What is All Souls’ day?
It is the day set apart by the Catholic Church for the special devout commemoration of those of its members, who have departed this life in the grace and friendship of God, for whom we pray, that they may soon be released by God from the prison of purgatory.
What is purgatory?
Purgatory is that place in which the souls of the deceased faithful, who though dying in the grace of God, are yet burdened with some small sins not yet atoned for, suffer temporal punishment, and become purified from all sin. It is called the place of purification or purgatory, because in it those souls, which are not perfectly unsullied, are purified by fire as gold in the furnace. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he had built thereupon, he shall receive a reward; if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. (i. Cor.iii.23.) “And when St. Paul,” says St. Ambrose (Serm. 20. in Ps. cxviii.), “says, yet so as by fire, he shows that such a man indeed becomes happy, having suffered the punishment of fire, having been cleansed by the blessed fire, but not being, like the wicked, continually tormented in eternal fire.” St. Paul’s words, then, can only be understood to refer to the fire of purification, as the infallible Church has always explained them.
Are the heretics right in denying, that there is suck a place of purification as purgatory?
By no means, for by such denial they oppose the holy Scriptures, tradition, and reason. The holy Scriptures teach, that there is a purgatory: it is related in the Second Book of the Machabees, that Judas Machabeus sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem, to be used in the temple to obtain prayers for those who fell in battle, for he believed it: a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins. But for what dead shall we pray? Those in heaven do not require our prayers; to those in hell they are of no avail; we must then pray for those who are in the place of purification. Christ speaks of a prison in the future life, from which no man comes out until he has paid the last farthing. (Matt. v. 25, 26.) This prison cannot be hell, because from hell there is never any release; it must be, then, a place of purification. Again Christ speaks of sin which shall be forgiven neither in this world nor in the next (Matt. xii. 32.), from which it follows, there is remittance of some sins in the next world but this can be neither in heaven nor in hell, consequently in purgatory.
As the Consistory of Trent says (Sess. 6. c. 30.), the Church has always taught, according to the old tradition of the fathers, in all her councils, that there is a purgatory, and all centuries show proofs of the continual belief of all true Christians in a purgatory. Finally, man’s unblinded reason must accept a purgatory; for how many depart this earth before having accomplished the great work of their own purification? They cannot enter heaven; for St. John tells us: There shall not enter into it any thing defiled. (Apoc. xxi. 27.) The simple separation of the soul from the body does not make the sinful soul pure, and yet God cannot reject them as the hardened sinners in hell; there must then be a middle place, a purgatory, where those who have departed not free from stain, must be purified. See how the doctrine of the Church, reason, and the holy Scriptures all agree, and do not let yourself be led away by false arguments from those who not only believe in no purgatory, but even in no hell, so that they may sin with so much more impunity.
What, how much, and for how long must we suffer in purgatory?
Concerning this the Church has made no decision, though much has been written by the fathers of the Church on the subject. Concerning the severity of the punishment in purgatory, St. Augustine writes: “This fire is more painful than any that man can suffer in this life.” This should urge us to continual sanctification and atonement, so that we may escape the fearful judgment of God.
How can we aid the suffering souls in purgatory?
Of this St. Augustine writes: “It is not to be doubted, that we can aid the souls of the departed by the prayers of the Church, by the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by the alms which we offer for them.” The Church has always taught, that prayers for the faithful departed are useful and good, and she has always offered Masses for them.
What should urge us to aid the suffering souls in purgatory?
1. The consideration of the belief of the Church in the communion of saints, by which all the members of the Church upon earth, in heaven, and in purgatory are joined together by the bonds of love, like the members of one body, and as the healthy members of a body sympathize with the suffering members, seeking to aid them, so should we assist our suffering brothers in purgatory. 2. The remembrance that it is God’s will, that we should practise charity towards one another, and that fearful judgments are threatened those who show no charity to a brother in need, together with the recollection of God’s love which desires, that all men should be happy in heaven. 3. We should be urged to it by love for ourselves, for if we should be condemned to the pains of purification, we would assuredly desire our living brothers to pray for us and perform good works for our sake, while the souls who through our prayers have perhaps found redemption, will not fail to reward our aid by interceding for us.
Can we aid the souls in purgatory by gaining indulgences?
Yes, for as indulgences, as explained in the Instruction for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are a complete or a partial remittance of the temporal punishment due to sin, bestowed by the Church to penitent sinners from the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. If we gain such a remittance, we can apply it to the souls in purgatory. But it is to be remembered, that such an indulgence can be transferred only to one soul.
For which souls should we pray?
We should certainly, especially on this day, offer prayers and good works for all the faithful departed, and since we are more under obligation to some, some are more pleasing to God, some need assistance more, some deserve it more than others, we should strive to pray most earnestly for our parents, relations, friends, and benefactors; for those who are most acceptable to God; for those who have suffered the longest, or who have the longest yet to suffer; for those who are most painfully tormented; for those who are the most forsaken; for those who are nearest redemption; for those who are suffering on account of us; for those who hope in our prayers; for those who during life have injured us, or been injured by us; for our spiritual brothers and sisters.
When and by which means was this yearly commemoration of the departed introduced into the Church?
The precise time of its introduction cannot be told. Tertullian (A. D. 160) writes, that the early Christians held a yearly commemoration of the faithful departed. Towards the end of the tenth century St. Odilo, Abbot of the Benedictines at Cluny, directed that the yearly commemoration of the faithful departed, should be observed on the Second of November with prayers, alms, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, which time and manner of celebration spread through various dioceses, and was officially, confirmed by Pope John XIX. And this day was appointed, that, having the day previously rejoiced at the glory of the saints in heaven, we might on this day most properly pray for those who are yet doing penance their sins and sigh in purgatory for their redemption.