The Poor Souls
“It ain’t right, and I’m sick and tired of what ain’t right,” says a character in the western Silverado. That’s how I feel about the treatment the poor souls in Purgatory have been given over the last few decades.
“Well, his sufferings are over,” people say at the funeral home (I’m talking about Catholic believers). “Your grandmother is in heaven,” proclaim priests and deacons at all too many funerals. I have been asked, “Do we still believe in Purgatory?”
That Purgatory exists, and that we can help these souls by our prayers and sacrifices, our almsgiving and other acts of charity, and above all by means of the “Sacrifice of Reconciliation,” the Holy Mass, is a dogma of the faith: a divinely revealed truth, guaranteed absolutely by the infallibility of our holy mother, the Church.
“It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” By their sins they are wounded, and need healing: Purgatory is a merciful hospital. By their sins they are stained: Purgatory is a state of purification. “You shall not get out, until you have paid the last penny”: in Purgatory this debt is paid off.
It is by and in the Saviour, Jesus Christ, that all this merciful work takes place. “By his wounds, ours are healed.” “They have washed their robes white in the Blood of the Lamb.” “He has nailed our debts to the Cross.”
In his Credo of the People of God (1968), Pope Paul VI refers to the “fires of Purgatory.” It is not a dogma, but great saints and theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that the purifying pains of the next life can be very great.
“The hand of the Lord is upon me,” these souls cry out to us; “have pity on me, at least you, my friend.”
“There will be judgment without mercy for those who have shown no mercy,” says the apostle St. James. That we may receive mercy, as the Lord has promised, let us practice mercy towards the poor souls.