What do we know about purgatory and the Holy Souls... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
It's November. You Are Called to a Work of Mercy.
Saint Faustina has 14 references in her Diary relating to souls in purgatory, even going so far as to mention that "suffering for even one soul is worth the sacrifice of a lifetime" (1435)
By Felix Carroll (Nov 15, 2011)
There are souls in need, and you can help.
November is the month of remembrance for Holy Souls in Purgatory. The basis for this special month of remembrance is that many souls, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past wrongdoing. To quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, they "are debarred from the Beatific Vision," that is, from heaven, until their souls become purified in purgatory.
But here's the thing: We can help them, by our prayers, our almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Holy Mass. And that's what this special month serves to remind us of: We are called to deepen our commitment to the suffering faithful whose souls are being purified in purgatory, whether they are loved ones or strangers.
Talk about a work of mercy!
To begin this month of special prayers, we can recite the words of St. Faustina: "O Jesus, my love extends beyond the world, to the souls suffering in purgatory, and I want to exercise mercy toward them by means of indulgenced prayers. ... O Jesus, make my heart sensitive to all the sufferings of my neighbor, whether of body or of soul" (Diary of St. Faustina, 692).
We can also offer at least one Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for a soul each day of this month. And if you have the time, attend Mass during the week for the souls of members of your family, parish or diocese.
Who Are These Souls?
Through St. Faustina's Diary, we can learn much about the suffering of the poor souls and how our prayers for them can be beneficial. We can also learn much from the founder of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski.
Both saw visions of suffering souls in purgatory. Both left as one of their legacies their love and concern for these souls.
Saint Faustina has 14 references in her Diary relating to souls in purgatory, even going so far as to mention that "suffering for even one soul is worth the sacrifice of a lifetime" (Diary, 1435).
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. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God (Diary, 20).
At another point in her Diary, St. Faustina writes:
One night, a sister who had died two months previously came to me. I saw her in a terrible condition. I redoubled my prayers for her. ... The next night she came again, but I saw her in an even more horrible state, in the midst of flames which were even more intense, and despair was written all over her face. ... I asked, 'Haven't my prayers helped you?' She answered that my prayers had not helped her and that nothing would help her. I said to her, 'And the prayers which the whole community has offered for you, have they not been any help to you?' She said no, that these prayers have helped some other souls. I replied, 'If my prayers are not helping you, Sister, please stop coming to me.' She disappeared at once. Despite this, I kept on praying.
After some time she came back again to me during the night, but already her appearance had changed. There were no longer any flames, as there had been before, and her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy. She told me that I had a true love for my neighbor and that many other souls had profited from my prayers. She urged me not to cease praying for the souls in purgatory, and she added that she herself would not remain there much longer (58).
You see, prayers work!
Blessed Stanislaus, who founded the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception more than 300 years ago, made it a main goal for all Marians to help the souls in purgatory shorten their time of separation from God.
Living in a war-torn time period, Fr. Stanislaus witnessed thousands of casualties on battlefields and also from dreaded plagues. It is believed that he himself accompanied Polish troops as a chaplain in battles against Turkey in Ukraine in 1674. He was deeply saddened to observe how many people died with no time to prepare to meet their Maker. He experienced visions of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. He was moved to engage in (and advocate for) prayer and penance on their behalf of the dead.
In one account, at a gathering of family, friends, and religious, Fr. Stanislaus had a profound mystical experience of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. He later told his confreres: "Pray, brethren, for the souls in purgatory, for they suffer unbearably." He then locked himself in his cell and spent three days praying for them.
Both St. Faustina and Fr. Stanislaus not only invite us to pray for these souls, they invite us to expand our awareness of the spiritual world. They both understood that the line between our world and the "afterlife" is very thin.
"The mistake many people make is to conceive of the departed as being someplace else, someplace far away and very mysterious," says Fr. Walter Dziordz, MIC. "Such thinking hampers our ability to become deeply intimate with these still lingering souls. The truth is, these souls remain very near to us.
Father Walter notes that the late Pontiff, John Paul II, "stated in several instances that heaven, hell, and purgatory are not places, but rather states of being. Saint Padre Pio understood this. He 'saw' more of the dead than of the living in his own lifetime. He would see the departed as we see each other!"
We are invited to a similar awareness — to understand that the departed are "not gone" but rather simply not visible in the same way as before. They suffer continually with an intense burning of love and longing to be with God.
This month, take special care to nourish your awareness of the spiritual world. Understand that the souls in purgatory are asking us to pray for them in the way that we did when we could see them in the flesh. Pray especially for victims of war, tragedy, and disease.
These souls need us. Through our prayers, we help set them free from those human failings that block their path into the eternal joy of paradise.
Like St. Faustina and Blessed Stanislaus, we are called to come to their aid.
Learn about the efforts of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception to assist the Holy Souls in Purgatory.