§ 31. The State of Grace is Necessary to Make Good Works Profitable to the Suffering Souls.
159. On the part of the faithful the following conditions must be observed in order that their suffrages for the Suffering Souls may be accepted by God:
a) They must have the intention of resigning the merits of their good works in favor of the Suffering Souls. The fruit accruing from our good works remains our property as long as we do not cede it to some other person. Our intention may specify a particular soul to whom we desire to apply our suffrages. If the soul for which we supplicate is already in heaven or in hell, God will give the benefit of our intercession to some other soul according to the pleasure of His wisdom, mercy and justice. If the works of suffrage are offered for the relief of the Suffering Souls in general, the satisfactory fruit thereof is divided among them all.
b) The work performed must be one of atonement. All good works are such; but they are not all equally valuable as atonement. Their atoning value depends either on the disposition of the person performing them; or it may be inherent in the works themselves, as for instance Holy Mass, indulgences and the prayers of the Church.
c) According to the unanimous doctrine of all theologians, the good works, to be effective, must be performed in the state of grace. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the atoning effect of such good works as possess atoning power of themselves, are of benefit to the Suffering Souls even though they be performed in the state of sin; such works are for instance Holy Mass, the personal or local plenary indulgence of a privileged altar, the prayers and blessings of the Church.
The Suffering Souls receive no benefit of a good work performed in the state, of sin, when the value of this work requires it to be performed in the state of grace. If in such a case the petition of a sinner is granted, this is not done because the work itself was worthy the favor, but solely and purely as a result of God's mercy. But if the sinner acts as the minister of the Church, or in the name of one actually in the state of grace, then the good work has the same value that it would have if the one ordering it had done the work himself. Thus teaches the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas.
160. St. Chrysostom reminds us: "Of what benefit is your excessive weeping? Not tears, but good works aid the deceased." Charity is inventive; and, Christian soul, the true follower of Christ is all charity. Mindful of the departed, he therefore says, "I will make good the deficiencies of the Suffering Souls." But sometimes our excessive love for the deceased prevents us from using the right means at the proper time. We do not reflect on the condition of our own soul, we do not examine our state of conscience before God, but are only concerned at the sufferings of our brethren and friends. We perform our good works too hastily, without first offering to God an humble and contrite heart; and thereby we expose them to the danger of being rejected. God will not despise an humble and contrite heart. In the holy sacraments He has provided us with the means of acquiring such a disposition of heart. True contrition and the firm resolution of making use of this means will place us in a condition to render our good works and prayers acceptable to God. And if we receive the sacraments in this spirit, Jesus Himself will be our intercessor with His Heavenly Father. Hence the word of the elder Tobias are applicable also to us, "Lay out thy bread and thy wine upon the burial of a just man, and do not eat and drink thereof with the wicked." (Tob. iv. 18.)
161. A dying father entreated his son to remember him frequently after death. The son did so, praying often and performing many other good works for him. But after thirty-three years his father appeared to him surrounded by flames and complained bitterly that he had neglected for so long a time to come to his relief. "Is it possible," inquired the son in great consternation, "that all my prayers, alms, etc., have availed nothing for your relief?"—"Know, my son," replied his father, " that all the good works you have hitherto performed were fruitless both for you and me, because you performed them in the state of mortal sin. Your confessions were null and void, because you had no true contrition for your sins. Our Lord' in His mercy permitted me to inform you of this for your own benefit and mine." The son was converted, made a sincere and contrite confession, and was soon informed of the release of his father.—"A contrite and humbled heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." (Ps. i,. 19.) "God resisteth the proud, but to the humble He giveth grace." (I. Pet. v. 5.)