Saturday, 14 March 2015
The Condition of the Suffering souls in Purgatory, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen. On the Means of Relieving the Suffering Souls. Part 16.
§ 32. The Holy Sacrifice of Mass is the Most Powerful Means of Aiding the Suffering Souls.
162. The Holy Sacrifice of Mass has always been considered by the Church to be the most effective means of releasing the souls of the faithful departed from their torments. "Although we are sinners," says St. Cyrillus, "we nevertheless send up our supplications to God for the departed, not offering Him for instance a crown, but Jesus Christ Himself, who bled for our sins, and beseeching the bountiful and gracious God to be merciful to them and to us. We pray for all that have departed this life, because we confidently believe that the prayer at the altar will be most profitable to them."—Although Holy Mass is the most powerful sacrifice of propitiation, it is to be feared that it is not sufficiently appreciated by the faithful. The truth of this remark is evidenced by the negligence of so many in frequently and devoutly assisting at Mass, and by the deplorable fact that so many Catholics are remiss in having Masses celebrated for their deceased. A great many count those hours that they spend in assisting at Mass as lost and unprofitable. Others excuse themselves with the want of means, saying they cannot afford to give the customary stipend for a Mass. If they would but reflect on the real essence of the Most Holy Sacrifice and on the futility of their excuses, they would soon be convinced how grossly they deceive themselves.
163. Death has entered our home and claimed a victim. A beloved father, a dear mother, an obedient son, a dutiful daughter, a near relative, a dear friend has departed this life after an illness of days, weeks, months or years. During this time we did our utmost to afford them every relief in our power. But now, after they have departed this life, now, when they are suffering the indescribable torments of Purgatory, we scarcely find time to pray for the repose of their souls. To spend a short time in the morning assisting at Mass for their benefit and to appeal to heaven for their relief and ransom, for our own benefit and the greater glory of God—for this we have no time!—Our dear ones are scarcely out of sight, and already we begin to forget them. We have time to speculate and labor for our advancement in this world, to promote our welfare, to add to our wealth, to enjoy pleasures of every kind—but the souls of our departed dear ones are forgotten for the very reason, because amid all these engagements we find no time to remember them in prayer and in the Holy Sacrifice.—No time for prayer? No time to show yourself a Christian ? No time to assist at the august Sacrifice of Holy Mass?!—And yet there is no service of the Church more pleasing to our Divine Lord, no act more profitable to us and the Suffering Souls, than Holy Mass. All works of piety and charity are profitable to us and valuable in the sight of God; nevertheless they are human acts, and therefore full of imperfections. Holy Mass however is not a human act, but a Divine Sacrifice offered by the great High Priest Jesus Christ Himself to the Most Holy and Adorable Trinity. This Holy Sacrifice is the most efficient means of procuring the speedy release of the departed souls; and we, who claim to be Christians, have no time to assist at it!
164. Livius relates that in the year 360 before Christ an immense abyss opened in Rome. Venomous vapors ascended from it and soon caused a great mortality, so that the city was threatened with destruction. To save it a young patrician offered himself in sacrifice. He bestrode his richly caparizoned steed and plunged into the mysterious depth which immediately closed over him.—A heathen sacrifices his life for his fellow-citizens—and Christians do not even find time to devote a half hour to the relief of their suffering brethren!—When St. Louis, king of France, was informed that some of his courtiers murmured because he spent so much time in assisting at Mass, he rejoined: " If I should devote double the time to play and amusements, nobody would say a word."—Christian soul, can you not devote as much time to Holy Mass as you do to play and amusements ? Do not excuse yourself with want of time. Blessed Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, was overburdened with work, and yet he served at Mass every morning before entering on the duties of the day.— Our Lord promised to St. Gertrude, "At the hour of death I will send to everyone so many saints to console and assist him, as he devoutly heard Holy Masses during his life."—And we dare to call it unprofitable to assist at Holy Mass ? We have no time for this Divine Sacrifice ? Rather let us say we have no true conception of our holy religion, no compassion for the dead.
165. It is then greatly to be feared, that Holy Mass is not duly appreciated by a large number of the faithful, despite its being the most precious treasure in the world; and as a consequence this Holy Sacrifice is not offered up in suffrage for the departed as frequently as it should be. It is greatly to be deplored that this treasure, by which we are able to quench the flames of Purgatory, is so to say hidden in the earth for many, and appreciated only by a few. Seemingly, poverty is the reason that so few Masses are offered for the faithful departed; but this excuse in many cases is a very flimsy one, for experience proves that it is not consonant with truth. Many of those who show great zeal in having Masses celebrated for the faithful departed are less blessed with the goods of this world, than many that neglect to do so. Many also, who excuse themselves with poverty, spend more for useless, if not sinful extravagancies, than would be sufficient to have a Mass said often during the year. This is particularly the case at funerals, when a great sum is spent for vain display, whilst the soul of the departed is forgotten, and even the ministers of the Church whose services were engaged are defrauded under pretense of poverty.
