§ 3. Sentiment.
11. Like unto a mourning dove, the beloved Spouse of Christ, the Church, never interrupts her sighs and prayers for the faithful departed until they have arrived in the port of eternal bliss. She renews, in Holy Mass our Divine Redeemer's sacrificial death, offering it up to His Heavenly Father; she invites the Church triumphant and the Church militant to join in persevering prayer for the Church suffering. What a consolation for the dying, w r hat a reassurance for the living to profess a religion so Comforting: consoling to the dying who, though cleansed from all mortal sin by the holy sacraments, yet are uncertain whether they shall be found sufficiently pure, and worthy of heaven, but rest assured that the Church triumphant and militant will come to their aid after death ; comforting for their surviving friends, because they continue to show them their affection in case they should stand in need of their assistance in the purifying flames.—Hence we can never be sufficiently thankful to God for having called us to a religion whose maternal care, charity and zeal goes beyond the confines of our earthly pilgrimage and follows us even after our eyes have been closed in death.
12. How sorely we feel the parting from our dear ones ! When the dying husband bids farewell to his loving wife, recommending himself to her prayers; when affectionate children stand around the death-bed of a dear mother, listening to her parting words ; when the death of a dear friend is announced to us, we are overwhelmed with sorrow; the smart of parting well-nigh breaks our heart. At such moments religion, with its heavenly consolation, comes to our aid, exhorting us to lift up our hands in supplication to our brethren of the Church triumphant, to distribute with liberal charity among our suffering dear ones our prayers, alms and suffrages. How beautiful is this faith, how consoling this doctrine of the communion of saints!
Therefore, Christian soul, do not abandon yourself to sorrow; follow the advice of St. Paul, "Do not mourn as those who have no hope." Remember the parting words of St. Monica to her son, St. Augustine, "Remember me at the altar of God!" Glancing at the battlefield of the Machabees, make an act of faith in the existence of Purgatory, saying with the inspired writer, "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins."
§ 4. Reason.
13. Reason, when assisted by the higher light of revelation, gives us satisfactory evidence of the existence of a middle state, and, to our consolation, compels us to profess our belief in it. Our dissenting brethren ask: Why is it that souls who departed this life in the state of grace must nevertheless suffer so severely ? Why must they, after having devoted their earthly career to true love of God, to the renunciation of all wickedness and worldly aspirations, after living in self-denial, justice and piety, why must they nevertheless suffer, why are they denied entrance into eternal bliss ?—Let the inquirer rest assured that if it were not necessary, God would not permit it; for He finds no pleasure in the misfortune and pain of man, but in his salvation and eternal happiness. As a father will not hurt his child except in case of necessity, thus also our Heavenly Father will not hurt us except it be necessary for our true welfare.
14. God-fearing persons conscientiously avoid mortal sin; yet, either from a want of due vigilance or from human frailty, they commit venial faults which, trifling as they may appear, are punished by God; for Jesus says: " But I say to you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment." (Matth. xii. 36.) True, we know that these venial faults are blotted out by an act of contrition, and that they are remitted by voluntary acts of penance, as well as in confession: but nevertheless, may a person not be overtaken by death before having thus blotted them out, even before thinking of doing so?—Then, when appearing before the tribunal of God, the soul is immediately confronted with its unatoned faults, and remembers with sorrow and terror its delinquencies. It acknowledges as supremely just the sentence of God condemning it to the purifying flames of Purgatory. And how will they fare whose faults approach in dangerous proximity to mortal sin ?—It is related of a poor woman that she sometimes covertly permitted her cow to graze in a "neighbor's field. It was rarely done, for she was very conscientious. The damage caused amounted to, perhaps, twenty cents a year. But as she continued the practice for nearly twenty years, the amount finally reached the sum of four dollars. Simple-minded as she was, she never thought of this. She died and appearing before her Judge, was reminded of her indebtness. She is confused, can scarcely believe that she owes such a sum, but nevertheless it is so. In sorrow and contrition she acknowledges her fault, and goes to Purgatory for it.
We so often have little regard for small matters, and are thereby led to contract bad habits. Many a person is accustomed to complain of his hard lot and to regard himself as less fortunate than his neighbors: this is a fault which must be atoned for. Another is over-sensitive, and hangs his head when contradicted; or he is talkative and mixes in every conversation; 'or he is morose and vindictive, prone to making sharp remarks; another has contracted the habit of making only half genuflections before the Blessed Sacrament, etc., etc.; all these faults must be atoned for. Thus there is a number of faults, bad habits, weaknesses and negligences, of which even good Christians are guilty: they must be atoned for. For of heaven Holy Scripture says: "There shall not enter into it anything defiled." (Apoc. xxi. 27.) Pure as gold chastened by fire must the soul be before it can be admitted to the beatific vision of God.
