THE SUFFRAGES OF THE LIVING ARE OF ADVANTAGE TO THE DEAD.
I. Unless the suffrages of the living were of advantage to the dead, the Scripture would not tell us that it is advisable to pray for them. But the Scripture tells that it is advisable to do this. As we have seen in an early part of this work, it is expressly said in the Second Book of Machabees,(xii. 43, &c.) that" " it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead." Not alone the Scripture, but also the practice of the Church is in favour of rendering suffrages to the dead. If the suffrages of the living were of no use to the dead, there would be no meaning in offering up the holy sacrifice of the . Mass, or in performing any other satisfactory good works for them. But we have seen before this, that it has been the constant practice of the Church to offer up the holy Mass and to perform other satisfactory works for the souls of the faithful departed. This is sufficient proof that, according to the mind and practice of the Church no less than according to Scripture, such suffrages are of advantage to them.
II. The dead, who departed this life in the grace of God, belong to the Church. St. Augustine (Lib. 20, de Civit. Dei, c. 9.) writes: " For neither the souls of the pious dead are, separated from the Church, which is even now the kingdom of God; otherwise neither at the altar should there be made a remembrance of them.'' Later on he adds: " For why is this done, unless because the faithful, even those that are dead, are its members." Then the dead belong to the Church, and constitute a portion of its members. But the whole Church, triumphant, militant, and suffering, is one body, of which Jesus Christ is the head. Not only can the head assist the members of a body, but even the members themselves can, and ought, assist each other. The members of a body always "render mutual assistance to themselves. There ought to be communication between the members themselves, as well as between the members and the head. On this account St. Paul writes to the Corinthians:(i. Corinth, xii. 25 and 26.) "The members might be mutually careful one for another. And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it." As the dead are afflicted members of the Church, unable to assist themselves, they can, and ought, be assisted by the living.
III. The members of the Church ought to be able to assist each other, as the head is able to assist the members. There ought to be a parity in the mode in which the head and members assist each other. Now Christ, the head of the Church, whilst alive, was of assistance to the living and the dead; and, when dead, was likewise of assistance to the living and the dead.
That whilst alive He was of advantage to the living, is shown from His having cured the bodily diseases and infirmities of many. It is shown in a special manner from His having forgiven their sins, as in the case of the Paralytic, (Matth. ix. 2.) Mary Magdalene, (Luke, vii. 48.) Zacchaeus, (Luke, xix. 9.) Peter, (Luke, xxii.) and the penitent thief on the cross. (Luke, xxiii. 43.) These instances are sufficient to convince us that Christ, whilst alive, rendered assistance to the living.
That, whilst alive, He was of assistance to the dead, is seen at once when we recall to mind, how He restored to life the daughter of Jairus; (Matth. ix. 25.) the son of the widow of Nain; (Luke, vii. 15.) and Lazarus. (John, xi. 44.) Hence it is beyond doubt that, when He was among the living, Christ was of assistance not alone to the living, but even to the dead.
When dead, too, He rendered assistance to the living. In the first place, it was by His death He cancelled the handwriting of sin that was against us; opened the gates of heaven; and merited eternal life for us. Also, He is at present our advocate with the Father. St. John(John, ii. I.) says: " But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just." St. Paul (Heb. vii. 25.) says He is "always living to make intercession for us." It is evident then, that Christ, when dead, was, and is, of advantage to the living.
Finally, when dead, He was of assistance to the dead. At the time of His death He opened the graves, and raised many bodies of the saints. The Evangelist says: (Matth. xxvii. 52.). "And the graves were opened ; and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose." Add to this, that at the descent of His soul into Limbo, as St. Peter says, (Acts, ii. 24.) He "loosed the sorrows of hell." We see from these instances that when dead, Jesus Christ was of assistance to the dead.
IV. It has been sufficiently proved in the preceding paragraphs that Christ, whilst alive, was of assistance to the living and the dead; and when dead, was likewise of assistance to the living and the dead.
In resemblance to the head, Jesus Christ, so should the members of the Church be also able to render assistance to each other. Thus the living should be able to assist the living; they should be able to assist the dead ; the dead should be able to assist the living, the dead should be able to assist the dead. Of these four points, three are quite apparent, viz., that the living are able to assist the living—that the dead are able to assist the living— and that the dead are able to assist the dead. If these three be apparent, the fourth—that the living can assist the dead—ought, in like manner, be apparent. We shall prove the first three points.
First, the living should be able to assist the living. This is seen from the fact that some of the living are assisted by others who are living. For example, we see every day, that some of the living are taught and fed, with sermons and sacraments, by others who are among the living. It is proved also that the living can assist the living, from that text of St. James, (v. 16.) where he says: " Pray one for another, that you may be saved."
