The souls in purgatory and our hope
24 November 2021
by Roberto de Mattei
The month of November reminds us of an important truth of our faith: the existence of purgatory. Purgatory is the abode of righteous souls that died without having made full expiation on earth for the punishments due to their sins, and therefore cannot yet be ushered in before the Throne of God. Nothing that is stained can enter heaven: a purification is needed to remove all obstacles to the beatific vision of the Most Holy Trinity.
The main punishment of the souls in purgatory is the delaying of the eternal bliss they will enjoy with the saints in heaven. To understand this suffering, it is necessary to consider that the souls in purgatory understand much more clearly than we do the immeasurable value of the beatific vision, and feel an insatiable hunger for God that men do not feel on earth. To this spiritual suffering is added the awareness that they were at fault in failing to respond to God’s invitation, and since these souls did not adequately seek God He now conceals Himself from their sight.¹
To the pain of the privation of God is added the pain of the senses, through a fire that torments the soul. According to the theologians, the fire that consumes souls in purgatory is of the same nature as that of hell and differs from it only in that it is temporary and not eternal. St Thomas Aquinas, in the Commentary on the Sentences, says that “the least pain of purgatory surpasses the greatest pain of this life”.² This terrible suffering is, however, mysteriously united with an infinite joy.
Purgatory has been defined as the masterpiece of the Heart of God: a place where souls simultaneously experience immense suffering, because there is no pain on earth that can be compared with the slightest pain of purgatory, but also immense happiness, because there is no joy on earth that can be compared with the certainty of going to heaven.
It is precisely this uncertainty about our eternal destiny that should constitute the greatest affliction of those who live in this vale of tears. The souls in purgatory instead have the virtue of hope to an eminent degree: they are certain that one day they will possess that good from the lack of which they suffer: “an incredible joy”, says St Robert Bellarmine, “that keeps increasing the more the end of the exile draws near”.³ The souls in purgatory adore the divine will, love God immensely, deeply repent of their sins, and cannot wait to break the last obstacles that bar them from the beatific vision.
One of the greatest reasons for the suffering of the souls in purgatory is also that of knowing that their pains are only expiatory, but cannot increase their merits. This should make us reflect. Those who suffer on earth, if they accept their sufferings and offer them to God, can shorten the time of purgation, while the sufferings of purgatory, although much greater, cannot shorten the punishment.
This doctrine of the acquisition of merits in earthly life applies to suffering, but also to love. He who loves God on earth increases His glory in heaven, because He has the merit of this love. The souls in purgatory, on the other hand, love God more than they ever loved Him on earth, but instead of diminishing the pain their love increases it, because the time of merit has passed and there remains only that of purification.⁴
Love of God is the ultimate rule of the Christian. In order to love God deeply we must have an equally intense hatred of sin, which is opposed to Him. But one cannot hate sin if one does not speak of it, just as one cannot love God if instead of speaking of Him and divine things one speaks only of the problems of the earth, without looking up to heaven. This secularised mentality is unfortunately common among many churchmen.
The doctrine on purgatory was defined as a truth of the Catholic faith at the Second Council of Lyon, at that of Florence, and at that of Trent, and was denied by the Albigensian, Waldensian, and Protestant heretics, and today by the modernists who occupy the Church. But the Mystical Body of Christ includes the Church suffering in purgatory and the one triumphant in heaven. Although the souls in purgatory cannot shorten their own sufferings they can help the souls of those who suffer and fight on earth, and the souls of the Church militant can in turn, through their prayers and sufferings, help the souls in purgatory that yearn with all their strength for an immediate transforming union with God.
The souls dear to us in purgatory are very many, because they do not include only those we have known, but all those that have loved and served the Church over the centuries. One beautiful devotion I recommend to intercede for them is that of the “One Hundred Requiems”, which consists of reciting the Requiem aeternam one hundred times on the beads of the rosary, covering all the decades twice.
This devotion helps the souls in purgatory to approach more quickly the goal they so crave, and yields great graces of a spiritual and temporal nature for those who practice it with trust. Trust amid the adversities of life is the first grace that the souls in purgatory give us, because they possess this trust to the utmost degree: despite their suffering they have the absolute certainty of being eternally happy in heaven. This certainty that makes the souls in purgatory happy must make happy every soul on earth that trusts to obtain from God the achievement of the goal for which it was created, and precisely because it expects this grace from God alone, it is certain to obtain it.
“Cento Requiem” devotion
Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace. Amen.
(To be repeated ten times.)
The following invocations are then made:
Holy souls, souls in Purgatory, pray to God for me, to Whom I pray for you, so that He may grant you the glory of Paradise.
Then the second set of ten Réquiems is said, followed by the invocation, and so on.
After ten decades, a De profúndis is said.
De profúndis clamávi ad te, Dómine: Dómine, exáudi vocem meam:
Fiant aures tuæ intendéntes, in vocem deprecatiónis meæ.
Si iniquitátes observáveris, Dómine: Dómine, quis sustinébit?
Quia apud te propitiátio est: et propter legem tuam sustínui te, Dómine.
Sustínuit ánima mea in verbo ejus: sperávit ánima mea in Dómino.
A custódia matutína usque ad noctem: speret Israël in Dómino.
Quia apud Dóminum misericórdia: et copiósa apud eum redémptio.
Et ipse rédimet Israël, ex ómnibus iniquitátibus ejus.
Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine. Et lux perpétua luceat eis.
V. A porta ínferi.
R. Erue, Dómine, ánimas eórum.
V. Requiéscant in pace.
V. Fidélium ánimæ per misericórdiam Dei requiéscant in pace.
Fidélium, Deus, ómnium Cónditor et Redémptor, animábus famulórum famularúmque tuárum remissiónem cunctórum tribue peccatórum; ut indulgéntiam, quam semper optavérunt, piis supplicatiónibus consequántur. Qui vivis et regnas in sǽcula sæculórum. R. Amen.
Finally, one says twice:
V. Pie Jesu, Dómine.
R. Dona eis réquiem sempitérnam.
- Fr Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting and Immensity of the Soul, Italian translation Fede e Cultura 2018, p. 199.
- Super Sent., IV, d. 21, q. 1, a. 1.
- De Purgatorio, l. II, chap. 14.
- Fr Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting, p. 201.