BY THE BLOOD OF THY TESTAMENT SEND FORTH THY PRISONERS
Having performed the service of the Ritual at the coffin of a young man, who received the grace of conversion on his deathbed in a town entirely Protestant, and seeing the large number of mourners listening attentively to the priest reciting the De Profundis and the Miserere over the dead and sprinkling the corpse with holy water, the priest improved the occasion by explaining what he had just prayed and done for the deceased, and tried to impart to the gathering, that he knew to be densely ignorant of Catholic doctrine, at least a crude idea of Purgatory. Let us suppose, he said, you were invited to a reception which you knew to be very exclusive, where none but the very best and noblest people would be admitted, and you had traveled there with a lot of luggage on a bum train, as we say, the soot and cinders flying through the open windows, soiling your face and hands and clothes and lodging in your eyes, ears, nose, hair and neck, certainly making you feel very uncomfortable and totally unfit to be presented to the elite of society in evening dress and bedecked with jewels. Where is there a sensible and decent man or woman who would want to enter that brilliantly lighted hall in such a condition, with dirt and luggage? Why, you would naturally in quire for a place where you could lay aside your duds and wash and brush up. To offer a room for such purposes is a common courtesy shown by even ordinary people. The members of high society require a long time to arrange their toilet. Now, continued the priest, most of us arrive at heaven, when we die, after having traveled on a bum train, our life time, namely in our corrupt nature and sinful bodies, encumbered with the luggage of bad habits and covered with the soot and cinders of numerous imperfections, for in Thy sight no man living shall be justified (Ps. CXLII, 2). Appearing before the judgment seat of an all-holy God, in whose sight even the angels are not pure (Job XV, 15), the soul cries out from the depths of its misery in the words of the Psalmist: Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. It realizes that it is about to be ushered into the highest society possible, into the society of the angels and saints, whom St. John saw in white garments; that it will be presented to the Immaculate Queen, the lily without spot; in a word, that it will be introduced to the court of the King of kings. There shall not enter into it anything defiled (Apoc. XXI, 27). A soul, therefore, with the slightest imperfection in Heaven would be an object of horror to itself and to others. Hence, when it has departed this world contaminated and saturated, as it were, with its own wickedness, it naturally longs for a place to be cleansed from every defilement, where it shall be made whiter than snow. Such a place, my clear friends, we Catholics call Purgatory. In Heaven there is no place for preparation. It is an immediate reward for perfection already attained. We often hear people say that if this or that person is admitted to Heaven they do not want to go there. Even we, who are fully aware of our faults, would be unwilling to put up in Heaven with the imperfections of others. With how much greater right must not God, Who created Heaven for the perfect enjoyment of the elect, demand that we be perfect before we enter Heaven. Be ye perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect Which is more unlike a Christian and harder to believe, that all those persons whom we dislike or with whom we would not associate, will go to Hell to suffer eternally, or that they will go to Purgatory to suffer for a time, and prepare for an eternity of blessedness? Again, we are enjoined not only to be perfect, but Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is a commandment, and we cannot enter Heaven until we have fulfilled this commandment. But where is he who, at the hour of death, can say he has done this? Is not rather the sentiment, this world is good enough for me commonly entertained and often expressed? How few really hunger after justice and seek the things that are above and therefore deserve the title of blessed? It is true, to see God is to love Him. But we must love Him before we can see Him and love Him with our whole heart before we can enjoy His perfections in heaven. What manner of love would that be and what satisfaction to God, if He had to force us at the moment of death to love Him? Freed from all earthly attachments, which it now realizes did not fully satisfy it, the soul in Purgatory yearns with an intense longing after the presence of its Maker and Redeemer and with a love of God that, in the words of St. Francis de Sales, gives birth to cruel sufferings. After this rather homely exposition of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, those benighted people remarked that the Catholic idea of the matter was all right.