Secondly, the dead should be able to assist the dead. This is proved to be true, from two texts of Scripture. The first is found in the Fourth Book of Kings, (xiii. 21.) where it is recorded that a dead man was restored to life, on his body merely coming into contact with the bones of the prophet Eliseus. The second text is in St. Luke, (xvi. 23.) who, in detailing one of the Parables of Our Lord, speaks of Abraham, who was dead, as having afforded an asylum in his bosom to Lazarus, who was also dead. Besides, it is an undoubted fact, that the saints in heaven pray for those who are suffering in Purgatory. As proof of this, the Church, in the second prayer ( "Deus veniae largitor &c.") which is read in the Daily Masses of the Dead, supplicates Almighty God, that he may conduct the departed souls to eternal happiness, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and all the saints. St. Augustine (Lib. De Cura pro Mortuis, cap. 4.) also says that it is of advantage to the dead to be buried in the basilicas of the martyrs, so that he, who may remember the dead, may at the same time remember the martyrs, and recommend the souls of the former to the intercession of the latter. Thus the Church, in her prayer, and St. Augustine with her, evidently believe that the saints are able to assist the faithful departed, or, what amounts to the same, that the dead are able to assist the dead.
Thirdly, the dead should be able to assist the living. That they can do so, can be proved from scripture. We read in the Second Book of Machabees, (Ch. xv.) that Onias, the high priest, and Jeremias, the prophet, both of whom at the time had been long dead, appeared and prayed for the Hebrew people, who were living. We have many instances, where the saints, who were dead, have appeared to the living, and obtained for them innumerable benefits. To be convinced of this, we have only to consult Theodoret (Lib. de martyribus.) or St. Augustine.(Lib. 22. de Civitate Dei.) Further more, it is not incredible that the souls in Purgatory impetrate God in behalf of us. There is nothing in this to excite our surprise, when we remember that St. Gregory ( Lib. 4, Dialogorum.) and St. Peter Damian (In Epist. de miraculis sui temporis) tell us that the souls of Paschasius and Severinus, though in Purgatory, were able to work miracles. Hence, it would follow that not only the saints, but even the souls in Purgatory, can assist the living. However, St. Thomas ( In 2. 2. Quaest. 83, art. II, ad 3.) holds the contrary opinion. Still, it may be argued against him, that if those in Purgatory do not pray for us, the reason must be, either that they are inferior to us, or that they are in torments ; or that they do not enjoy the beatific vision : but that neither of these reasons can stand.
The first reason—that these souls are inferior to us— is not convincing ; because we in this life pray for those who are our superiors, such as the supreme Pontiff and the Bishops of the Church. We also pray for those who excel us in holiness. In the Epistle to the Romans, (Ch. xv,) we read that St. Paul, who, in merit, was amongst the greatest of all the Apostles, recommended himself to the prayers of the primitive Christians. Then, though the souls in Purgatory may be inferior to us in some respects, this would be no hindrance to their praying for us. It may be added, moreover, that, although they are in an inferior condition to us by reason of the punishments they endure, they are in a superior condition to us, on account of that grace and charity, in which they are constituted and confirmed. Because they are replenished with charity, their prayer may be sup posed to be superior to, and more acceptable than, ours.
The second reason that may be alleged, why the souls in Purgatory cannot pray for us—that they are in torments—is of little moment. The martyrs, whilst in torments, prayed, not alone for them selves, but also for others. We have sufficient proof of this in the martyrdom of St. Stephen, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.(vii. 59.) The rich man suffered greater torments in hell, than the souls in Purgatory do, and nevertheless we read in St. Luke, (xvi. 27.) that he entreated for his five brethren who were on earth. Moreover, though pain may in this life, on account of the organs of the body by which the soul is affected, disturb reason and render the heart callous, it cannot have these effects in Purgatory where the soul is freed from the body, and unaffected by its organs. Finally, though those souls are in great torments, there is no reason to doubt that they pray for themselves. Why, then, may it not be thought that they pray for us also ?
The third reason alleged, why these souls could not pray for us, is, that they do not enjoy the beatific vision; and this reason is easily shown to have no force. In the last chapter of the Second Book of Machabees, it is written that the saints of the Old Law prayed for the living. Yet those saints of old were imprisoned in Limbo, and did not enjoy the beatific vision, or see God. Nevertheless they were able to pray for the living. Hence it is probable that the souls in Purgatory pray for us.
However, it would seem to be superfluous for us to invoke their intercession, or recommend ourselves to their prayers. As they are not in heaven, they can not see our prayers in God, as the saints do; nor is it likely that He, as an ordinary rule, reveals them to them. It is unnecessary to add, that they have no other way of hearing our prayers, as they are not amongst us. Thus, they cannot know what we are doing in particular, though they know that we are exposed to many dangers and temptations in general; just as we know that they are exposed to many torments in general, though we do not know their exact nature.
Then, since the living are able to assist the living; the dead to assist the dead; and the dead to assist the living; there is nothing more consecutive, or more natural, than to infer, that the living can like wise assist the dead. There is as much reason for the living to assist the dead, as there is for them to assist the living, or as there is for the dead to assist the dead, or the living.