compared to those who might do so if they were sufficiently conscious of the need they have of satisfying the justice of God. And the same may be said of Lenten, May, and other special devotions. To go still further, do not many good Christians look with mingled indifference and pity on the few who consecrate themselves entirely to God? It is but a trifling exaggeration to say that the world is at present an utter stranger to penitential exercises. A glance at the different codes of canonical penances enjoined by saintly Bishops on persons guilty of certain sins would afford us a salutary insight into their idea of the amount of temporal punishment that attaches, not to the more heinous sins only, but to those also which many people of our day regard as comparatively small. Take the following from St. Charles Borromeo:

 

"If any one swear by the name of God, if he does so once inadvertently, he shall fast seven days on bread and water; and if, after he is admonished, he does so the second and third time, he shall fast in the same manner fifteen days. . . . If any one converses in the Church during Mass, he shall do penance ten days on bread and water. . . . He who breaks the fast of Lent shall, for each offense, do penance seven days. . . If anyone steals an article of small value, he shall, after making restitution, do penance one year."*

 

Yet these sins are by no means uncommon at the present day. Other more grievous sins, that are unfortunately far from unknown to many Catholics of our time, were visited with penances of five and ten years, and not infrequently with penances for life. Yet it must not be forgotten, on the one hand, that the nature of sins is unchanged; and, on the other, that these penances were imposed, not to remit the eternal punishment, -- which must be the work of the Sacrament of Penance, -- but the temporal punishment, -- that upon which the flames of Purgatory feed. We are not, however, to understand that the length of time for which a canonical penance was imposed -- and the same is to be remarked in regard to the length of a partial Indulgence -- corresponds to the length of time during which the soul would have to remain in Purgatory to obtain the remission of a similar amount of temporal punishment. Upon these points we cannot speak with certainty.

 

The Church in her maternal solicitude for the salvation of her children has condescended to the weakness of poor fallen nature, and has commuted these canonical penances into Indulgences, by means of which the temporal punishment due to sin can more easily be paid.

 

Do Christians in general take advantage of this loving condescension of the Church? Many of the prayers which they recite daily are enriched with partial, and, upon certain conditions, also with plenary Indulgences. Are Catholics, as a rule, studious to gain them? So far from it, is it not rather true that half the passable Christians hardly know what an Indulgence is? There is no point, perhaps, upon which they are so generally ignorant.

 

Add to all these considerations the number of death-bed repentance's, after a life of sin, and how few, think you, will be found to leave the world so pure as to be prepared for the beatific vision of God? How few who could submit their souls to the eyes of Him before whom the Heavens are not pure? This, I am well aware, is not a flattering picture; but is it not a true one? Is it not taking the great body of Christians as we find them? For my own part, I cannot feel that I am guilty of exaggeration. If together with this we remember what has been said in other parts of this work, we shall be prepared for the following remarks of Father Faber on the probable number of souls in Purgatory. Says this learned writer:

 

"There are, as we all know, two worlds, the world of sense and the world of spirit. We live in the world of sense, surrounded by the world of spirit, and as Christians we have hourly and very real communication with that world. Now, it is a mere fragment of the Church which is in the world of sense. In these days the Church Triumphant in Heaven, collecting its fresh multitudes in every age, and constantly beautifying itself with new saints, must necessarily far exceed the limits of the Church Militant, which does not embrace even a majority of the inhabitants of the earth. Nor is it unlikely, but most likely, that the Church Suffering in Purgatory must far exceed the Church Militant in extent, as it surpasses it in beauty."*

 

What a wide field is here opened for our charity! What super-human efforts are there not made to rescue persons from coal mines that have taken fire; and if it were possible that the inhabitants of a city, or even of a small town, were in danger, would not the whole nation be aroused? Witness the feelings that were aroused by the accidental fires that have taken place in theatres, churches, and institutions in this country. Yet in Purgatory there are most probably hundreds of millions of helpless souls burning, all for a considerable time, a large proportion for a long period of years, -- years in which there is not a moment's respite, -- and shall we remain inactive? Of what are our hearts composed, or have we hearts and feelings at all?

 

We do something, it is true, but could we not easily do much more? Yet a few years, and we ourselves are almost certain of being buried in those flames; and when we shall be writhing in torments who will come to our aid? Have we sent one soul to Heaven to plead for us; or has our indifference been such as to arouse the Divine Justice against us? Reader, ponder in holy fear; and now, when there is yet time, make haste to liberate some souls who in your time of need will be advocates to plead your cause before a Judge who will readily be moved to show mercy to such as have shown mercy to those dear to Him.

 

 

1. All for Jesus, pp. 398.

2. S. Caroli Bor., Instructiones pastorum apud Roggl. Zuspruche im Beichtstuhle, pp. 354-359.

3. All for Jesus, pp. 375-376.

 

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