What Can We Do Now to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory?
How Can We Avoid the Stopover Before Heaven?
How often do we hear at wakes and funerals? “He's in a better place.” “He's in heaven now.” How do you know? You don't know. We canonize saints in the funeral parlor and then forget about them. We don’t pray for them because they’re supposed to be in Heaven. One priest calls it the “Cruelty of Casual Canonization”.
We believe in Purgatory, but ignore it. Many Masses may be offered at first, but after a couple of years, we assume our loved one is in heaven. So we stop praying; we stop offering Masses; we neglect our deceased loved ones. They could be languishing in Purgatory for years, if not centuries. That’s why it’s beautiful that Father Thomas Hamm, pastor of St. Louis Church (Gallipolis, Ohio) remembers at daily Mass deceased of the parish as far back as 1931 on the anniversaries of their deaths.
We all are on a pilgrimage to eternity. We all must face death, judgment, and either heaven or hell, total presence of God or total absence of God. It is a choice that each one of us must make.
To enter the joy of heaven, one must be holy (Heb 12:14) and that's a tall order. We must become saints.......literally, in every sense of the word. We have a choice: become holy on earth or become holy in purgatory. The process of becoming holy on earth is difficult; it means growth over many years and a lot of grace. It's much more difficult in purgatory. We are no longer able to help ourselves. Although mystical visionaries call it “torment” in retribution as part of both God's mercy and His justice, the process of becoming holy in purgatory is “entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (see CCC #1031). It's not punishment as such, but rather purification.
There as here, one must develop a deep love for God and neighbor; learn patience, come to complete trust in God, and achieve complete resignation to His will. The poor soul must develop the heroic virtue of a saint. Purgatory is difficult; it can be long and arduous. The greatest torment is the intense yearning for God. Yet Purgatory is a happy place because Heaven is simply a matter of time; the atmosphere is hope and expectation. In fact, people there don't want to go to Heaven yet, knowing they are not ready. Who wants to go to a wedding in a soiled garment?
However, we can accelerate that process of purification by praying for the poor souls in purgatory. We are all linked to each other as part of the Communion of Saints......the Church Militant on earth, the Church Triumphant in heaven, and the Church Suffering in Purgatory. We are all linked together. The souls in Purgatory can pray for us and we for them. But they cannot pray for themselves as we can. So we must help them with our prayers, offering Masses, and offering our crosses to God for them. Having Masses said for a loved one is great; being there as well makes it even more special! The poor souls are counting on us; they are very dependent on us.
There is biblical evidence for the existence of Purgatory. Although the Bible is not explicit, it does allude to it in numerous passages. Judge for yourself from the 25 Bible passages in the following website: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/02/biblical-evidence-for-purgatory.html. Although our separated brethren do not accept Purgatory, everyone agrees that the Bible is consistent in clearly showing the necessity of absolute holiness in order to enter heaven. The question is the duration if any of the necessary purification even though Christ made reparation and saved us by the cross.
St. Jerome (d. 420) considered Malachi 3:24 as clear proof. Often used is 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 as proof, but the Protestants don't accept that book. Neither did the Jews because they thought that the original text was not in Hebrew. It turned out that the original text of Maccabees was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls and it was in Hebrew after all.
The early Christians prayed for the dead as did St. Paul for Onesiphorous in 2 Tim 1:16-18. Christ Himself clearly alluded to Purgatory in Matthew 5:22-26. In Matthew 12:32 He said that sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this world or the next. This implies that other sins are. Also mentioned are Luke 12:58-59 & 16:9, 19-31.
It is logical that if some are condemned to hell and the holy saints are in heaven, there must be a place in between for people who do not deserve hell but are not ready for heaven. They still need to work on perfecting themselves in purgatory, a manifestation of God's mercy as well as justice.