Purgatory is a school of perfection, but it is also a school of pain, that is, of punishment and suffering. As such it is characterized by our Lord, who calls it a prison. Thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing (Math. V, 26), and by St. Paul who defines the state of that prison, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire (I Cor. Ill, 15). According to St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Bernard, and other Fathers of the Church, the pains of Purgatory exceed in intensity all earthly torments. I do not think, says St. Catherine of Genoa in her treatise on Purgatory, that any joy can be found to be compared with that of the souls in Purgatory, unless it be that of the saints in Paradise. And this joy is augmented every day, thanks to the influence of God on these souls, which constantly increases in pro portion as the hindrance to its action on them diminishes. At the same time, they suffer such an exceeding great pain that no tongue can describe it; and no intellect could understand it in the very smallest degree, if God did not make it known by a special favor. In short, the souls in Purgatory unite two things which seem to us irreconcilable: they enjoy an extreme pleasure and at the same time suffer cruel torments; and these two effects do not neutralize each other. This statement of St. Catherine will be better understood by those who are well versed in the science of the saints; as we find a similar relation of pain and joy in the lives of the saints here on earth. After her heart had been pierced with a dart of love by an angel, St. Teresa says: The pain thereof was so intense, that it forced deep groans from me; but the sweetness which this extreme pain caused in me was so excessive, that there was no desiring to be free from it; nor is the soul then content with anything less than God. This is not a corporal but a spiritual pain, though the body does not fail to participate a little in it, yea, a great deal. I could not understand how it was possible that pain and joy could be united; that corporal pain and spiritual joy were compatible, I knew very well; but that so excessive a spiritual pain should be compatible with so extraordinary a spiritual joy, did quite astonish me. Poor Souls, indeed, exclaims St. Leonard of Port Maurice, whose earthly banishment is at an end, but forbidden to enter the Promised Land. They have claim to heavenly riches, but suffer extreme destitution. They are kings and queens everyone, but in bondage. Glorious victors all, but yet uncrowned. Companions of the angels, yet tormented by evil spirits. Citizens of heaven, yet in the bowels of the earth. God is their spouse, but as yet their judge, who delivered them to the torturers.
These prisoners are powerless in the purifying flames of Purgatory, but what copious means we have at our disposal to help them by reason of the communion of saints according to the doc trine of vicarious satisfaction as expressed by good works, indulgences and the oblation of the Precious Blood. The mercy of God manifests itself by multiplying the means of pardon and the opportunities for help. Thus the Church has endowed the Confraternity of the Precious Blood with extraordinary indulgences, and all these indulgences are applicable to the suffering souls in Purgatory, so that its members can, by merely making the intention, convert it into one of the richest confraternities for the Poor Souls. By so doing, we apply all the satisfactory merits of these indulgences and good works to these needy souls, while the meritorious value of such charitable acts is inalienable and always remains ours as a reward in Heaven. In Jesus Christ we lose nothing by helping others, grace increases in proportion as we give and the crock of oil emptied by charity into the vessels brought to her filling, overflows the more for what it pours out. We liberate Gods dearest children from prison and make them our advocates in Heaven, where they will succor us in our temporal and spiritual needs. Giving alms to the Poor Souls is an act of mercy that will obtain for us mercy and insure for us a hundredfold reward and our own speedy deliverance from Purgatory. How beautiful is this doctrine of the communion of saints. There is no one so helpless, so desirous of the Precious Blood, as the suffering souls in Purgatory; and there is no means at our disposal so efficacious in helping these souls as the Precious Blood. If we had our garments all stained or besmeared with paint, it would certainly take us a very long time to cleanse them without some specific means to do it. In fact, we should despair of ever rendering them perfect, even if we had a hundred years to accomplish the task. The Precious Blood in the holy sacrifice of the Mass offered for the souls in Purgatory can purify these souls from the stains of sin and remove the penalty for past offenses more readily than the pains of Purgatory themselves. Our charity towards the Poor Souls should, in a measure, correspond to the love and prodigality with which Jesus shed His Blood. He withholds not one drop of His Blood.