Monday, November 12, 2007


November begins with the Solemnity (Great Feast) of All Saints (Nov. 1), and the Commemoration of All Souls (Nov. 2). The liturgical year is about to end; it is a good time to remember our beloved dead with special attention, and to meditate on the afterlife.

Death does not sever the bonds of love among men (except with the damned in hell, who have, by their final choices, separated themselves forever from Love). We who constitute the “Church Militant” or “Pilgrim Church” are capable of benefiting from the intercession of the saints in heaven (“Church Triumphant”). We could also add to their “accidental happiness”—as distinguished from the “essential” happiness of being in heaven, i.e., that of contemplating God as He Is, the “beatific vision”—as they note our progress on earth. Similarly, we could help the souls in Purgatory (“Church Suffering”) by offering our “suffrages”—prayers, penances and almsgiving or other good works—to hasten their entrance into heaven. We could also benefit from their intercession, when they reach heaven, and even while still in purgatory, since there is no reason why their prayers for us would not be heard.

Catholic doctrine on Purgatory is based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (from the Latin, traditio, “delivery” or “handing down” from the beginning of the Church). Our Lord said: “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12:32). “From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: ‘Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin’ [2 Macc 12:46].” (CCC No. 1031-1032)

“Grave sin deprives us of communion with God, and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the ‘eternal punishment’ of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.” (CCC, No. 1472)

Sin is essentially a “turning away from God and turning towards creatures”, dispositions which prevent a soul from entering into that definitive union with God in heaven. While on earth, these dispositions, our choices, are changeable. Now is the time for meriting and repentance. After death, our crossing-over into eternity, we can no longer by ourselves, alter our dispositions. But since it is realistic to suppose that many people die loving God (in the state of grace) yet with some “unhealthy attachment to creatures”, it is eminently reasonable that there is a stage after death in which the soul is passively subjected to God’s “purifying fire”, helped by the suffrages and indulgences of the living. An act of charity we may do daily is to gain “indulgences” and offer them for the speedy entrance into heaven of our relatives, friends, benefactors, those we have injured and who may have injured us, who might still be in purgatory.

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”. (CCC, No. 1471) Our Lord said: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:18-19) An indulgence is plenary or partial depending on whether it removes all or part of the temporal punishment, and can be gained for oneself or for the souls in purgatory.

A plenary indulgence can be gained daily by any of the prescribed works (e.g., praying for at least 30 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary with our family or before the Blessed Sacrament), and fulfilling the so-called “usual conditions”: a) Intention (a general intention to gain all indulgences we can for the day is sufficient); b) Abhorrence of all sin, including venial sin; c) Prayer for the Pope (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be); and d) Confession and Communion some days before or after (within the Octave, one reason why regular, weekly confession, is highly recommended). If we are not able to fulfill all the conditions, there would still be, at least, a partial indulgence for the specific souls we had in mind, or, in default, to those who may need it most.

St. Josemaria writes: “The holy souls in purgatory. Out of charity, out of justice, and out of an excusable selfishness (they have such power with God!) remember them often in your sacrifices and your prayers. Whenever you speak of them, may you be able to say, ‘My good friends, the souls in purgatory’”. (The Way, No. 571)