Interesting is an insight of Dr. Scott Hahn, a former anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister and now an imminent Catholic Theologian and Bible scholar at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. In Hebrews 12:29 we see that “God is a consuming fire”. He likens purgatory as a loving manifestation of God's consuming fire that purges or cleans the soul of its remaining vestiges of selfishness and other faults. It is painful but joyful for the suffering person realizes that his/her soul will be holy and ready to enter heaven with figuratively a stainless “wedding garment”.
Our pastor, Fr. Thomas Hamm, gave a great analogy in one of his homilies. He related the true story of a Nazi skinhead who was so fanatical that he had inflammatory tattoos all over his body, including the face, neck, back, scalp, legs, chest, etc........ By the grace of God he later repented, but was stuck with all of those ugly and horrendous tattoos, many of which were visible wherever he went. He wanted to get rid of them, but there was no easy way. Finally, he found a doctor to do it, but it was a difficult and painful procedure. The recovery process took months and it also was very painful. It will be similar with our tainted souls in purgatory.
Can we avoid that stopover on our way to heaven? Yes indeed if we work on becoming holy. All of us are called to be holy, to be saints. This means an intense love for God and His people; being faithful to God and His Church, the magisterium; growing in the virtues, especially patience and charity; being faithful to one's state of life as a parent, single, or religious; frequent Mass attendance and the reception of the Eucharist; monthly confession that gives grace and helps us to work on our faults with the advice of the confessor; daily rosary; frequent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, daily Bible and spiritual reading, and last but not least, prayer. We must be people of prayer.
What can we do to help the Poor Souls in Purgatory? Every day we can pray and offer our crosses for the poor souls. We can learn from the Byzantine Catholics who offer Masses (they say Liturgies) for the poor souls every Saturday throughout Lent. In Poland it is customary to offer a Mass every day for 30 days, reminiscent of the 30 days of mourning commanded by Moses and Aaron. They leave a candle at each loved one's grave, illuminating the entire cemetery, visible from miles away at night.
In Poland and Latin America All Souls Day is a major holiday when people visit the graves of their loved ones and pray. In America, we offer a few Masses and that's it. Minimal is to offer and attend a Mass on the birthday and on the anniversary of the loved one's death. Even if he or she is already in heaven, our loved one's prayers for us will be more powerful and other poor souls will be helped. The more we pray for the poor souls, the more they will pray for us and with greater power.
A beautiful practice is to say a quick prayer for the poor souls every time we zoom past a cemetery. It can be something like: “Grant them eternal rest, oh Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace”. Or it can be shorter and simpler.
The worst pain for a parent is to lose a child. After giving so much in raising their children, the parents can still help the person spiritually through prayer. Thus the parents can still influence the spiritual destiny of the loved one because we are so spiritually connected.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is very effective in the presence of a dying person. According to St. Faustina's as recorded in her book, “Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul”, Christ promised that He would come if the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is said in the presence of a dying person. He also said that His mercy is so great that even if there is a spark of repentance, He will try to reach that person, while respecting his/her free will. Thus the great fallacy of euthanasia or so called “mercy killing” to relieve one of his/her suffering.......we don't know how Our Lord is utilizing that extra time to reach the dying person and prepare him/her for eternity.
Revealing and informative is the book, “Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and Fires of Love” by Susan Tassone, sometimes called in jest, “The Purgatory Lady” because of her enthusiastic advocacy for the Poor Souls. Her website is http://www.susantassone.com (just click on it) and her books can be ordered there. One is written with Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Her latest book is described below.
Praying With the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
Let the saints inspire you to intercede for the holy souls in purgatory!
Throughout the ages the devotions, prayers, and practices of the Communion of Saints have been offered up on behalf of souls in purgatory, the “Church Suffering.” The saints’ ardent desire to intercede for the holy souls impelled them to pray ceaselessly for their eternal rest.
Over the years, Susan Tassone has been tirelessly writing and teaching about this revered tradition of praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Her meticulous research and attention to both historical and spiritual detail has helped many to understand more deeply the value of this singular devotion and selfless way of prayer. She has brought a whole new dimension to this devotion, seeing it through the spiritual writings and traditions of saints throughout the centuries.
— Cardinal Ivan Dias
Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples