§ 19. Prayer.
72. The two most efficient means of obtaining the grace of God for ourselves and others, and thereby gaining heaven, are the sacraments and prayer. We treat of the latter here, and reserve an explanation of the efficacy of the former for the relief of the souls in Purgatory for a later paragraph.
As a means for our salvation prayer is most important. Our good or bad life depends chiefly on our good or bad prayer; hence on it depends also whether heaven or hell shall be ours, and whether we assist others, especially the souls in Purgatory, in gaining heaven. We are bound to pray not only now and then, but every day. Exhorting us to prayer, St. Paul says, "Pray without ceasing." (I Thess. v. 17.) And St. Augustine remarks, "Who knows how to pray well, knows how to live well."
73. Prayer is the elevation of the heart to God, either to praise Him, or to thank Him, or to ask a favor of Him; hence its division into prayer of praise, thanksgiving and petition. When we raise our thoughts, our mind to God, we soar up to heaven, the habitation of God's glory, leaving behind us the sordid cares of this world. Thinking thus of God—is this prayer ? No ! For prayer is an elevation of the heart to God; but we have not elevated our heart to Him, but only our intellect. It is in our heart that we experience joy, sorrow, trouble, desire, etc., hence we say, our heart is cheerful, or sorrowful. Now, if we think 6f God, and feel our heart replete with joy at His greatness, His goodness, at His being our Father, if we feel sorry for having offended Him, if we ardently implore Him to grant us a particular grace, etc.—in a word, if in thinking of God, we employ not only our intellect, as we do when solving a problem, but elicit in our heart, mind and will affections and aspirations of love, joy, sorrow, desire, etc. because of His perfections, then we raise our heart to God, in other words, we pray. And if, whilst we thus raise our hearts to Him in holy love, joy, contrition, etc., we express these sentiments in words, or at least elicit them mentally, then we converse with God, we pray. Hence prayer is also called a conversation with God. In prayer to the saints we raise our hearts to God at least indirectly, for we converse with God through them.
Hence, when we contemplate the glorious setting of the sun in a halo of gold and fire on a beautiful summer's eve; when we listen to the joyful strains of the feathered songsters in the air; when we feast our eyes on the abundant harvest of the fields, and gratefully remember the greatness and bounty of God, who made all this, and then say, "O God, how great, how beautiful Thou art! Oh, that I might truly love Thee!"—then we raise our hearts to God to praise Him ; our prayer is one of praise. When, on beholding a poor crippled beggar, we think of the goodness of God, whose fatherly care has preserved us from misfortune, and say, "Good Father in heaven, I thank Thee for the benefits Thou hast conferred on me !"— then we say a prayer of thanksgiving. And when we are in distress, so that we know not where in the world to turn for relief and help, and then, remembering that God knows our needs and can aid us, turn to Him, and say, "My dear Father in heaven, help me in my distress !"—then our prayer was. a prayer of petition. Hence, when praying we raise our hearts to God either to praise Him, to thank Him, or to ask Him for favors.
Our Divine Lord, exhorting us to prayer, makes use of language conveying a two-fold incitement, by which every Christian must feel moved and inspired to pray. He says, "Ask, and you shall receive !" (John xvi. 24.)—"Ask !" This word includes a command of the Lord, imposing on us prayer as an obligation to be fulfilled by all. And Jesus has the right to give us such a command; He prayed continually Himself, and knows the great efficacy of prayer/ Therefore He calls our attention to the blessing and fruits of prayer, and joining with the command a promise as incentive, He says, "Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John xvi. 24.) He commands us to ask, because He is our Savior, who wishes us to be saved; and because He knows that only in answer to our asking—to prayer —shall we attain happiness and salvation —shall our "joy be full."
74. We have remarked before that it seems probable that God does not remit our punishment in answer to prayer alone, but that we must perform some work of satisfaction. If this be so, the same law applies to the remission of punishment which we are desirous of obtaining for others.—Contemplating victims of the plague, of leprosy, of famine, etc., our heart is filled with compassion for these unfortunates, and calls on God for relief and help. And remembering the torments of the souls in Purgatory, which by far exceed all sufferings in this world, we are impelled to raise up our eyes to heaven imploring the release of our loved ones. Both sinners and the just are informed of these torments by faith; they fall on their knees and call for mercy, to God, from whom alone comes relief and redemption. But this prayer for the faithful departed, besides being trustful of God's fidelity and mercy, must be meritorious, if it is to accomplish its purpose in every case and beyond doubt. For Jesus says, "If you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it you." (John xvi, 23.) Asking in the name of Jesus is asking that His superabundant merits may be joined to our prayer, and if this is done, nothing is impossible to our prayer, for nothing is impossible to God's omnipotence. "If you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it you:" this promise of Jesus is our surety of being heard; for taken in the abstract, God is not bound to hear our prayer.
To obtain the hearing of our prayers, certain conditions must be observed on our part:
a) The person praying must be a member of the Church militant; for with death the state of merit ceases; there is no increase of merit in the next world—neither in Purgatory, nor in heaven or hell.
b) The person praying must be in the state of grace. It is only in the state of grace that we possess supernatural life; without it our works are dead in the sight of God, and inoperative for heaven.
c) Our prayer must be voluntary, proceeding from our own free will. What is done by coercion, against our will, has no merit.
d) To be meritorious, our prayer must be addressed to God from a supernatural motive, for His greater glory.
* Because the saints in heaven can no longer add to their merits, but can only intercede, their prayer, as was remarked before, has the effect of moving God to hear and receive more graciously the prayers of the living. A certain effective power may also be attached to the prayer of sinners, for God not unfrequently hears them when they ask something agreeable to Him. In this case He hears the prayer solely on account of His mercy, not on account of the petitioner's merit. A sinner acting in the name of the Church, or obeying the injunctions of a person departed in the grace of God, adds an additional value to the intercessions, but these latter have a value corresponding to the merit of the person that gave the commission. The latter is the principal, the former only his agent.
