We are coming to the end of November, the month of the Holy Souls. They used to be known as “The Church Suffering”; I note they are now often referred to as “The Church Expectant.” This somehow lessens the holy drama involved in Purgatory. Cardinal Newman’s fine hymn, Help Lord the Souls, a satisfying mixture of poetry and theology usually sung on All Souls Day, better captures the stark beauty of the state of such souls: “In prison for the debt unpaid/ of sins committed here.” And Newman’s next stanza reminds us that “For daily falls, for pardoned crimes/they joy to undergo/the shadow of thy cross sublime/the remnant of thy woe.”
A friend, whose husband died six months ago, has reminded me of all this, in an email in which she wrote, “It’s all a mystery we must endure, if we wonder, as I do, “How things are” with departed souls. It is probably a situation we couldn’t understand anyway while still on earth.” No indeed – but our Faith teaches us certain truths of Purgatory which are consoling to know. Indeed, Susan Tassone, who has published nine books on the subject of Purgatory, including Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory; 365 Reflections, has just sent me a magazine, Catholic Digest, in which she has recently been interviewed on this subject.
Tassone makes several important points: that we should pray for the dead, for although we cannot know their current state of purification, no prayer is ever wasted with God; that Purgatory is not a place but rather, in the words of Saint John Paul II, “a condition of existence”; and that the best way to help the Holy Souls are the Mass, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration. Of these, having a Mass said for someone you love (or even an enemy) is the most efficacious.
She also reminds us never to despair for the souls of those who have committed suicide; only God can know their true spiritual state on death. She particularly recommends Gregorian Masses (30 Masses celebrated on 30 consecutive days for the repose of the soul of one departed person) for these unhappy people.
In particular, Tassone quotes from Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2007 encyclical, Spe Salvi, in which he gives his personal reflection on the “fire” of Purgatory, suggesting that it is “Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour…His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation…But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame.”
Tassone was also asked why priest don’t preach about Purgatory anymore. Her view is that after Vatican II the subject, along with “faith, grace, hell and sin”, became an embarrassment. In other words and over several decades, the Faith was deliberately eviscerated of its vital content. The good news is that this dire state of affairs is now changing.