§ 22. The Saints and the Suffering Souls.
90. Mortal eye has never witnessed an apparition similar to that vouchsafed the apostle St. John, and which he describes as follows: "And I saw, and beheld in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes : which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. And when He had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints: and they sang a new canticle, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: because Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God in Thy blood, out of every tongue, and people, and nation." (Apoc. vi. 6-9.) This is the sacred spectacle to which holy Church directs our eyes in order to excite us to holy desires of emulating the example of the saints, and thereby to imitate their charity towards the Suffering Souls; for it is clearly demonstrated by their lives that there is no saint in heaven who neglected to come to the aid of the souls in Purgatory. The saints did all in their power to atone for the faults of the faithful departed. They repaired their own derelictions of duty, satisfied their obligations, loved their enemies, forgave injuries, were patient in trials, sought voluntary suffering, gave alms, were intent on gaining indiligences, offered up their own merits—all for the souls in Purgatory. With these meritorious works they joined retirement from the world and its pleasures, made pious foundations, prayed unceasingly, received holy communion; and above all, they were solicitous to have the Holy Sacrifice of Mass offered up, or to assist at it for the repose of the Suffering Souls. Thus the saints were continuously intent on offering suffrages for the faithful departed. In their prayers and good works they remembered, first of all, those whose state of grace at the time of their death remained doubtful, the greatest sinner, as long as he lives on earth, being subject to God's mercy; as also those who died in the fame of sanctity, the smallest faults being unable to escape the avenging justice of God. They trustfully interceded, knowing that their good works would be received by the merciful God, who revealed to St. Gertrude that it is not in opposition to His justice to release the Suffering Souls immediately from all torments, if He was asked in confidence to do so. For in this manner He intends to glorify at the same time His mercy and His justice.
91. The Suffering Souls are loved by the saints in heaven just as they were loved by them during their earthly pilgrimage, and even more so, because in heaven the saints know better their present misery and the ineffable glory for which they are destined; hence it is their most ardent desire to see them released as soon as possible. This love and desire impels them to pray assiduously for their eternal rest. We know this from the unanimous testimony of the theologians. St. Augustine and St. Thomas remark, u It is a recognized truth that the saints in heaven are very powerful to procure the release of the souls in Purgatory by their intercession." Holy Church herself announces to us that it is profitable and well to invoke the saints for the relief of the souls in Purgatory, as she invokes them and the angels in Holy Mass and in her liturgical prayers to assist them by their intercession. We may further instance this truth by what is related of St. Francis of Assisi: The saint once appeared to one of his brethren and announced to him a privilege which had been granted to him by Christ. " I grant thee,'* the Lord had said to St. Francis, "that every year, on the anniversary of thy death, thou shalt be permitted to release all the souls belonging to thy Third Order, as also the souls of all thy devout clients detained in Purgatory, and in virtue of the stigmata with which I honored thee, to conduct them to paradise." From this we also see that God Himself gives testimony in favor of the invocation of the saints, and that it is in accord with His will that we should invoke them for the release of the Suffering Souls.
92. However, from this power of the saints in heaven in favor of the Suffering Souls it does not follow that God remits punishment in consequence of their intercession alone. On the part of the person wishing to aid the souls in Purgatory it is necessary for him to perform works of atonement in order to make his help effective. But in heaven merit is no longer acquired. The more probable opinion of theologians favors the view that the souls in Purgatory are under penalty of severe divine justice; for otherwise the intercession of the saints might obtain their release in a short time, and that of the Blessed Virgin in a moment. Hence the intercession of the saints in behalf of the Suffering Souls is directed to the following objects : They pray—
a) that God may graciously receive the works of atonement and the intercession of the faithful on earth for the souls in Purgatory ; and this prayer is a most appropriate one for the reason that the acceptance of the suffrages does not antagonize the demand of strict justice;
b) that God may by His grace inspire the faithful members of the Church militant, in order that they may more assiduously intercede for the Holy Souls;
c) that He may reduce the time of their punishment by augmenting its intensity; this is a great favor, since one day in paradise before the time originally set is an immense gain;
d) that God may accept their own supererogatory atonement in suffrage for the souls in Purgatory.
