The Holy Souls in Purgatory
A meditation for the Month of the Holy Souls
by Fr Armand de Malleray (Fraternity St. Peter)
The month of November is traditionally dedicated to the Holy Souls. What do we know about them? Well, the very adjective the Church uses to describe them is significant: though not yet in Heaven, they are ‘Holy’.
The Holy Souls are called Holy because they are on their way to Heaven, with no risk at all of failing to reach that goal. While they were still on earth as members of the Church Militant, they were already destined for the Beatific Vision, but like ourselves now, they were free not to answer such a wonderful calling. Whenever they sinned, they impeded the fulfilling of their divine vocation: but, whereas venial sin would only delay their entry into Paradise, mortal sin would forbid it.
When they died, the love of God happened to be the leading disposition of those Holy Souls. They had some attachments to creatures as well, but not to the extent that they would put those above their very Creator. Death being the natural separation between human body and soul, it drew their human selves out from the material world, and out from time altogether, which is the created dimension where they had led their lives on earth. Leaving time means to enter permanence, since time is characterized by changing. That is why after the soul has departed from the body, its ultimate disposition before dying remains for ever.
Heaven indeed has to be won, but on earth, before death, as Our Lord teaches us: ‘Walk while you have the light’; ‘the night cometh in which no man can work’; ‘this night do they require thy soul of thee’. After death, it is too late to change our minds.
Thanks be to God, in the case of the Holy Souls, their disposition was good. Therefore they have an absolute certainty of eventually enjoying the Beatific Vision. On the contrary, the souls whose main disposition when dying was hatred against God – they shall eternally endure the loss of Him Who is the only Beatitude.
Thus can the souls in Purgatory really be called ‘Holy’ Souls. Neither their own created will, nor God’s omnipotent will ever cease to meet and unite. Such a certainty makes the Holy Souls truly happy. In their individual judgment right after death, they received sufficient knowledge of God’s infinite bounty. They see how poor and wanting all created goods are, compared with divine perfections! They are now able to look spiritually at the many earthly attachments they kept until death, and they can’t imagine that they had been so stubborn and short-sighted as to load themselves with the burden of human pride and wealth, instead of lightly travelling toward the Sun of Justice!
And now they wish they were able to enter at once into Heaven in order to fulfil God’s adorable will more promptly! Instead, they have to wait until their wills have been purified from all their imperfections. For us to have an idea of how excruciating that delay is for the Holy Souls, we would need to have had a glimpse of the splendour of God, which emancipates from error and lies our minds made for the Truth and lovingly attracts our wills made for the Good. ‘What a waste,’ the holy soul thinks, ‘and what an offence, since what I have wasted is nothing else than God’s grace!’
Indeed, the souls in Purgatory realise that God had constantly helped them while they were still united with their bodies on earth. Every time they needed it, God provided adequate support: through unexpected encounters and edifying friendships, sound prayers and spiritual books, and regular reception of the sacraments. Nothing spectacular there, though all providential, to ensure their overcoming all temptations and their increasing in all virtues. But they neglected God’s help on so many ‘small’ occasions, keeping their hands and hearts busy with temporal tasks instead.
They remember the many times when they postponed their examination of conscience and finally went to bed without having done it; or the times when they walked past the parish church and failed to go in to confess even their venial sins; or the times when they found the phone number of a priest they trusted, and feared to call him to seek spiritual direction; or the times when they scratched from their diaries the monthly hour of doctrinal learning they had arranged for the whole year; and the times when they put the kettle on, deciding not to attend an early weekday Mass when they saw the rain falling outside…
They acknowledge their negligence and false humility when God had provided everything for them to be great saints, ‘lights of the world and salt of the earth’. With intense grief now they long for the eventual fulfilling in themselves of their adorable Saviour’s will: how burning their craving to satisfy at last the Groom they dared keep waiting, how consuming their shame for having been idle, and how urgent their desire to be cleansed, so that they might be totally and forever His!
The Church, true Bride of Christ, offers numerous prayers to hasten the entry of Her children into Heaven. All but one canonical Hours of the Breviary end with, ‘Fidelium animae per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen’ – which shows how constant is the preoccupation of Mother Church for the Holy Souls.
And at the centre of all Catholic life and true summit of all prayer, i.e. in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there also, after the Consecration, the Church commemorates the dead: ‘Memento etiam Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum N. et N., qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dormiunt in somno pacis. Ipsis, Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis, ut indulgeas deprecamur: per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen’.
Let us pray these words with a deep faith in the efficacy of our intercession as devout members of Mother Church, hoping that the same Holy Souls once received into Heaven will powerfully intercede for us according to our beautiful Catholic dogma of the ‘communion of saints’, ad majorem Dei gloriam!
[Taken from the Latin Mass Society's November 2002 Newsletter.]