|The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed|
Feast: November 2
By purgatory, no more is meant by Catholics than a middle state of souls, viz. of purgation from sin by temporary chastisements, or a punishment of some sin inflicted after death, which is not eternal. As to the place, manner, or kind of these sufferings, nothing has been defined by the church; and all who with Dr. Deacon except against this doctrine, on account of the circumstance of a material fire, quarrel about a mere scholastic question in which a person is at liberty to choose either side. This doctrine of a state of temporary punishment after death for some sins is interwoven with the fundamental articles of the Christian religion. For, as eternal torments are the portion of all souls which depart this life under the guilt of mortal sin, and everlasting bliss of those who die in the state of grace, so it is an obvious consequence that among the latter many souls may be defiled with lesser stains, and cannot enter immediately into the joy of the Lord. Repentance may be sincere, though something be wanting to its perfection; some part of the debt which the penitent owes to the divine justice may remain uncancelled, as appears from several instances mentioned in the holy scriptures, as of David, of the Israelites in the wilderness, of Moses and Aaron, and of the prophet slain by a lion, which debt is to be satisfied for either in this life or in the next. Certainly, some sins are venial, which deserve not eternal death; yet, if not effaced by condign penance in this world, must be punished in the next. Every wound is not mortal; nor does every small offence totally destroy friendship. The scriptures frequently mention these venial sins, from which ordinarily the just are not exempt, who certainly would not be just if these lesser sins, into which men easily fall by surprise, destroyed grace in them, or if they fell from charity. Yet the smallest sin excludes a soul from heaven so long as it is not blotted out. Nothing which is not perfectly pure and spotless can stand before God, who is infinite purity and sanctity, and cannot bear the sight of the least iniquity. Whence it is said of heaven, "There shall in no wise enter into it anything defiled." It is the great employment of all the saints or pious persons here below by rigorous self-examination to try their actions and thoughts, and narrowly to look into all the doublings and recesses of their hearts; continually to accuse and judge themselves, and by daily tears of compunction, works of penance, and the use of the sacraments, to correct all secret disorders, and wipe away all filth which their affections may contract. Yet who is there who keeps so constant a guard upon his heart and whole conduct as to avoid all insensible self-deceptions? Who is there upon whose heart no inordinate attachments steal; into whose actions no sloth, remissness, or some other irregularity ever insinuates itself? Or whose compunction and penance is so humble and clear-sighted, so fervent and perfect, that no lurking disorder of his whole life escapes him, and is not perfectly washed away by the sacred blood of Christ, applied by these means or conditions to the soul? Who has perfectly subdued and regulated all his passions, and grounded his heart in perfect humility, meekness, charity, piety, and all other virtues, so as to bear the image of God in himself, or to be holy and perfect, even as he is, without spot? Perhaps scarce in any moment of our lives is our intention or motive so fervent, and so pure or exempt from the least imperceptible sinister influence and mixture of sloth, self-complacency, or other inordinate affection or passion; and all other ingredients or circumstances of our action so perfect and holy, as to be entirely without failure in the eyes of God, which nothing can escape. Assiduous conversation with heaven, constant watchfulness, self-denial, and a great purity of heart, with the assistance of an extraordinary grace, give the saints a wonderful light to discover and correct the irregularities of their affections. Yet it is only by the fervent spirit and practice of penance that they can be purified in the sight of God.
The Blessed Virgin was preserved by an extraordinary grace from the least sin in the whole tenor of her life and actions; but, without such a singular privilege, even the saints are obliged to say that they sin daily; but they forthwith rise again by living in constant compunction and watchfulness over themselves. Venial sins of surprise are readily effaced by penance, as we hope of the divine mercy; even such sins which are not discovered by us are virtually repented of by a sincere compunction, if it be such as effectually destroys them. Venial sins of malice, or committed with full deliberation, are of a different nature, far more grievous and fatal, usually of habit, and lead even to mortal sin. Those Christians who shun these more willful offences, yet are not very watchful over themselves, and labour not very strenuously in subduing all their passions, have just reason to fear that some inordinate affections taint almost the whole body of their actions, without being sufficiently repented of. And the very best Christians must always tremble at the thought of the dreadful account they have to give to God for every idle word or thought. No one can be justified before God but by his pure and free mercy. Yet no man will say that a venial sin, which destroys not sanctifying grace, will be punished with eternal torments. Hence there must be a relaxation of some sin in the world to come, as is sufficiently implied, according to the remark of St. Austin, in these words of Christ, where he says that the sin against the Holy Ghost "shall not be forgotten in this world, nor in the world to come." Christ, exhorting us to agree with our adversary or accuser by appeasing our conscience, mentions a place of punishment out of which souls shall be delivered, though not before they shall have paid the last farthing.
