WHY PRAY FOR THE POOR SOULS?
Our Lord’s Great Law is that we must love one another, genuinely and sincerely. The First Great Commandment is to love God with all our heart and soul. The Second, or rather a part of the First, is to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is not a counsel, or a mere wish of the Almighty. It is His Great Commandment, the very base and essence of His Law. So true is this that He takes as done to Himself what we do for our neighbor, and as refused to Himself what we refuse to our neighbor.
We read in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matt. 25:34-46) the words that Christ will address to the just on Judgment Day:
Then shall the King say to them that shall be on His right hand: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in: Naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then shall the just answer Him, saying: “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, and fed Thee; thirsty, and gave Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? Or naked, and covered Thee? Or when did we see Thee sick or in prison, and came to Thee?” And the King, answering, shall say to them: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me!” Then He shall say to them also that shall be on His left hand: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave Me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took Me not in: naked, and you covered Me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they also shall answer Him, saying: “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?” Then He shall answer them, saying: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to Me!” And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.
Some Catholics seem to think that this Law has fallen into abeyance in these days of self-assertion and selfishness, when everyone thinks only of himself and his personal aggrandizement.
“It is useless to urge the Law of Love nowadays,” they say, “everyone has to shift for himself, or go under.”
No such thing! God’s great Law is still and will ever be in full force. Nay, it is more than ever necessary, more than ever our duty and more than ever our own best interest.
WE ARE BOUND TO PRAY FOR THE HOLY SOULS
We are always bound to love and help each other, but the greater the need of our neighbor, the more stringent and the more urgent this obligation is. It is not a favor that we may do or leave undone, it is our duty: we must help each other.
It would be a monstrous crime, for instance, to refuse the poor and destitute the food necessary to keep them alive. It would be appalling to refuse aid to one in direst need, to pass by and not extend a hand to save a drowning man. Not only must we help others when it is easy and convenient, but we must make every sacrifice, when need be, to succor our brother in distress.
Now, who can be in more urgent need of our charity than the souls in Purgatory? What hunger, or thirst, or dire sufferings on this earth can compare to their dreadful torments? Neither the poor, nor the sick, nor the suffering, that we see around, us have any such urgent need of our succor. Yet we find many good-hearted people who interest themselves in every other type of suffering, but alas, scarcely one who works for the Holy Souls!
Who can have more claim on us? Among them, too, there may be our mothers and fathers, our friends and near of kin.
GOD WISHES US TO HELP THEM
In any event, they are God’s dearest friends. He longs to help them; He desires most earnestly to have them in Heaven. They can never again offend Him, and they are destined to be with Him for all Eternity. True, God’s Justice demands expiation of their sins, but by an amazing dispensation of His Providence He places in our hands the means of assisting them, He gives us the power to relieve and even release them. Nothing pleases Him more than for us to help them. He is as grateful to us as if we had helped Himself.
OUR LADY WANTS US TO HELP THEM
Never did a mother of this Earth love so tenderly a dying child, never did she strive so earnestly to soothe its pains, as Mary seeks to console her suffering children in Purgatory, to have them with her in Heaven. We give her unbounded joy each time we take a soul out of Purgatory.
THE HOLY SOULS WILL REPAY US A THOUSAND TIMES OVER
But what shall we say of the feelings of the Holy Souls themselves? It would be utterly impossible to describe their unbounded gratitude to those who help them! Filled with an immense desire to repay the favors done them, they pray for their benefactors with a fervor so great, so intense, so constant that God can refuse them nothing St. Catherine of Bologna says: “I received many and very great favors from the Saints, but still greater favors from the Holy Souls.”
When they are finally released from their pains and enjoy the beatitude of Heaven, far from forgetting their friends on Earth, their gratitude knows no bounds. Prostrate before the Throne of God, they never cease to pray for those who helped them. By their prayers they shield their friends from the dangers and protect them from the evils that threaten them.
They will never cease these prayers until they see their benefactors safely in Heaven, and they will be forever their dearest, sincerest and best friends.
Did Catholics only know what powerful protectors they secure by helping the Holy Souls, they would not be so remiss in praying for them.
THE HOLY SOULS WILL LESSEN OUR PURGATORY
Another great grace that they obtain for their helpers is a short and easy Purgatory, or possibly its complete remission!
Saint John Massias, the Dominican lay brother, had a wonderful devotion to the Souls in Purgatory. He obtained by his prayers (chiefly by the recitation of the Rosary) the liberation of one million four hundred thousand souls!
In return, they obtained for him the most abundant and extraordinary graces and came at the hour of his death to help and console him and accompany him to Heaven.
This fact is so certain that it was inserted by the Church in the bull of his beatification.
The learned Cardinal Baronius recounts a similar incident.
He was himself called to assist a dying gentleman. Suddenly, a host of blessed spirits appeared in the chamber of death, consoled the dying man and chased away the devils who sought, by a last desperate effort, to compass his ruin.
When asked who they were, they made answer that they were 8,000 souls whom he had released from Purgatory by his prayers and good works. They were sent by God, so they said, to take him to Heaven without his passing one moment in Purgatory.
St. Gertrude was fiercely tempted by the devil when she came to die. The evil spirit reserves a dangerous and subtle temptation for our last moments. As he could find no other ruse sufficiently clever with which to assail the Saint, he thought to disturb her beautiful peace of soul by suggesting that she would surely remain long years in the awful fires of Purgatory since, he reminded her, she had long ago made over all her suffrages to other souls. But Our Blessed Lord, not content with sending His Angels and the thousands of souls she had released to assist her, came Himself in person to drive away Satan and comfort His dear Saint. He told St. Gertrude that in exchange for all she had done for the Holy Souls, He would take her straight to Heaven and would multiply a hundredfold all her merits.
Blessed Henry Suso, of the Dominican Order, made a compact with a fellow religious to the effect that, when one of the two died, the survivor would offer two Masses each week for his soul, and other prayers as well.
It so fell out that his companion died first, and Blessed Henry commenced immediately to offer the promised Masses. These he continued to say for a long time. At last, quite sure that the soul of his saintly friend had reached Heaven, he ceased offering the Masses.
Great was his sorrow and consternation when the soul of the dead brother appeared to him suffering intensely and chiding him for not celebrating the promised Masses. Blessed Henry replied with deep regret that he had not continued the Masses, believing that his friend must be enjoying the Beatific Vision but he added that he had ever remembered him in prayer.
“O dear Brother Henry, please give me the Masses, for it is the Precious Blood of Jesus that I most need!” cried out the suffering soul. Blessed Henry began anew and, with redoubled fervor, offered Masses and prayers for his friend until he received absolute certitude of his delivery.
Then it was his turn to receive graces and blessings of all kinds from the dear brother he had relieved, and very many times more than he could have expected.