§ 17. On the Means of Relief in General.
64. Each member of the human body has its own duty to perform: the feet walk, the hands work, the ears hear, the eyes see. Whatever a member does, it does it not for its own sake alone, but also for the sake of the other members, thus contributing to the welfare of the whole body. Our members are united with one another in such a manner that the sensation of pleasure or pain is felt not only by the member immediately affected, but more or less by all. By this sympathy the various members are moved to co-operate with and assist one another as much as possible. The head is the most prominent part of the body; from it proceeds all life; without it the members are dead. The Catholic Church is constituted similar to the human body. The members of the Church of Jesus Christ either triumph together in heaven, militate on earth, or suffer in Purgatory. And because they are all most intimately united, they sympathize most cordially in their mutual joys and sufferings. We on earth rejoice at the blissful state of our glorified brethren and sisters in heaven ; we feel afflicted at the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory; we are filled with consolation or sorrow according to the intelligence we receive concerning our living brethren. This sympathy impels us to assist one another in all our needs and troubles. The spiritual goods of the Church are the common property of her children; they all share in them in as far as they have need and are worthy of them. The Head of this body of the faithful is Christ our Lord, as the Apostle says, "And He is the Head of the body, the Church." (Coloss. i. 18.)
65. The communion of saints is a most consoling doctrine, for it assures us of the great prerogative of having friends at the throne of God, the saints who pray for us and obtain for us the spiritual blessings and graces of which we stand in need for time and eternity. It is most consoling for the souls in Purgatory; because, being in communion with them, we are enabled to come to their aid in their great affliction by the means at our command. As the souls in Purgatory can only suffer and expiate, but not acquire merit, the Church militant takes their place in the work of atonement, offers up suffrages to the merciful and just Judge, and implores Him to accept them in expiation of their delinquencies. The justice of God demands the payment of the debt incurred by sin, but His mercy is appeased by vicarious atonement, and is moved by the intercession of the living to act with great lenity towards the Suffering Souls. The reason of this is to be found in the communion of saints. Charity, particularly supernatural charity, unites so as to make one of many. As a consequence what is performed by one is accepted by God as the work of the other. Had those souls, during their mortal life, been more fervent in prayer, in self-denial by fasting, laboring and suffering, they would have entered heaven immediately after death; now others do in their place what they neglected, thus giving security for them. But as he that gives security assumes the debt, the indebtedness of the Suffering Souls is cancelled by the suffrages of their friends.
66. The Church triumphant can not atone in the proper sense, for the saints in heaven no longer perform the works of expiation that are necessary for the relief and release of the Suffering Souls. Atonement, in its proper sense, is the reparation of an offence by some work of penance. By atonement the sinner not only repents of his sins, but seeks to reconcile divine justice by penitential works. The Suffering Souls were called to depart from this world before they had propitiated divine justice by atonement; and now their living friends, who alone can perform voluntary meritorious acts, can make the necessary reparation in their place by penitential works. These latter can not be performed in heaven, which is the abode of eternal bliss.
The relief and aid rendered to the Suffering Souls by the Church triumphant is in the form of prayer and intercession. The saints in heaven have recourse to the clemency and mercy of God; they ask His pardon and the remission of punishment for the Suffering Souls simply as a gift, offering in return only the merits of Jesus Christ and of the Church militant. Though many theologians assert that prayer as such, irrespective of its atoning power, has of itself the effect of obtaining of God the remission of temporal punishment, the learned Suarez and the greater number of theologians call the other opinion more probable, which teaches that God glorifies not only His mercy but also His justice, and that He therefore does not remit temporal punishment in answer to prayer alone; for in this case the saints in heaven might, by their prayers for the Suffering Souls, release all souls from Purgatory in a short time. And do not the merits of Christ Himself constitute the entire treasure of Heaven ? Does He not surpass all saints of heaven in love and mercy? But whether He bestows His merits on the Suffering Souls by His own free will, or is moved to do so by the prayers of the saints—this is a question which appears difficult to decide. For according to the arrangement instituted by Christ, the ministers of His Church on earth are appointed to draw on the treasure of the merits of Christ and His saints after certain good works have been performed by the living. According to this arrangement it can be assumed that Christ will not transfer anything from this treasury without some reciprocation on the part of the faithful on earth. The saints in heaven implore nothing that is contrary to the arrangement made by Christ. The prayers of the saints in heaven are directed to the end that God may enlighten and impel the faithful on earth to make reparation for the souls in Purgatory, and that He may accept these acts of atonement performed by the living. Prayer by itself, and atonement by expiatory works, or both happily united, constitute the suffrages for the souls in Purgatory.
67. The Church militant has this advantage over the Church triumphant, that by her prayer, atonement and suffragatory expiation she can assist the Suffering Souls in cancelling so much of their debt as is yet due. The living who desire to help the Suffering Souls can assume debt for debt, cancelling by fasting their neglect of it, by tears their want of sorrow, etc.—so much for so much—thus giving them relief in their torments. The means, then, of helping them are as numerous as the means of obtaining grace for ourselves ; for we can apply our merits by way of suffrage to the Suffering Souls.
The holy Fathers divide the means of helping the Suffering Souls into three kinds, viz. the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, prayer and works of expiation, for instance alms-deeds, fasting, pilgrimages and the like. It is an incontrovertible dogma of faith always believed in the Catholic Church, and founded on indisputable evidence, that the faithful are able to aid the souls in Purgatory. Hence St. Augustine observes : "While others weep and mourn at the death of their relatives, be thou intent on coming to the relief of the departed soul by sacrifice, prayer and alms." Prayer for the dead was regarded at all times as founded in divine revelation, as a tradition of faith. The holy Fathers sometimes represent to us how the angels gather the Most Precious Blood of our Lord into golden vessels,, and pour its refreshing dew on the souls in Purgatory, who are cleansed by its purifying application, and enter the abode of eternal bliss. They describe the consolation which we are able to impart to these souls during their captivity by having recourse to the treasury of the Most Precious Blood for their release, which we do by making a diligent use of the means placed at our disposal.