The church of Christ is composed of three different pasts: the triumphant in heaven, the militant on earth, and the patient or suffering in purgatory. Our charity embraces all the members of Christ. Our love for him engages and binds us to his whole body, and teaches us to share both the miseries and afflictions, and the comforts and blessings of all that are comprised in it. The communion of saints which we profess in our creed implies a communication of certain good works and offices, and a mutual intercourse among all the members of Christ. This we maintain with the saints in heaven by thanking and praising God for their triumphs and crowns, imploring their intercession, and receiving the succours of their charitable solicitude and prayers for us; likewise with the souls in purgatory, by soliciting the divine mercy in their favour. Nor does it seem to be doubted but they, as they are in a state of grace and charity, pray also for us; though the church never addresses public suffrages to them, not being warranted by primitive practice and tradition so to do. That to pray for the faithful departed is a pious and wholesome charity and devotion is proved clearly from the Old Testament, and from the doctrine and practice of the Jewish synagogue. The baptisms or legal purifications which the Jews sometimes used for the dead demonstrate their belief that the dead receive spiritual succours from the devotion of the living. In the second book of the Machabees it is related that Judas, the Machabee, sent twelve thousand ducats of silver to the temple for sacrifices to be offered for the dead, "thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins." This book is ranked among the canonical scriptures by the apostolical canons, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Austin, the third council of Carthage, &c. Some ancients call it apocryphal, meaning that it was not in the Hebrew canon compiled by Esdras, it being writ after his time; and Origen and St. Jerome, who give it that epithet, sometimes quoted it as of divine authority. The Catholic church admits the deutero-canonical books of those which were compiled after the time of Esdras as written equally by divine inspiration. If some among the ancients doubted of them before tradition in this point had been examined and cleared, several parts of the New Testament which are admitted by Protestants have been no less called in question. Protestants, who at least allow this book a historical credit, must acknowledge this to have been the belief and practice of the most virtuous and zealous high-priest, of all the priests and doctors attached to the service of the temple, and of the whole Jewish nation; and a belief and custom which our blessed Redeemer nowhere reprehended in them.
The faith and practice of the Christian church from the beginning is manifest from the writings of the primitive fathers. In all ancient liturgies, or masses, express mention is made of prayer and sacrifice for the dead. In the Apostolical Constitutions is extant a very ancient fragment of a liturgy, from which Grabe, Hicks, and Deacon borrow many things for their new models of primitive liturgies, and which Whiston pretended to rank among the canonical scriptures. In it occurs a prayer for the dead: "Let us pray for those who are departed in peace." There is no liturgy used by any sect of Oriental Christians, though some have been separated from the communion of the church ever since the fifth or sixth centuries, in which prayer for the dead does not occur. The most ancient fathers frequently speak of the offering the holy sacrifice of the altar for the faithful departed. Tertullian, the oldest among the Latin Christian writers, mentioning certain apostolical traditions, says, "We make yearly offerings (or sacrifices) for the dead, and for the feasts of the martyrs." He says 'that a widow prays for the soul of her deceased husband, and begs repose for him, and his company in the first resurrection, and offers (sacrifice) on the anniversary days of his death. For if she does not these things, she has, as much as lies in her, divorced him." St. Cyprian mentions the usual custom of celebrating sacrifice for every deceased Christian. Nor can it be said that he speaks in the same manner of martyrs. The distinction he makes is evident: "It is one thing to be cast into prison not to be released till the last farthing is paid, and another thing through the ardour of faith immediately to attain to the reward; it is very different by long punishment for sin to be cleansed a long time by fire, and to have purged away all sin by suffering." St. Chrysostom reckons it amongst the dreadful obligations of a priest "that he is the intercessor to God for the sins both of the living and the dead." St. Clement of Alexandria, who flourished in the year 200, says that by punishment after death men must expiate every the least sin before they can enter heaven. The vision of St. Perpetua is related by St. Austin, and in her acts. Origen, in many places, and Lactantius teach at large that all souls are purged by the punishment of fire before they enter into bliss, unless they are so pure as not to stand in need of it.