75. Hence the prayer of the just in this world is one of the effective means of assisting the Suffering Souls in Purgatory. It receives its efficacy, like fasting and alms-deeds, from the qualification and ministry of the person engaged therein. Prayer partakes of the state of the person praying. Fervent and submissive prayer penetrates the clouds, and moves the Heart oi God to mercy. Therefore St. Augustine calls prayer the "key of heaven," which opens the closed gates of that sublime abode—especially to the souls in Purgatory.
God is well pleased with prayer for the Suffering Souls, and therefore we may rest assured that it will attain its object. If God hears our prayer when we ask for transitory things, how much the more so will He hear it when we pray for the deliverance of the Suffering Souls, whom He ardently loves and who are destined for and sure of enjoying with Him His bliss for all eternity. Hence St. Bernard.touchingly remarks: "I will invoke the Lord with mournful lamentations, I will beseech Him with continual sighing. I will remember the departed in my prayers, hoping that the Lord will cast a pitying glance on them, and will change their torments into rest, their distress into ineffable glory. By such means their time of punishment can be shortened, their pains and torments mitigated." No less aptly does Thomas a Kempis observe: "Therefore let us pray for our dear ones, whom we shall follow in a short time, that hereafter they may remember us in our distress and sufferings; but let us always pray with fervent devotion and attention."
76. A most appropriate prayer for the faithful departed is the Rosary. The Blessed Virgin herself assures us through St. Dominic, that "the release of the Souls in Purgatory is one of the chief effects of the Rosary." By this sacred prayer we continue to renew our invocation of Mary's benevolent Heart; we implore the Queen of the Holy Rosary and of all Saints to deliver the Holy Souls from Purgatory, or to vouchsafe them consolation in their torments. We do this on the assurance of our Lord Himself, who says: "Ask, and you shall receive."
Blessed Alanus relates that many Brothers and Sisters testified under oath to having had apparitions of souls from Purgatory during the prayer of the Rosary. They appeared to them wearing the sign of the cross on their foreheads, thanked them for their prayers, and asked them to persevere in it; for except Holy Mass and indulgences there is, they said, no means so powerful to release souls from Purgatory as the Rosary, and a great number of souls were delivered by it every day.—Mary is the Queen of all Saints: of those in heaven, on earth, and in Purgatory. The Holy Souls suffer without being in condition to help themselves; therefore they are befriended in a special manner by the sorrowful Heart of Mary, the refuge of all her afflicted children.
77. A short but fervent prayer is sometimes of greater benefit to the Suffering Souls than a prolonged form of devotion which is wanting in attention. St. Jerome observes: "I prefer one psalm recited with devotion to the whole psalter said with distraction." Blessed Thomas Morus closed his daily evening prayer, which he said in common with his family, with a short prayer, viz. the psalm De profundis, for the souls in Purgatory. This is the Psalm selected by the Church as her prayer for the faithful departed; persons that do not know or cannot read it say in its place one Our Father after the Angelus, and say it also in the evening before retiring. A still shorter prayer of the Church is: "Eternal rest grant, O Lord, to the souls of all the faithful departed. Eternal light shine upon them; may they rest in peace. Amen." If we must content ourselves with a short prayer, let us select these, or some other indulgenced aspiration, to relieve the Suffering Souls.
A saintly bishop once dreamed he saw a boy draw a woman resplendent with light out of a deep well. Next morning he was surprised to see the same boy kneeling at a grave in the churchyard. He asked him what he was doing, and the boy replied: "I am saying an Our Father and the psalm Miserere for the soul of my poor mother,' By this the holy man was convinced that this good child had released his mother from Purgatory; and concluded thence that prayer for the dead must be highly efficacious.
78. How graciously and quickly God hears our prayer for the departed is demonstrated also by the following revelations. In a vision St. Mechtildis once saw many souls ascending out of the depths of Purgatory and entering a beautiful garden next to heaven.—The Venerable Dominic of Jesus-Mary saw some souls go to heaven while prayers for the dead were said in choir.—The Venerable Lindmayer counted four hundred souls that entered heaven through her intercession between January and March, 1691.—The Venerable Catherine Emmerich, whose suffrages for the deceased were extraordinary, released a great number of souls from Purgatory by her prayers. An-angel sometimes folded her hands, thus reminding her to pray for them, and when she let them sink from fatigue, he held them up, saying: "You must continue to pray."—Would that this consideration might induce the reader to redouble his fervor in prayer for the Suffering Souls! Not an angel, but our Savior Himself appears to us, sweating blood in His agony in the Garden, and exhorting us to fold our hands in prayer, saying: "Watch ye, and pray!" When, at the crucifixion of Jesus, all the elements conspired to wreak vengeance on a sinful world, when the earth trembled, the rocks split, the graves opened, the sun was obscured — our Savior raised. His eyes to heaven and showed by His example how to invoke the mercy of God for the distress of others. "And Jesus said: Father, forgive them!" (Luke xviii. 34.) By this prayer He reconciled His Heavenly Father, saved the world from utter destruction, triumphed over death, and opened the gates of heaven. Oh, how effective, how powerful was the prayer of the dying Savior! — How happy are we, how happy the Suffering Souls, if we unite our prayers with His prayer, and with His merits, thereby to open the gates of heaven to them ! United with the prayers and merits of the Crucified, remarks St. Chrysostom, our prayer is almighty, it obtains everything for which we pray, especially if the Suffering, but nevertheless Holy Souls in Purgatory are the object of our intercession. Hence St. Augustine observes that there is no occupation more wholesome and meritorious than praying for the dead.