15. There are others who have been guilty of mortal sins, but returned to God before their death by a true conversion, obtaining forgiveness of their sins and remission of eternal punishment in the sacrament of Penance. Divine justice nevertheless demands satisfaction for these remitted sins; some temporal punishment is due to them. This we see in Moses, Aaron and David, in St. Peter and in St. Mary Magdalen: God had forgiven them their sins together with the eternal punishment due to them; He Himself, or His prophets had assured them of pardon: yet He punished David by the death of the son born to him (in Kings, xii. 14.); He punished Moses and Aaron by denying them entrance into the promised land (Numbers xx. 12.). All these servants of God, though freed from the guilt and eternal punishment of their sins, continued nevertheless to deplore them all their lives, and to atone for the temporal punishment due to them by penance. Yet, who can say whether they ever attained to a point when they could say truly: Now we have destroyed all the evil effects of our sins in ourselves and in others ? According to the words of Christ, "Thou shall not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.' 9 (Matth. v. 26.)
Many die when they have scarcely begun their penance, others in the midst of it, others again at its end. Many a one who continued all through life in his wickedness, returns to God on his death-bed; he * makes an act of contrition, confesses his sins and receives absolution, and feels happy at the thought that the burden of guilt is lifted from his soul. He dies, and is not condemned; but on his death-bed he neglected voluntary satisfaction and hence he is sentenced to undergo punishment in Purgatory. Entire satisfaction may be rendered in a short time: the Good Thief on the cross rendered sufficient satisfaction in his last moments to be admitted immediately into paradise. But many render but little satisfaction during a long time; numbers of people die without having even atoned for the sins of their youth: they must atone in Purgatory
16. There is no doubt that in all these cases each one receives a gracious sentence; that all are saved because they died in the grace of God: but can they enter heaven immediately? No; "there shall not enter into it anything defiled." Hence they are debarred from the beatific vision of God until they shall have been purified, and have rendered satisfaction to Divine Justice. Having glorified His mercy, God now illustrates His justice in them. This being so, we are compelled to admit the existence of a middle state, where the just undergo temporal punishment and render satisfaction. This is impossible either in heaven or in hell. In heaven there is no pain or punishment; in hell torment and punishment is everlasting: there sin is avenged, but not atoned for. Therefore the just, who as yet are not worthy of heaven, but saved from hell, must undergo their purification in a middle state, where God cleanses them by punishment and thus renders them capable of His beatific vision.
Hence reason, praising God's mercy and justice, unites with the Catholic Church in the joyful declaration : "There is a Purgatory, and 'therefore it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.' "
§5. The Unanimous Concurrence of all Nations in the Belief in Purgatory.
17. The doctrine of Purgatory being thus consonant with reason, even the heathens professed it; for what is easy of belief is accepted, at least in its fundamental theory, by all nations. Hence they all believed in the existence of a Supreme Being; so that Plutarch could refer to cities without walls and without laws, but was forced to declare that there were none to be found without belief in a deity to whom they zealously rendered homage and sacrifice. We find the doctrine of the creation of man, of the prevarication of our first parents, of the flood, etc., among the most savage and rude nations. In the same manner, they all had some idea of a state of purification in the next world, however crude and perverted it might be. Thus we find this belief a part of the doctrine of the roaming savage who took with him on his predatory excursions the mortal remains of his father, and of the refined Greek and Roman, who scrupulously adhered to the £ustoms by which he sought to placate the manes of the deceased. Widely as mourning customs differed, we find everywhere expiatory sacrifices for the dead, prayers for them: hence the holocausts, the cremations, the libations, offerings placed on tombs, funeral ceremonies, etc., as related in history. The Africans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Celts and the Slavs professed their belief in purification in a middle state by the doctrine of the migration of souls, and of other modes of atonement. Similar views are found with the Esquimaux, Greenlanders, North American Indian tribes, etc., all concurring in the belief that the soul, on its way to heaven, has to undergo many trials, in overcoming which the living can assist them by prayer, sacrifice and funeral celebrations.
18. Whence this universal sentiment, which, though it does not appear everywhere with equal distinctness, yet is common to all? Undoubtedly these distorted views of an everlasting truth are founded in human reason which believes in the immortality of the soul and distinguishes between absolute purity and total depravity, between human frailty and obstinate perversity.—Plato states the doctrine of paganism on this subject as follows: "As soon as the departed have arrived at the place to which they are conducted by demons, the separation of the just and holy from the wicked takes place. Those found to have led nearly a good life are conducted to the Great Lake to dwell there and atone for their faults till they are absolved. They whose condition is judged to be beyond remedy because of the wickedness of their transgressions, are plunged into Tartarus, whence they are never released. They whose faults have been great, but remedied to some degree, are also plunged into Tartarus ; but after remaining a year, the waves throw them ashore and they are transferred back to the Sea of Acherusia. If they are received there by them against whom they offended, their punishment is ended. They, however, that shall be found to have made great progress in holy life, escape all these prisons in the interior of the earth, and proceed to the pure abode above the earth."
The Jews also, though accepting only the Old Testament, believe the doctrine of purification in the next world. They lay great stress on it, and are zealous defenders of its practice. For instance, with them a child is bound to say for a whole year a certain prayer called Kadis for his deceased father. When there are no children, strangers are paid to say this prayer. Josephus remarks that this custom is very ancient.
It is impossible that nations of such diversity of faith, morals, laws and languages should concur so unanimously in this one point, except they all drew from the same source, the fountain of truth. Here we may well say, Vox populi vox Dei: —"The voice of the people is God's voice." This voice of all nations and tribes comes to us from ages past, loudly attesting: " There is a Purgatory; and 'it is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.' "