The latter point is considered doubtful by many theologians, because the atoning merits of Christ and the saints accrue to the treasury of the Church. It is moreover doubtful whether the saints pray to Christ to apply His merits, in virtue of their intercession, to the Suffering Souls. For according to the order established by Christ, it is left to the ministers of the Church on earth to draw from the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints, after the faithful have performed certain good works. As a rule, therefore, Christ Himself will not draw on this treasury, at least He will not do so without some corresponding reciprocation; and the Blessed Virgin and the saints in heaven do not pray for anything that is contrary to the order fixed by Christ. Whether it be done in exceptional cases is beyond our cognition. Thus argues the learned Suarez.
How wisely God's Providence has ordered all things in order to draw us to Him! He precludes the possibility of our yielding to sloth, since we cannot rely solely on the mercy of Christ and the saints in our Suffrages for the Suffering Souls. The elect are to incite us to fulfil the will of God. We pray and labor here below, and leave our good works in the hands of the saints in heaven, that they may offer them to the Almighty and invoke Him to receive them mercifully for His poor captive spouses in Purgatory.
93. This doctrine of the theologians is corroborated by the Venerable Catherine Emmerich. She says, "The Suffering Souls receive no direct aid from heaven; they obtain everything from the faithful living in this world." In Faber's works we find an observation, the sense of which is as follows: "Some authors have maintained that our Lord does not desire to help the Suffering Souls without our co-operation, and that the Blessed Virgin cannot aid them except indirectly, because she is no longer able to perform works of atonement. ,, St. Bridget makes a similar remark. Once she saw the Suffering Souls undergoing purification in Purgatory similar to gold being purified in a crucible, and heard an angel saying, " Blessed be the mortal that hastens to the relief of the Suffering. Souls. The justice of God demands that they either be purified in the flames of Purgatory, or that they be released therefrom by the good words of their friends." Then she heard a chorus of mournful voices, "O Lord Jesus Christ, just Judge, we implore Thee for the sake of Thy infinite mercy to turn away Thine eyes from our innumerable sins, and to regard the merits of Thy passion and death. Imbue with Thy true love the religious, the priests and the faithful, so that they may hasten to our relief by their prayers, sacrifices, alms-deeds and indulgences. They can aid us if they wish; they can hasten our union with Thee, O God!"— When St. Gertrude on a certain occasion was praying most ardently for the relief of the Suffering Souls, she was assured by Christ Himself, "It would not be in opposition to my justice to release them immediately, if you would confidently pray for this purpose."
94. By this consideration we should be impelled and incited to move God with greater zeal and by works of penance to be merciful to the Suffering Souls. Let us place our prayers and works into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, into His holy wounds, before His divine Countenance, imploring Him to present our supplications to His Heavenly Father. The Immaculate Heart of Mary, full of grace, is always ready to receive our supplications, ever inciting us to be merciful to the poor Sufferers. The saints, particularly the holy patrons of the Suffering Souls, are solicitous for them, and pray to God to move charitable hearts on earth to bring them relief. Let us be intent on laying up spiritual treasures ; let us confide them to the saints in heaven for the purpose of offering them to God's justice, that we may thereby honor those whom God desires us to honor. That God may spread more and more this work of mercy, let us pray with St. Augustine when he supplicates heaven for his deceased parents: "Do Thou, O my God, inspire Thy children, my brethren ; do Thou, O my Lord, inspire Thy servants, in order that all those who will read this may remember at Thy altar Thy handmaid Monica, with Patricius, her husband."
Let us draw from this the wholesome lesson conveyed in the following words of St. Basil: "Let us not take a limited view of God. He who permits the sun to shine in splendor, punishes also with blindness; He who lets the rain-drops descend, permits also rain of fire. The former is bounty, the latter rigor; by the one He draws us to His love, by the other He inspires us with fear; so that it may not be said to us : Dost thou despise the wealth of His bounty* patience and mercy ? Dost thou not know that the bounty of God leads to penance ?"
The final act of charity performed by the saints for the souls in Purgatory consists in conducting them into heaven at the end of their purification. The Venerable Frances of the Blessed Sacrament saw the soul of Pope Gregory XV., after a brief Purgatory, ascend to heaven surrounded by angels and saints. Most conspicuous among the latter were the five saints canonized by him, viz. St. Theresa, St. John of the Cross, St. Isidore, St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier.—If we invoke the saints now, we will merit thereby to receive the aid of their intercession; if we neglect now to esteem their help, they will deny it to us when we are most in need of it.