§ 52. General Motives for Helping the Suffering Souls.
309. The joyous strains of the second Vespers of All Saints are hushed; the festive ornaments of the altar are removed; a catafalque is erected in its front. In black vestments the priest intones the Vespers of the dead.—Has the cold hand of Death removed a dear member from the midst of the congregation ? Is it a burial for which these preparations are made ? No; it is the eve of All Souls' day, the day on which the Church in maternal charity remembers in her prayers and in the Holy Sacrifice all those of her children who have passed through the portals of eternity, but who were not found pure enough to rest on the Sacred Bosom of their Lord; who are not yet permitted to stand before the throne of the Lamb, to take possession of the realms of bliss, but are detained in the debtors prison to await their ransom, their release and admission to eternal glory. Thousands of faithful obey the call of Mother Church, and thoughtfully, sadly wend their way to divine service to remember the dead.
310. During our earthly pilgrimage we are often disquieted—not only by the thought, what shall we eat, what shall we drink, and wherewith shall we clothe ourselves, but also by solicitude for the welfare of our dear ones in the distance. Who of us has not observed the furrowed brow of a father, the scalding tears of a mother, when a dear son or daughter takes leave of them to seek a way to fortune in the world? How will their children fare ? What will happen to them ? Will they remain steadfast in their faith, and avoid the snares of sin, the influence of bad company ? Such are the thoughts that daily harass the fond parent's heart. —And the children also may have to bear a heavy burden of mental trouble. When long silence on the part of their parents fills them with vague apprehensions for their safety, they are continually worried by the thought, "Why do they not write? Are they still alive and well ? Are they perhaps sinking under the weight of advancing age?"—These are their thoughts day and night; they follow them to their work and intrude themselves into their prayers.
311. But the solicitude for our dear ones reaches its highest point when our thoughts are directed to the condition of their souls in the other world. Our hearts are troubled, our minds feel oppressed when confronted with the question, "My father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother has passed the confines of mortal life: in what state may their souls be in the world beyond ? What was the sentence they received at the tribunal of the Supreme Judge? Is reward or punishment their lot ?"—Holy Writ informs us that nothing defiled can enter heaven, and that even the just man falls seven times a day; are then our beloved ones in eternal torment?—The heart recoils at the terrible thought!
312. Harassed by such doubts, a fond mother continued day and night to mourn the early death of a beloved son. But with all her tears it never occurred to her to come to the relief of his soul. It pleased our Lord to show her in a vision the wrong she thereby committed. She saw a procession of youths who joyously wended their way towards a beautiful city.^ With straining eyes she sought her son among them, and finally discovered him plodding along dejectedly in the rear, impeded in his progress by the heavy folds of a wet garment clinging about him. Mournfully addressing her, he said, "Dear mother, this garment, which your tears have made so heavy, hinders me from keeping pace with my companions. Oh, cease your weeping; and if you really love me, assist me with prayer, alms, Holy Mass and other good works!"
313. Henschenius, in his life of St. Dionysius the Carthusian, also relates an instance of the impropriety of immoderate inquisitiveness concerning the state o£ the deceased. When this saint was informed of his father's death, he sincerely mourned the deceased. At the same time, being anxious concerning his condition in the other world, he resolved to implore God to inform him of it. One day after Vespers, when he was devoutly engaged in prayer for this purpose, he heard a voice from heaven, saying, "What does it profit thee that thou shouldst permit thyself thus to be led on by curiosity ? Much better would it be if, instead of praying to know the state of thy father's soul, thou wouldst pray for his release from Purgatory in case he should be there. Thus thy prayer would be of assistance to him and thou wouldst gain merit thereby." Very much confounded at this reproof he thenceforth devoted himself with redoubled zeal to prayer for his father's release ; and the very next night he saw him in terrible torments, calling on him for help. He continued offering his prayers and good works for him, till he had the consolation of being informed of his release. Moreover, from this time on he was an ardent helper of the Suffering Souls, and exhorted his brethren also to come to their relief.
314. These are private revelations concerning particular cases.—But who will tell us what became of our dear ones, who departed this life with so many frailties? Our Holy Church consolingly responds to this inquiry: Mourn not as those who have no hope; for there is a middle state between heaven and hell, a place of purification, where according to St. Augustine all those receive salvation as if by fire, who have not sufficiently atoned for their sins. And Holy Scripture corroborates her comforting doctrine by assuring us .that "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins" (II Mach. xx. 46), "for the continual prayer of the just man availeth much" (James v. 16.), and "if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you." (John xvi. 23.) Like an angel of consolation Holy Church .assuages our grief, saying, "Why mourn as those who have no hope? If you desire that your loved ones enter the glory of heaven, why do you not aid them to attain it by alms-deeds, fasting, the Holy Sacrifice and other good works? These are prices of ransom acceptable to God and a most powerful means of effecting their release."—"And making a gathering, he (Judas the Machabee) sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead." (II Mach. xii. 43.)
