THE TORMENT OF FIRE WHICH THE SOULS IN PURGATORY SUFFER.
It is generally allowed that there exists in purgatory a real material fire, the properties of which have a marvellous intensity given to them by the Divine Justice, for the purpose of tormenting the souls of the just after this life is over. In order to form some idea of the torment which this fire occasions to the souls, it will be enough to reflect upon what the Scriptures and the holy Fathers tell us about it. The Prophet Isaias, (iv. 4.) to say nothing of the others, calls this the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. Among the holy Fathers, Gregory the Great calls it “a penitential fire, and more hard to endure than any tribulation of this life.” Nyssen styles it a fire full of whirlpools; and Hilary, unwearied fire; and finally, the great Doctor St. Austin is of opinion, that the torment which the souls in purgatory suffer from the fire, exceeds all the pains endured in this life by the holy martyrs, however prodigious the torments they suffered were. Compared with the pains of purgatory, then, all those wounds and dark prisons, all those wild beasts, all those heavy chains, all those rods and scourges, all those wheels and hatchets, all those hooks of iron, alt those red-hot plates and caldrons, of oil and boiling pitch, all those racks, swords, gratings, and crosses which the holy martyrs suffered with unconquered patience, are nothing. What heart, then, how hard and inflexible soever, will not feel compassion for them, and will not rouse itself to procure them seasonable relief?
Flames, tortures, racking agonies, And miseries, oh what a sword Hath each of these to pierce the heart! We cry Thee, Mercy, mercy, Lord!
Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word: My soul hath hoped in the Lord. From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord; and. let perpetual light shine upon them.
The just shall be in everlasting remembrance; He shall not fear the evil hearing. Absolve, O Lord, the souls of the faithful departed from every bond of sin, and by the help of Thy grace may they be enabled to escape the avenging judgment, and to enjoy the happiness of eternal life. Because in Thy mercy are deposited the souls that departed in an inferior degree of grace, Lord, have mercy. Because their present suffering is greatest in the knowledge of the pain that their separation from Thee is causing Thee, Lord, have mercy. For the souls of our departed friends, relations and benefactors, grant light and peace, O Lord. For those of our family who have fallen asleep in Thy bosom, O Jesus, grant light and peace, O Lord. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, And let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.
St. Lawrence the Martyr will be protector of this day, who, for the faith of Jesus Christ, was slowly consumed in the fire, and died after long pains, by being scorched to death.
At times God has been pleased to make known, even to the living, how fierce are the torments of that fire which the souls in purgatory, though deprived of the body, are compelled to suffer. Among those so favoured, the blessed Catherine of Raconisio, a nun of the third order of St. Dominic, deserves particular mention. The Lord was pleased to give to tins servant of His, not only visions, but likewise sensible proofs of the intensity of the cleansing fire, since He wished to kindle in her heart a fervent zeal in giving suffrages to the souls in purgatory. Once, when lying in bed tormented with a violent pain, she set herself to meditate on the greater flames of purgatory, when she was wrapt in spirit so as to see them. Then the Lord, in order that she might be the more moved to com passion towards these souls, willed not only that she should gaze with her eyes upon their pains, but that she should have experimental proof of them: and so, while she stood absorbed in contemplation, a single spark of this fire darted out, and lighted upon her left cheek. So keen was the pain she felt from it, that her face soon swelled up, and the pain lasted several days, and was such that she confessed that, compared with this agony, the pains of this life were a mere nothing. From this time there arose in her a burning desire to extend suffrages to these souls with every kind of penance; and she offered herself to her Saviour, to suffer with all readiness every affliction of the soul, or toil of the body, to liberate them from such cruel torments. And forthwith she not only commenced a most rigorous life, but was often taken with various pains of the greatest severity; and by this she earned a vision from time to time of many souls going forth from purgatory, and flying to heaven by her means. He that does not feel himself moved by this example may be said to have renounced every feeling of humanity. (Marches, in vita B. Cath. de Raconisio, 4th Sept.)