166. Another reason why so few Masses are ordered for the deliverance of the faithful departed is to be found in the silence observed on this subject in sermons. It is not our affair, nor do we intend to criticize the action of zealous pastors. They well know that the world has little intelligence for things divine, and therefore accuses the ministers, of God of selfishness when they refer zealously and frequently to the subject of having Masses celebrated for the dead. It is an old practice of the enemies of the Church to call the alms fixed by ecclesiastical law as a condition for gaining an indulgence a barter; and they do the same with regard to the stipend fixed for the celebration of a Mass according to one's intention. To govern her actions the Church was never yet in need of the enemy's counsel. As early as in the apostolic age she condemned the barter of things spiritual for things temporal. "Keep thy money to thyself to perish with thee," said St. Peter to Simon Magus; and he gives the reason for this severe reproof in the following words, "For thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." (Acts viii. 20.) The Church at all times condemned the practice of degrading her spiritual ministrations by even the semblance of venality. True, she permits her ministers to receive a fixed stipend for their spiritual ministrations; but at the same time she enjoins it on them most rigorously to abstain from all appearance of striving after worldly gain. The Council of Trent, renewing the former strict laws in this regard, ordains the following: "With regard to avarice, let the bishops forbid entirely every species of contract and stipulation concerning the obligation of Masses; also importunate and unseemly claims or rather exactions of alms and the like, savoring of the pest of simony or of sordid gain."
167. The strict injunctions of the Church, and the prejudices of a great number of the faithful, cause many zealous priests to observe silence concerning the obligation of having Masses celebrated for the deceased. They wish to avoid even the semblance of seeking their own profit, and therefore omit entirely the instructions that ought to be given on this important duty; for they speak of it but seldom or only in a general way. Praiseworthy as this may be in itself, it is a source of great spiritual damage to the faithful, living and dead. Hence zealous pastors do themselves, what they hesitate to recommend to their parishioners. They offer up for the faithful departed all the Masses not ordered for a particular intention. In 1869 a young priest accompanied his bishop to Rome. In a conversation the latter asked him whether in bis daily Mass he also remembered the faithful departed in general and his friends in particular. The priest replied, "Certainly I remember my departed friends very often." The saintly bishop continued, "I did the same when I was a young priest. Once I fell sick and became so dangerously ill, that my life was despaired of. I received the sacraments of the dying; and whilst preparing for death, I reviewed my whole life with all its faults of commision and omission. I became aware how much I had still to atone for, and pondered how few Masses and prayers would be said for me after death. Since my recovery I have made it a practice to be very assiduous in saying Masses for the Suffering Souls; and I rejoice every time I am able to do so."— Christian soul, this is the disposition of every zealous priest; but many of them scruple at inviting the faithful to do what they- themselves are so anxious to perform.
168. On the one hand a pious priest is most reluctant to exhort his people to anything in which he might seem to strive for his own temporal interest ; on the other he is convinced that very many even among the more religiously inclined regard him as actuated by self-interest, every time he is obliged— and he can not escape the necessity of doing so at least now and then —to mention money matters. It is obvious that the Masses which the faithful are exhorted to have said must be celebrated by a priest, and that he is entitled to the stipend. Hence there are many who imagine and even say that he speaks in his own interest, when he discourses on the benefits accruing to the Suffering Souls from the Holy Sacrifice of Mass. In doing so they make themselves guilty of a species of sacrilege; they impede the priest in the discharge of his duty as teacher of religion; they deprive the souls in Purgatory of relief and deliverance from their torments, and God of the glory and adoration which He would have received by their more speedy release. And, as a consequence of this want of charity, the pastors speak only in general on prayer for the Suffering Souls, and leave it to their hearers to draw inferences according to the greater or less degree of their piety.
169. Nevertheless there are also very good Christians who regard this matter in the spirit of the Church. In 1885 a newly ordained priest was appointed to the charge of Ph. in the State of Ohio. It was customary in this congregation to take up a collection on All Souls' day for Masses to be celebrated for the faithful departed, and this was usually announced on the preceding Sunday with an appropriate exhortation. The young priest, reluctant to make the announcement, omitted the customary exhortation. A good old lady, fearing that the Suffering Souls would be deprived of the usual suffrages by the action of the priest, went to the sacristy after Mass, and begged to remind him of the omission. "I think I discern your motive, your reverence," she said. "You did not omit the exhortation from forgetfulness, but feared to scandalize the congregation. Now please do not let this consideration influence you. We know our religion better. A short exhortation will be of great benefit to the Suffering Souls. Therefore do not let your sense of propriety cause you to deprive the faithful departed of a speedy release."—By this incident the priest was taught to regard in future rather the interests of religion than considerations of popular favor.
O poor Suffering Souls! They that loved you in life might easily come to your aid; but they neglect to do so either from want of knowledge or of faith. Poor Sufferers in Purgatory! Your friends lavishly spend money on their mortal bodies, devoting themselves to pleasure and business, and excusing their heartless disregard of you with the flimsy declaration that your position can not be so very distressing, because they always knew you to be righteous during your mortal career. O love devoid of charity, how long and painfully will you permit your dear ones to suffer in Purgatory ?