The month of November, recalls the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We remember the souls that are dear to us; who have left us to unite with our heavenly Father. During this month, we offer up our prayers for the holy souls who wait eagerly to enter their heavenly bliss. From the various teachings of the church and from the writings of the saints, we assimilate knowledge about the souls in purgatory. However, we will never be able to fully comprehend the state of their being, the condition of the soul, and their torments. My desire to know more about the suffering souls led me to delve deeper in the subject of Purgatory. Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the state of purgatory as “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”(CCC 1030).
The Quest About Souls:
The quest about souls gives rise to many thought-provoking questions; what about life after death, what is the state of the soul, what is purgatory like, what is it to be purged in the flames of purgatory, are there really any flames there? The quest remains unquenched! It all appears like a shadow, intangible! Only when we enter that state of life, it will be clearly visible. Reality will be uncovered. The writings of the saints have revealed much about purgatory and about the suffering of souls. The suffering of the souls is great because of their deep desire for union with God; and this longing causes them much pain. The souls understand that they have been saved and they will enter the glory of God but till then they have to undergo the pain of separation. St. Faustina, the apostle of Divine Mercy received visions of Purgatory from Jesus. Souls would often appear to St. Faustina and request for prayers. Text from the diary of St. Faustina, “I saw my Guardian angel who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not reach me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They assured me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God” (Diary 20). Here it says they were praying fervently, but their prayers were not benefiting them at all, hence only our prayers can succour them. The souls offer up their prayers for us, but they seem to be helpless because their own prayers cannot rescue them. Hence, it is our responsibility to pray for the suffering souls. The flames as described by St. Faustina may not be physical flames but rather could be spiritual flames of intense desire for God which purge the soul of its impurity. This intense fire of love must be burning them and purging away their sins, so that cleansed and purified with this intense longing, the soul is able to rise to its eternal glory.
Praying for the Souls:
God has blessed us with the gift of prayer; through our prayers the souls can reach their state of perfection. We can offer up our daily prayers and mortification for the release of souls from purgatory. God in his mercy has revealed all this to the saints, so that we can become their prayer warriors. We need to implore God’s mercy for the souls in purgatory; and God in his mercy will release them. So that once purified, they can enter the heavenly bliss for all eternity. There they will pray for us before the throne of God. The souls who attain heaven through the aid of our prayers always remain indebted to us and they pray for us. Thus, by praying for them we will have a host of heavenly intercessors. Saint Augustine writes, “One of the holiest works, one of the best exercises of piety that we can practice in this world, is to offer sacrifices, alms, and prayers for the dead”. God has given this special grace or charism to many of the saints to understand the condition of the souls in purgatory. And we are blessed to have such treasure in the Catholic church by which we are enlightened about the souls. The writings of St. Francis de Sales reveal to us that the souls not only suffer pain but they also enjoy the gradual process of their cleansing which will lead them into the presence of God. He wrote, “Just as the pains of purgatory are severe, so the interior satisfaction and bliss enjoyed by the souls there must surpass anything we can imagine. How wonderful it must be for them when they feel themselves gradually being spiritually healed, gradually being freed from their remaining moral debt to God, and gradually drawing nearer and nearer to the joyful vision of the Blessed Trinity!”
We not only pray for the holy souls in purgatory but we can ask them to pray for us. Their prayers surely come to our aid. How long do they suffer? There is no definite answer about the period of purging. We on earth are bound by time and space; but they are beyond these earthly limitations and hence no time can be specified. Our prayers will help to fan the flames of love which they suffer and thus purge away their imperfections.
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:36), not even death. In fact, death unites us with Christ but the flames of purgatory distance us from God till the time of purging. Can we accept our purging here on earth so that the flames do not separate us from God? Saint John of the Cross said, “the provision of God always provides, in every life, the purification that is needed to allow us to go straight to heaven at the hour of death.” How does purification take place here on earth? The purification comes to us here on earth in the form of small chastisements. However, we do not consider these as chastisements from God, rather we rebel against God for permitting these chastisements into our lives. No one would want hardships or sufferings and hence we try to ward off the sufferings. But God permits these as little purging in our life. God reproves and disciplines those whom he loves (Heb 12:6-7). The Saints gladly accepted sufferings in their life and thus would grow in God’s love and holiness, resigning themselves totally to God’s holy will. We are given every opportunity here on earth to grow in God’s love and come into intimacy with God. But the souls in purgatory have lost this opportunity; hence we need to make the best of it while on earth. Each little act of charity will reduce our suffering in purgatory. Holy acceptance of suffering is meritorious in the sight of God. Each sacrifice of ours united with the suffering of Christ and offered for the souls will help them attain heaven.
Prayer of St. Gertrude:
The prayer of St. Gertrude for the holy souls in purgatory has a promise attached; that each time we pray this prayer, 1000 souls will be released. Let us make it a practice to pray this prayer daily and help release souls from purgatory. “Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.” Amen.