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Vol. I, Nov. 1995

 

Forgotten Parishoners

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the school of our Heavenly Mother we learn to become a "Servant of the Church." As Mother Church takes care of all her children, so we too should exclude no one. In order to recognize and find them all, our Lord directs our attention in His sermon on the Last Judgment (cf. Mt 25,35f):

I was hungry and you gave Me (no) food,
I was thirsty and you gave Me (no) drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed Me (or: did not),
I was naked and you clothed Me (or: did not),
I was sick and you visited Me (or: did not),
I was in prison and you came to Me (or: did not)!

Where do we find the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger? Can we wait till they knock at our door? The most hungry and thirsty are the unknown, e.g., those who have no one to ask for help. The Church always distinguished the physical and spiritual works of mercy (cf. Catechism, §2447). The latter are also for those who have nothing to call our attention to ("naked") but are hungry for more than a piece of bread: they cry out for the mercy of God! We think of the poor souls in purgatory.

They are not the poorest, for they are not lost forever, and still their need is great. The souls in purgatory are ‘sick’ but still alive; they are alive, but in prison and normally they cannot enter into contact with those who could help them. This is part of their punishment. Nevertheless, they are true and full members of the Church: they died in the state of grace and thus the Blessed Trinity dwells in their soul as in a Sanctuary. They are living member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Out of their spiritual eyes Christ regards us and asks for our works of mercy in their behalf.

2. In Sacred Scripture we read:

It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb 9,27).

Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble —— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor 3,12-15).

The doctrine on purgatory is linked with the doctrine on venial sin and also to the doctrine of the supernatural merits for our good deeds before God. Theologians who consider just the "fundamental option" (cf. P. John Paul II., Splendor Veritatis, § 65-70) and religious groups or sects with erroneous ideas about God’s dignity and love or justice, or about man’s freedom before God do not confess this mystery of the Faith.

The Holy Church, however, did confirm this traditional belief in Vatican II, stating that they too are members of the Church "who passed away and are to be purified" (LG 49; cf. 51). Pope Paul VI also taught this truth in his Creed of the People of God (art. 21 and 23). The new order for indulgences also inculcates this truth. The Congregation of the Faith gave a certain orientation in its document, On Some Questions of Eschatology (May 17,1979), on what happens between the death of a Christian and the general resurrection. The new catechism, finally, presents the essential doctrine about those who "die in the grace and friendship of God, but are not yet completely purified" (§ 1030). In the following paragraph the Catechism cites St. Gregory the Great, who stated: "As for certain lesser faults, we must believe, that before final Judgment, there is a purifying fire."

3. The Church is guided by the sincere responsibility with regard to Holy Tradition, beginning with the piety of Tobit for the deceased (cf. Tob 1,17-19; 2,3-9) and Judas Maccabeus (cf. 2 Macc 12,45), saintly examples from the Old Testament. Paintings in the catacombs give testimony to the prayers of the early Church for those who had gone before them with the sign of faith. Even some abuse of the indulgences did not cause the end of the help for our brothers in purgatory.

The Catechism states:

Already since the earliest times the Church kept the memory of the deceased in honor and offered prayers and especially the Eucharistic Sacrifice for them, so that they may be purified and can reach the beatific vision. The Church recommends also alms, indulgences and works of penance in favor of the deceased (CCC 1032; cf. 1479 and LG 50).

The basis of this help is one of the beautiful mysteries of our Faith, the "Communion of Saints" in Christ which allows the communication of the spiritual goods (cf. LG 49). "The smallest of our actions, done out of love, is for the benefit of all" (CCC 953). Indeed, this communication and participation in spiritual goods is the original meaning of this mystery; the communion of persons having already been professed in the anterior article of the Creed, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church."

The poor souls cannot come calling for our help; therefore, we may conclude that their Guardian Angels go out and look for help among the just, somewhat in the manner of a daughter calling a priest to attend to her dying mother. Who could reject such an appeal for help? It is a question of love and solidarity (cf. CCC 953), of gratitude and finally even of reciprocal help, since "our prayer for the deceased is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective" (CCC 959).

The poor souls number, therefore, among our most helpful ‘parishioners’; they are the most attentive and most grateful members of our community. They offer the least resistance to any offer of grace. By helping them, we shall find entrance to many families in our parish. The intercession of the poor souls ought to be reckoned among the greatest blessings and help for the local parish. The priest devoted to the poor souls has an army of intercessors supporting his apostolate.

4. Seeing Christ in all members of His Mystical Body obliges us to dedicate our ministry also to the poor souls. Moreover, nothing is more simple than helping them:

  • By making the "Good Intention" in the morning;
  • By offering the Liturgy of the Hours for them too;
  • By getting used to adding an ejaculation for them after Angelus, like "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord" or, "May the Souls of the Faithful departed ..."
  • By using holy water for their succor: "dip the end of (our) finger in (Holy Water) water and cool" their suffering (cf. Lk 16,24);
  • By offering a small renunciation at table in their behalf;
  • By sharing some good (an alms) in behalf of those who are suffering due to sins of avarice or envy (and analogous little sacrifices for the reparation of particular faults);
  • By making known the New Regulations on Indulgences;
  • By accepting mass-stipends for the deceased.

 

In this way we will realize the ‘four great works’ taught by St. Raphael: "Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving and righteousness ... For almsgiving delivers from death and it will purge away every sin" (Tob. 12,8a.90.

This month, in union with the many ‘mendicant’ Guardians Angels, let us practice this "option for the poor!"

It should not be said by our parishioners, that for years they have not heard a sermon on the poor souls. How much we ought to help them! How easy is it to do so!

All you Angels of Consolation, go and visit those patient sufferers, offer for them the merits of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and obtain their speedy union with Jesus, Whose vision is bliss and Who yearns to have them with Him.
(Prayer from Fr. Stedman)

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC

For further readings:
See the rich biblical selection in the rite for funeral Masses;
St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Supplementum. Q. 71;
R. Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting (TAN, Rockford, Il. 1991, pp. 147-201).
The spiritual presentation of this doctrine is quite applicable to catechesis. TAN offers others works on Purgatory as well.