Remembering the souls in purgatory

We continue to make our way through the month of November, in which we pray, together with all the saints in Heaven, for God’s mercy upon the souls in purgatory. A few weeks ago, on All Souls Day (November 2, which this year in the Fall River Diocese was a White All Souls Day, unlike the ones we used to know), Pope Francis encouraged the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for the dead and to not be selective about for whom we are to pray: “Today we are called to remember everyone, even those whom no one remembers. We remember the victims of war and violence; the many ‘little ones’ of the world, crushed by hunger and poverty; we remember the anonymous who rest in the communal ossuary [i.e., people who are buried in common graves, either due to poverty or due to being the victims of war]. We remember our brothers and sisters killed because they were Christian; and those who sacrificed their lives to serve others. We especially entrust to the Lord, those who have left us during the past year.”

The Holy Father then gave the ecclesial context of our praying for the dead: “Church tradition has always urged prayer for the deceased, in particular by offering the Eucharistic celebration for them: it is the best Spiritual help that we can give to their souls, particularly to those who are the most forsaken. The foundation of prayer in suffrage lies in the communion of the Mystical Body. As the Second Vatican Council repeats, ‘Fully conscious of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the pilgrim Church from the very first ages of the Christian religion has cultivated with great piety the memory of the dead’ (Lumen Gentium, n. 50).”

In the previous paragraph of Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), No. 49, the council fathers, together with Blessed Paul VI, taught, “Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him, some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding ‘clearly God Himself Triune and One, as He is’; but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to Our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him. Therefore the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who have gone to sleep in the peace of Christ is not in the least weakened or interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the perpetual faith of the Church, is strengthened by communication of Spiritual goods.” In other words, the council was describing the union which the Church Triumphant (in Heaven), the Church Militant (on earth) and the Church Penitent (in purgatory) enjoy through their communion in Christ, which is experienced most strongly on earth in the Mass.

On November 2, Pope Francis quoted a Passionist priest, Father Antonio Rungi, and prayed to God, “Look upon us with mercy, born of the tenderness of Your heart, and help us to walk in the ways of complete purification. Let none of Your children be lost in the eternal fire, where there can be no repentance. We entrust to You, O Lord, the souls of our beloved dead, of those who have died without the comfort of the Sacraments, or who have not had an opportunity to repent, even at the end of their lives.”

The Holy Father closed his Angelus remarks by urging his listeners to turn to the Blessed Mother. “May she, the Gate of Heaven, help us to understand more and more the value of prayer in suffrage for the souls of the dead. They are close to us!”

On Aug. 4, 1999, St. John Paul II gave a speech about purgatory at his weekly general audience (the previous two weeks he had spoken about Heaven and hell). He said, “For those who find themselves in a condition of being open to God, but still imperfectly, the journey towards full beatitude requires a purification, which the faith of the Church illustrates in the doctrine of ‘Purgatory’ (cf. ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church,’ n. 1030-1032). In sacred Scripture, we can grasp certain elements that help us to understand the meaning of this doctrine, even if it is not formally described. They express the belief that we cannot approach God without undergoing some kind of purification.”

Later in his talk, the sainted pontiff explained that purification: “Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church’s teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ Who removes from them the remnants of imperfection” (cf. Ecumenical Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis: DS 1304; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Decretum de iustificatione: DS 1580; Decretum de purgatorio: DS 1820).

In 1981, St. John Paul visited the hometown of St. John XXIII. While reading off a list of his predecessor’s accomplishments, the Polish pontiff noted that the Italian one had “constant remembrance of souls in purgatory” in his daily prayer. 

St. John Chrysostom, one of the ancient Fathers of the Church, urged us to pray for the souls in purgatory. “Let us help and commemorate them. If [the souls of] Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and offer our prayers for them.” If we don’t hesitate to help them right now, they will not hesitate to help us when our time comes.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts