In the Mass for the Dead, the priest says the following prayer during the Offertory: “We offer to Thee, O Lord, sacrifices and prayers: do Thou receive them in behalf of those souls of whom we make memorial this day. Grant them, O Lord, to pass from death to that life which Thou didst promise to Abraham and his seed.”
In Verdi’s Requiem, one of the greatest settings of this particular Ordinary, the text is sung by a tenor, then the quartet of soloists, and finally the choir. It is a supremely powerful moment during which the light of God pierces through the darkness of death. In the first half of the prayer, the priest prays that these same souls will be delivered from the lion’s mouth and the lake of fire. It is in the second half that we hear about our own responsibilities to pray for the dead.
In past times, a great deal of emphasis was placed in the teachings of Holy Mother Church on those souls who make up the Church Suffering. The Church Suffering consists of those souls who are in the fires of purgatory. They have been sent there to be cleansed of their sins before they go to heaven. Our Lord said that they would not leave it until they had paid the last penny.
There are thousands of souls sitting in purgatory that are waiting for our prayers and sacrifices. Unlike hell, where the souls are deprive of the beatific vision completely, the Holy Souls in purgatory can see God. Yet they do not see Him clearly. This inability creates a great deal of pain and suffering for them. They want to see God face to face and yet their venial sins prevent them from doing so.
It is also necessary for us to realize that the fires of purgatory and hell are both come from the love of God. The love of God that was rejected by those who have been damned for all eternity is what causes them the most pain. It is a fire that is unquenchable and unending. It torments the damned precisely because they turned away from the One that gave His life for them. By rejecting Him and the love that He gave freely to them while on earth by their actions, they are now suffering the consequences of their sins in the lake of fire.
In purgatory, the fire that burns the Holy Souls is one that cleanses and cleans them. Their sufferings are great, yes, but they are not fruitless. One day, they will see the face of God and the Saints. One day, they will hear the sound of the voices of the angels rejoicing over those souls that have entered the heavenly mansions of their Lord. But until they are completely cleansed their lot is suffering.
When Catholics pray and sacrifice for the Holy Souls, we are not praying to them as to saints. The Holy Souls have not made it to heaven. However, we believe that we must pray for their deliverance. In former times, most Masses that were said in an ordinary church were for the Holy Souls rather than for the living. Why? In those times, people back then believed that purgatory was a real place and that our beloved dead needed our prayers to get out of there.
Since the Council, there are many people who no longer believe in the reality of hell and purgatory. Those doctrines are not preached from the pulpit and people no longer have the same fear of God they did in former times. This should not surprise us. In the secularized society in which we live and breathe, the fires of hell and purgatory are seen as “metaphors” and “images” rather than real places. Communist philosophers would go so far as to say that these are psychological states rather than real places.
What foolishness! What blindness! If people only knew how much every sin we commit hurts Our Lord. In her diary, Sr. Josefa Menendez wrote about a vision in which saw one large thorn piercing the Sacred Heart through and through. Our Lord explained to her that this one thorn was from the lukewarmness of a religious in the same convent and that Sr. Josefa would have to sacrifice in order to get the thorn out. If one thorn could cause Our Lord such intense pain from one of His spouses, then what can we say about ourselves? Have we not caused Him the same pain by our infidelities, impurities, blasphemies, and other problems? Are you and I not deserving of hell and damnation for all of those things that we have said and thought?
The mind boggles when it thinks about these things, but Our Lord has always been clear in His expectations of us. In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, He told us exactly what we needed to do in order to get to heaven. The actions are so simple. They may seem so trivial to us, but they are so powerful. Indeed, one cup of cold water and one lunch given away can be a ruby or pearl that is added to our heavenly crown.
We cannot live this life given to us by Our Lord in a complacent manner. Knowing that some day that the price paid for our salvation was so great and costly, we must try in some way to pay God back for His gifts. Prayers, sacrifices, and faithfulness to our vocation are all ways that we can fulfill what God asks of us.
Lastly, remember that prayer which opened this article and offer up sacrifices for those who can no longer help themselves. If you do so, the Holy Souls will help you also because of their gratefulness for your help.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
All ye Holy Souls, intercede for us!