A Few Words on Purgatory (2018)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 4th January 2018, Prague, Czechia
The Dogma of Purgatory is too much forgotten by the majority of the faithful. In order that our ideas my become more distinct and our faith enlivened, we must take a closer view of this life beyond the tomb, this intermediate state of the just souls, not yet worthy to enter the Heavenly Jerusalem.
We possess three very distinct sources of light: first, the dogmatic doctrine of the Church; then the doctrine as explained by the doctors of the Church; in the third place, the revelations and apparitions of saints, which serve to confirm the teachings of the doctors.
- The dogmatic doctrine of the Church on the subject of Purgatory comprises two articles:“The Catholic Church“, says the Council of Trent, “instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, from the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils, and very recently in the Ecumenical Synod, that there is Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar“ (Session 25).
- The teaching of the doctors and theologians, or rather their opinions on several questions relative to Purgatory, and their explanations of them, are not imposed as articles of faith; we are free to reject them without ceasing to be Catholic. Nevertheless, it would be imprudent and even rash, to reject them, and it is the spirit of the Church to follow the opinions commonly held by the doctors.These questions relate
- to the location of Purgatory
- to the nature of the sufferings
- to the number and condition of the souls in Purgatory
- to the certainty which they have of their beatitude
- to the duration of their sufferings
- to the intervention of the living in their behalf and
- to the application of the suffrages of the Church.
3. The revelations of saints, called also particular revelations, do not belong to the deposit of faith confided by Jesus Christ to His Church; they are historical facts, based upon human testimony. It is permitted to believe them and piety finds wholesome food in them. We may, however, disbelieve them without sinning against faith.
Particular revelations are of two kinds: the one consists in visions, another in apparitions. They are called particular because they differ from those found in Holy Scripture, not forming part of the doctrine revealed for the mankind, and not being proposed by the Church to our belief as dogmas of faith.
Visions, properly so called, are subjective lights, infused by God into the understanding of His creatures, in order to discover to them His mysteries. Such are the visions of prophets, those of Saint Paul, of Saint Bridget, and many other saints. These visions usually take place when the subject is in a state of ecstasy; they consist in certain mysterious representations, which appear to the eyes of the soul, and which must not always be taken literally. Frequently they are figures, symbolic images, which represent in a manner proportionate to the capacity of our understanding, things purely spiritual, of which ordinary language is incapable of conveying an idea.
(Saint Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians 12:4: “That he was caught up into paradise, and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter.“)
Apparitions, at least frequently, are objective phenomena which have a real exterior object. Such was the apparition of Moses: “And Moses drove the flock to the inner parts of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt.“ (Exodus 3:1-2) and of Moses and Elias on the mount Thabor (Matthew 17:3); that of Samuel evoked by the Witch of Endor (1. Samuel 28:7); that of the Angel Raphael to Tobias (Tobias 3:25); those of many other angels; in fine, such are the apparitions of the souls in Purgatory.
That the spirits of the dead sometimes appear to the living is a fact that cannot be denied. Does not the Gospel clearly suppose it? When the risen Jesus appeared for the first time to His assembled apostles, they supposed they saw a spirit. Our Saviour, far from saying that spirits appear not, spoke to them thus: “Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.“ (Luke 24:38-39)
Apparitions of the souls that are in Purgatory are of frequent occurence. We find them in great numbers in the “Lives of the Saints“, they happen sometimes to the ordinary faithful.
St. Catherine of Siena in order to spare her father the pains of Purgatory, offered herself to the Divine Justice to suffer in his stead during her whole life. God accepted her offer, inflicted the most excruciating torments upon her, which lasted until her death, and admitted the soul of her father into eternal glory. In return this blessed soul frequently appeared to his daughter to thank her, and to make to her many useful revelations.
When the souls in Purgatory appear to the living, they always present themselves in an attitude which excites compassion; now with the features which they had during life or at their death, with a sad countenance and imploring looks, in garments of mourning, with an expression of extreme suffering; then like a mist, a light, a shadow, or some kind of fantastic figure, accompanied by a sign or word by which they may be recognized.
What causes the souls Purgatory?
The causes are quite different! The remains of mortal sin, sins of Lust not fully expiated upon earth, worldliness, sins of youth, scandal given by immodest paintings and dresses, negligence in Holy Communion, lack of mortification of senses, sins against charity, against justice, abuse of grace etc.
A good example of a man who passed his whole life in a habitual state of mortal sin, and who delayed his conversion until death, was Lord Stourton, an English nobleman. He was a Catholic in his heart, although, to retain his position at court, he regularly attended the Protestant service. He kept a Catholic priest concealed in his house, at the risk of great danger, promising himself to make good use of his ministry by being reconciled with God at the hour of his death. But he met with a sudden accident, and, as often happens in such cases, by a just decree of God, he had not the time to realize his desire of tardy conversion. Nevertheless, Divine Mercy, taking into consideration what he had done for the persecuted Catholic Church in England, vouchsafed him the grace of perfect contrition, and consequently secured his salvation. But he had to pay dearly for his culpable negligence.
How can we avoid Purgatory?
The means how we can avoid Purgatory are a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin; to wear the Holy Scapular; acts of charity and mercy; Christian mortifications. We can further avoid Purgatory by gaining indulgences; by receiving the sacraments and especially in case of danger of life by receiving the Extreme Unction; by having confidence in God and by the holy acceptation of death etc.
The humble and submissive acceptation of death in expiation of our sins, it is a generous act, by which we make a sacrifice of our life to God, in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross.
On December 2, 1638 Father George Aquitanus of the Society of Jesus died at Brisach, on the right bank of the Rhine. Twice he had devoted his life to the service of the plague-stricken. It happened that on two different occasions the pest raged with such fury that it was almost impossible to approach the sick without being attacked by the contagion. Everyone fled and abandoned the dying to their unhappy fate. But Father Aquitanus, placing the life in the hands of God, made himself the servant and the apostle of the sick; he employed himself exclusively in relieving their sufferings and in administering to them the Sacraments. God preserved him during the first visitation of the pest; but when it again broke out with renewed violence, and the man of God was called upon for the second time to devote himself to the care of the sick, God this time accepted his sacrifice.
When, a victim of his Charity, he lay extended upon his bed of death, he was asked if he willingly made the sacrifice of his life to God. “Oh!“ he replied full of joy, “if I had a million lives to offer Him, He knows how readily I would give them to Him.“ Such an act, it is easy to understand, is very meritorious in the sight of God. Does it not resemble that supreme act of charity accomplished by the martyrs who died for Jesus Christ, and which, like baptism, effaces all sin and cancels all debts? “Greater love than this, says Our Lord, no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friend (John 15:13).
We will do what we can for the poor souls in Purgatory and we will avoid Purgatory with all means. Amen.