To omit others, St. Austin expounds those words of the thirty-seventh psalm, "Rebuke me not in thy fury," of hell; and those which follow, "Neither chastise me in thy wrath," of purgatory, as follows, "That you purify me in this life, and render me such that I may not stand in need of that purging fire." In his Enchiridion he says, "Nor is it to be denied that the souls of the departed are relieved by the piety of their living friends, when the sacrifice of the Mediator is offered for them, or alms are given in the church. But these things are profitable to those who, whilst they lived, deserved that they might avail them. There is a life so good as not to require them; and there is another so wicked that after death it can receive no benefit from them. When, therefore, the sacrifices of the altar or alms are offered for all Christians, for the very good they are thanksgivings; they are propitiations for those who are not very bad; for the very wicked, they are some kind of comfort to the living." This father teaches that a funeral pomp and monument are comforts of the living, but no succour of the dead; but that prayer, sacrifices, and alms relieve the departed. He repeats often that sacrifice is offered in thanksgiving to God for martyrs, but never for their repose. "It is an injury," says he, "to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought to be ourselves recommended." And again, "You know in what place (of the liturgy) the martyrs are named. The church prays not for them. She justly prays for other deceased persons, but prays not for the martyrs, but rather recommends herself to their prayers." This he often repeats in other places. St. Austin and St. Epiphanius relate that when Aerius, an impious Arian priest, denied suffrages for the dead, this heresy was condemned by the universal church. How earnestly St. Monica on her death-bed begged the sacrifices and prayers of the church after her departure, and how warmly St. Austin recommended the souls of his parents to the prayers of others, is related in their lives.
The like earnest desire we discover in all ancient Christians and saints. St. Ephrem, in his testament, entreats his friends to offer for him, after his departure, alms, prayers, and oblations (or masses), especially on the thirtieth day. St. Athanasius tells Constantius that he had prayed earnestly for the soul of that emperor's deceased brother, Constans. Eusebius relates that Constantine the Great would be buried in the porch of the Church of the Apostles, "that he might enjoy the communication of the holy prayers, the mystical sacrifice, and the divine ceremonies." The same historian testifies that after his death "numberless multitudes poured forth prayers to God with sighs and tears for the soul of the emperor, repaying a most grateful office to that pious prince. St. Paulinus, upon his brother's death, wrote to his friends, earnestly recommending him to their prayers, that by them his poor soul amidst scorching flames might receive the dew of refreshment and comfort. St. Ambrose, writing to one Faustinus, who grieved immoderately for the death of his sister, says, "I do not think your sister ought to excite your tears, but your prayers: nor that her soul is to be dishonoured by weeping, but rather recommended to God by sacrifices." In his funeral oration on the great Theodosius he prays thus, "Give perfect rest to thy servant, Theodosius." And again: I loved him, therefore I follow him unto the country of the living. Neither will I forsake him till by tears and prayers I shall bring the man whither his merits call him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord." He mentions the most solemn obsequies and sacrifices on the thirtieth, sometimes fortieth day, for so long they were continued; but on the third, seventh, and thirtieth days with particular solemnity. St. Gregory the Great mentions that he having ordered thirty masses to be sung for a monk named Justus, on the thirtieth day after the last mass was said Justus appeared to Copiosus, his provost, and said, "I was in pain, but now am well."
Those of whom we speak are not damned souls, enemies of God, separated or alienated from him; but illustrious conquerors of the devil, the world, and hell; holy spirits laden with merits and graces, and bearing the precious badge of their dignity and honour by the nuptial robe of the Lamb, with which, by an indefeasible right, they are clothed. They are the sons of God, heirs of his glory and saints. Yet they are now in a state of suffering, and endure greater torments than it is possible for - anyone to suffer, or for our imagination to represent to itself, in this mortal life. They suffer the privation of God, says the council of Florence, the most dreadful of all torments. No tongue can express what a cruel pain this is to a soul separated from the body, impetuously desiring to attain to God, her centre. She seems just enjoying him, attracted by his infinite charms, and carried towards him by a strong innate bent not to be conceived: yet is violently repelled and held back. Whence the poor soul suffers an incomprehensible agony and torment. It is also the opinion of St. Austin and other learned fathers, founded in the words of St. Paul and the traditionary authority of eminent prelates of the first ages, that they also suffer a material fire like that of hell, which being created merely for an instrument of the divine vengeance, and blown up by the anger of God, with the most piercing activity torments even spirits not clothed with bodies, as our souls in this life feel the pain of the corporeal senses by the natural law of their union with our bodies. Though it be no article of faith that the fire here spoken of is not metaphorical, to express the sharpness of these torments, yet that it is real and material is the most probable opinion, grounded in the most venerable authority. "The same fire torments the damned in hell and the just in purgatory," says St. Thomas, who