And the aged Tobias exhorted his son: "Lay out thy bread and thy wine upon the burial of a just man" for "alms deliver from all sin and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness." (Tob. iv. ii.)— And listen also to St. Ambrose, writing to Faustinus, a nobleman who incessantly mourned the death of his sister, "Cease your mourning. The Lord, in whose hand is life and death, deprived you for a short time of your dearly beloved sister. Do not weep for her. Rather pray for her that the Lord may deliver her from the torments of Purgatory. Enwreathe her with immortelles of good works and with a garland of the roses of prayer. This is the most beautiful tribute you can pay to her memory."
315. While the Church thus consoles us by her ancient faith and her scriptural doctrine concerning those that died in the Lord, but who at their death had not yet cancelled all their indebtedness "to the last farthing," a mistaken zeal for the glory of God may induce some to oppose prayer for the Suffering Souls. The sentiment by which such, persons are led may be expressed in the following words: "As these just souls are sure of their salvation and confirmed in the love of God, it is much more meritorious to labor for the glory of God by fostering the propagation of the faith, by a fervent devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, by praying for the conversion of sinners, etc., than by striving to obtain a speedy release for the Suffering Souls." But this is not so. With Faber most theological writers maintain, that of all works of mercy and charity the most exalted, pure and charitable is to aid the Suffering Souls in Purgatory.
316. We read in the Annals of the Dominican Order that a disciple of the great St. Dominic, a man of high virtue, was remiss in his prayer for the souls in Purgatory. "Why trouble ourselves about their state?" he said. "They are sure of their salvation; they are no longer in danger of losing heaven. I will rather labor for the conversion of sinners, to lead back to God souls whose salvation is still in peril, whose damnation is humanly speaking inevitable because of their obduracy of heart and depravity of mind. Hence I pray for these unfortunates; I offer for them the Holy Sacrifice of Mass; I do.everything in my power for them—and I do not doubt that I shall succeed." This line of reasoning is surely not logical; it rather betokens great simplicity. And yet the good Dominican imagined that it was not enough for him alone to act according to this principle ; but he sought also to influence others to follow his example. Under the vain pretense of applying his charity to a better purpose he deprived the Suffering Souls of the suffrages by which devout Christians would have willingly aided them.
317. But in this case God allowed the Suffering Souls to leave their prison and to appear in menacing attitudes to the one who had thus defrauded them; for it is God Himself, who in His inscrutable mercy and justice created Purgatory, and who wishes the living to come to the relief of the departed. The souls began to molest the Dominican everywhere and at all times, filling him with terror, announcing to him who they were and why God permitted them to annoy him. Soon the good religious was a changed man; and thenceforth he was filled with such charity for the Suffering Souls that lie was most assiduous in his prayers for their relief. He offered the Holy Sacrifice for them as often as possible, and exhorted others in powerful sermons to help them. Never before were motives inculcated so effectually in defense of suffrages for the departed souls; and his success in convincing his hearers fully atoned for his former error.
318. History has not transmitted to us the arguments by which this zealous religious defended charity towards the Suffering Souls. Catholic theologians -gather them from the angelic doctor St. Thomas, and from other great saints and doctors of the Church. They deduce the various motives for helping the Poor Souls from the very nature of this sublime charity; and accordingly they enumerate three classes of such motives—motives relating to ourselves, to God, and to the Suffering Souls. By a careful consideration of these motives we shall be led to esteem at their true value the exertions of fervent Catholics for the Suffering Souls; we shall refresh in our minds the memory of the departed; we shall feel impelled to greater exertions for their relief. These motives are to say to us repeatedly and with irresistible force : " Hasten to aid the Church Suffering, the souls in Purgatory!" For St. Chrysostom remarks, "It was so ordained by the Holy Ghost, who demands of us that we help them."—Let us therefore make use of the effective means at our command, consisting of prayer, good works and Holy Mass. Let us never cease to implore our good God, the King of glory, to release from their torments the Suffering Souls, and to make them members of the Church triumphant, together with all the saints in eternal bliss.