by Father Ronan Murphy
In November, we commemorate the Holy Souls in purgatory. The existence of purgatory — where all those souls who die in the state of sanctifying grace and yet still have to undergo a period of purgation before entering the kingdom of God, because according to Scriptures nothing sin tainted will enter heaven — is a dogma of our Catholic faith.
This is how St. Faustina described purgatory: “I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently for themselves but to no avail for only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. They answered me in one voice, that their greatest torment was longing for God.”
She saw Our Lady visiting these souls. All the Holy Souls in purgatory call her “The Star of the Sea.” As she was leaving, St. Faustina heard a voice say to her, “My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it.”
Pope Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council hailed the Blessed Virgin as “Mater Ecclesiae,” which means “Mother of the church.”
Now the church has three components: the Church Triumphant comprised of all the Saints in Heaven, the Church Suffering made up of all the Holy Souls in purgatory and the Church Militant composed of all the baptized on earth. Unfortunately, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant get most of our attention and the Church Suffering most often seems to be shrouded in obscurity. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, Out of mind.”
How easy and how sad it is that many Catholics forget our faithful departed brothers and sisters who are in most of need of our prayers and suffrages.
The church teaches that once in purgatory, those souls cannot gain any more merit to help themselves. They rely on our charity, our prayers, our sufferings and our sacrifices. But even if we should forget those in purgatory, Our Lady cannot forget them because she loves all her children, especially those who need her most.
Our Lady once said to St. Bridget, “I am the Mother of all the souls in purgatory, and I am Mother of Mercy to these my children who are in the greatest need of my assistance, since in their torments they cannot help themselves.”
St. Bernardine of Siena says “that in that prison where souls that are spouses of Jesus Christ are detained, Mary has a certain dominion and plentitude of power not only to relieve them but even to deliver them from their pains.”
Again she told St. Bridget that as a compassionate Mother, she condescends to go herself often into that Holy Prison to visit and comfort her suffering children.
To her children who are devoted to the recitation of the Holy Rosary every day, Our Lady promises “to personally deliver them from purgatory herself.” That promise is depicted in the painting of the Last Judgment by Michaelangelo, where Our Lady is seen pulling two souls out of purgatory by means of the chain of the Holy Rosary.
And how about Our Lady’s second great scapular promise known as the “Sabbatine Privilege,” which was given by the Blessed Virgin Mary to Pope John XXII in the year 1322: “Those who wear the Scapular and fulfill two other conditions (Chastity and Prayer) can obtain early liberation from Purgatory, through the special intercession of the Virgin Mary, on the first Saturday after their death, the day consecrated to her.”
St. Bernadine of Siena said the Blessed Virgin has the power of delivering souls from purgatory, but more particularly those who were most devoted to her.
The church teaches that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most efficacious means of assisting souls in purgatory. Another efficacious means is reciting the rosary. By the rosary, we offer to God all the merits of Our Lord in union with Mary for the suffering souls.
How much it must please Our Lady when we offer the rosary in union with her to liberate her suffering children from that holy prison to be with her in heaven, and in the process, she promises to also liberate us from that prison to be with her forever.
Father Murphy is the Coordinator for Marian Devotions of the Diocese of Brooklyn.