In his classic book on Purgatory, Fr. Schouppe tells us that “It was revealed to St. Bridget that he who delivers a soul from Purgatory has the same merit as if he delivered Jesus Christ Himself from captivity.” (p. 217). These are amazing words; yet how many of us actually offer prayers, alms, sacrifices, or the Holy Mass (the supreme sacrifice!) for the Holy Souls?
Our Lord said to a particular Blessed that the number of souls in Purgatory is “beyond the thought of man.” In other words, throughout the earth’s history, a vast number of souls have died who were neither in a state of unrepented mortal sin, nor in a state sufficiently pure to enter Heaven immediately.
Purgatory makes a lot of sense if you think about it. There is little use in denying it, or in clinging to theology that is at odds with this grand truth – a truth which is confirmed by the Church Fathers, the Saints, Holy Scripture, and countless experiences in the lives of the Saints.
According to the Church and all her Saints, we can easily assist the souls in Purgatory. It is so simple, and in return for our generosity, the Holy Souls, whose prayers are extraordinarily powerful with God, will obtain for us all kinds of favours! (The doctrine of the Communion of Saints should be studied assiduously by those who doubt this.)
Given that Our Lord accepts our acts of charity towards others as acts of charity towards Him, it is extremely profitable, beautiful and loving for us to pray for the souls in Purgatory. “Of all prayers,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, “the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.”
Only we can help them. Our Lord desires that we pray for them (as does Our Lady). He frequently asked St. Gertrude, Ven. Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, and a host of other privileged souls, to pray for the Holy Souls. We must do the same! How can we let a day go by without helping our dear departed brothers and sisters in Christ, who require so little from us, yet so often receive nothing?! “Do unto others…” (I need not finish this Scripture)
Some things we can do to help the Holy Souls are:
1. Pray for them (especially the Holy Rosary)
2. Offer our indulgences for them (the prayer ‘My Jesus, mercy!’, for example, receives a partial indulgence when recited by one who is in a state of grace)
3. Give alms or make acts of charity on their behalf (i.e. apply to the Holy Souls the merit of our actions)
4. Offer sacrifices for them (e.g. our sufferings, even the slightest)
5. Offer the Mass for the Holy Souls (this is the most powerful means for releasing the Holy Souls. By means of the Mass, the Saints released thousands of souls from Purgatory, according in part to the degree of their fervour and faith.)
If our knowledge of the pains of Purgatory is too vague, it is to be feared that we will forget about the Holy Souls, and we will soon forget to pray for them. Consider, then, these words of Our Lord to Bl. Battista Varani: “There is no difference between the pains of hell and of purgatory, only that the first are eternal, while the latter endure but for a time…” Nevertheless, we must also remember that “… the souls in purgatory remain there willingly, resigned and contented, suffering in peace, and returning thanks to the justice of God.”
Like St. Gertrude, may we pray fervently and frequently for the Holy Souls, and may we encourage others to do the same, so that one day, Our Lord might repeat to us the words He addressed to His dear spouse, Gertrude: “Fear not, My child; by your charity to the dead, you have increased the sum of your merits, and not only do you possess enough to expiate your slight faults, but you have earned a high degree of glory. My mercy will reward your devotion to the holy souls, and you will soon be with me in Paradise, to be rewarded a hundredfold for all you have done for them.”