adds, "The least pain in purgatory exceeds the greatest in this life." St. Austin speaks to this point as follows: "It is said, 'He will be saved, as it were, by fire.' Because it is said, 'He will be saved,' that fire is contemned. Yet it will be more grievous than whatever a man can suffer in this life. You know how much wicked men have suffered here, and can suffer. Good men may undergo as much; and what did any malefactor ever endure which martyrs have not suffered for Christ? All these torments are much more tolerable. Yet see how men do all things rather than suffer them. How much more reason have they to do what God commands them, that they may escape his torments." Venerable Bede says, "Purgatory fire will be more intolerable than all the torments that can be felt or conceived in this life." Which words are but a repetition of what Caesarius of Arles had written before to this purpose. "A person," says he, "may say, I am not much concerned how long I remain in purgatory, provided I may come to eternal life. Let no one reason thus. Purgatory fire will be more dreadful than whatever torments can be seen, imagined, or endured in this world. And how does anyone know whether he will stay days, months, or years? He who is afraid now to put his finger into the fire, does he not fear lest he be then all buried in torments for a long time? "Do we think that God can find torments in nature sufficient to satisfy his provoked vengeance? No, no. He creates new instruments more violent, pains utterly inconceivable to us. A soul for one venial sin shall suffer more than all the pains of distempers, the most violent colics, gout, and stone joined in complication; more than all the most cruel torments undergone by malefactors, or invented by the most barbarous tyrants; more than all the tortures of the martyrs summed up together. This is the idea which the fathers give us of purgatory. And how long many souls may have to suffer there we know not.
The church approves perpetual anniversaries for the dead; for some souls may be detained in pains to the end of the world, though after the day of judgment no third state will any longer subsist; God may, at the end of the world, make the torments of souls which have not then satisfied his justice so intense in one moment that their debts may be discharged. For we know that he will exact a satisfaction to the last farthing. How inexorable was he in punishing his most faithful servant Moses for one small offence! How inflexible with regard to David and other penitents I nay, in the person of his own divine Son! This, even in the days of his mercy; but, after death, his justice is all rigour and severity, and can no longer be mitigated by patience. God answers their moans that his justice must be satisfied to the last farthing, and that their "night is come in which no man can work." But they address themselves to us, and not having a voice to be heard' they borrow that of the church and its preachers, who, to express their moans and excite our compassion, cry out to us for them in the words of Job: "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, at least you my friends; for the hand of God hath smitten me." Gerson, the pious and learned chancellor of Paris, represents them crying out to us as follows:
"Pray for us, because we are unable to help ourselves. You who can do it, lend us your assistance. You who have known us on earth, you who have loved us, will you now forget and neglect us? It is commonly said, that a friend is tried in the day of need. What necessity can be equal to ours? Let it move your compassion. 'A hard heart shall fare ill at the last day.' Be moved by your own advantage," &c.
If other motives have less weight with us, we certainly cannot be insensible to that of our own interest. What a comfort shall we find to eternity in the happy company of souls whose enjoyment of bliss we shall have contributed to hasten! What an honour to have ever been able to serve so holy and glorious saints! With what gratitude and earnestness will they repay the favour by their supplications for us, whilst we still labour amidst the dangers and conflicts of this world! When Joseph foretold Pharaoh's chief butler the recovery of his dignity, he said to him, "Remember me, when it shall be well with thee; and mention me to Pharaoh, that he may bring me out of this place." Yet he remembered not Joseph, but forgot his fellow-sufferer and benefactor. Not so these pious souls, as St. Bernard observes: only the wicked and depraved, who are strangers to all feelings of virtue, can be ungrateful. This vice is far from the breasts of saints, who are all goodness and charity. Souls delivered and brought to glory by our endeavours will amply repay our kindness by obtaining divine graces for us. God himself will be inclined by our charity to show us also mercy, and to shower down upon us his most precious favours. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." By having shown this mercy to the suffering souls in purgatory, we shall be particularly entitled to be treated with mercy at our departure hence, and to share more abundantly in the general suffrages of the church, continually offered for all that have slept in Christ. The principal means by which we obtain relief for the suffering souls in purgatory are sacrifice, prayer, and alms-deeds. The unbloody sacrifice has always been offered for the faithful departed no less than for the living. "It was not in vain," says St. Chrysostom, "that the apostles ordained a commemoration of the deceased in the holy and tremendous mysteries. They were sensible of the benefit and advantage which accrues to them from this practice. For, when the congregation stands with open arms, as well as the priests, and the tremendous sacrifice is before them, how should our prayers for them not appease God? But this is said of such as have departed in faith."
Taken from Vol. III of "The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler.