by Rev. John Nageleisen, 1895
The general opinion of scholastic theologians, adhered to also by Bellarmine, is that Purgatory is located in the interior of the earth, very near to hell. This, also the common belief of the faithful, is confirmed by the liturgical prayers of the Church, and by the testimony of Holy Scripture.
The Church prays: "Deliver, O Lord, the souls of the faithful departed from the punishment of hell and from the deep abyss." In this passage she calls Purgatory "hell," that is, a deep subterraneous cavern next to the hell of the damned. St. Thomas teaches explicitly, "Purgatory is connected with hell, and this in such a manner that the same fire torments the damned and purifies the just." Hell, however, according to the unanimous acceptation of theologians, is located*in the interior of our earth. St. Augustine finds this quite appropriate, and in support of this theory he quotes Ecclesiasticus: "I will penetrate to all the lower-parts of the earth, and will behold all that sleep, and will enlighten all that hope in the Lord." (Eccli. xxiv. 45.) St. Bridget, speaking of the severity of the punishments of Purgatory, refers to its location as follows: "The severest pains and torments are above hell, in its neighborhood, where the devils also trouble the souls." Venerable Bede also notices, in his history of England, the well-known revelation of Brother Drycthelm, by which the general opinion is confirmed, that Purgatory proper is in the interior of the earth.
Nevertheless we must not view Purgatory as being always one and the same local prison. In the visions of many saintly persons are mentioned various places where the Holy Souls are purified and suffer their Purgatory. Faber observes: "Some revelations relate of souls that are not confined in a local prison, but undergo their punishment in the air, or next to their graves, or near the altars of the Blessed Sacrament, or in the rooms of those praying for them, or amid the scenes of their former frivolity and vanity." According to the St. Benedict's Stimmen, the Venerable Sister Frances of the Blessed Sacrament had visions of Sisters who were sentenced to suffer in their former homes, in their convent cells, in choir, or in other places where they had committed faults. The Venerable Bernard Colnage, S. J. saw at Rome a soul that expiated its faults for forty-three years in one of the streets. According to the opinion of most spiritual writers the souls suffering in various places by far outnumber those of the Church militant. Hence Our Lord said in a vision to St. Marina, "Do not be astonished, but know that in proportion to those that remain in Purgatory the number of souls you are to liberate is like a drop of water in a mighty stream." Declaring that scholastic theologians generally coincide with this view concerning the great number of souls sentenced to suffer in various places, Bautz says: "St. Thomas remarks that the opinion of the saints and numerous revelations render the acceptance of a two-fold place of purification probable. Purgatory proper is located in the depth, adjacent to hell. But by divine decree there are other places of purification, for we read that Suffering Souls were found here and there on earth. God has so disposed: first, for the conversion of the living, that they might learn from such evidence how sin is punished in after-life; secondly, for the relief of the departed, in order that the living might be reminded of the needs of these souls and hasten to come to their aid."
What a view is opened to us in this phase of future life! Such a number of souls suffering in so many places of purification! And again, the multitude in Purgatory proper, in that silent, quiet abode of sufferers, presided over by the Mother of Mercy, the Blessed Virgin Mary, where angels are the ever willing ministers of her clemency! For these souls the suffrage of our prayers is asked, that their deliverance may be hastened by the application of the expiatory merits of Jesus Christ and His saints.--Christian soul, what part have you hitherto taken in their deliverance? Were you intent, at least to some degree, on coming to their aid by prayer, alms-deeds and Holy Masses?--"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matth. v. 7.)
The Duration of Purgatory
At the Last Judgment the condition of purification comes to an end for all souls in Purgatory. This is the belief of the Church, founded on the doctrine of that final event. "And these" (the wicked) "shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting." (Matth. xxv. 46.) Hence St. Augustine remarks: "The Christian is therefore to hold that there is no Purgatory, except before the last and tremendous judgment." Those that die shortly before the Last Judgment will have to suffer greatly by the occurrences preceding it, which God will perhaps reckon for their punishment. Moreover the holy Fathers declare that God may so increase the intensity of their punishment that they atone for their faults in a short time. It is certain, then, that the punishment of Purgatory is not everlasting, for in this case there would be no difference between it and hell. It is certain also that the duration of Purgatory will not last beyond the final judgment, for after it there will be only heaven and hell. Finally, it is beyond doubt that the torments of Purgatory will not be of the same duration, nor of the same intensity for all souls; for justice admits not of equality of punishment where there is no equality of guilt.
It is difficult, or rather impossible, to demonstrate how long the punishment of particular souls will last. St. Augustine teaches that the duration of punishment in Purgatory for a soul is fixed according to the measure of sin and penance of each individual. The duration may be measured by days, and yet, on account of the intensity of pain, it may seem much longer.
Brother Constantine of the Redeemer appeared after his death and said, "I suffered three days, and they seemed to me to have been three thousand years." For certain souls Purgatory, not abbreviated through the intercession of the faithful, may last until the end of time; for our Judge is just, and "it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebr. x. 31.) It is only by the special favor of the goodness and mercy of God that we are permitted to shorten the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory. When, therefore, souls suffer a long time in it, it is in great part the fault of surviving Christians, who are either careless and lukewarm in their prayers for them, or have too high an opinion of their virtues. Another reason for the long duration of the suffering of some souls is their inability to do anything for themselves, the great number of faults and negligences of which they have been guilty, and particularly their neglect and want of charity during life for the souls of the faithful departed; finally, the immaculate purity required of those that enter heaven. We append a few examples of long suffering in Purgatory, taken from the revelations of saintly persons.
According to Venerable Marina of Escobar some souls are sentenced to a punishment of twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years and more. One soul told her that it had been sentenced for a period of almost inconceivable duration, but by the aid of suffrages the time had been shortened. The Venerable Sister Frances of the Blessed Sacrament relates: Some pious Carmelite Sisters had to suffer for twenty, forty and fifty years, and still their deliverance was delayed. A pious bishop was in Purgatory ninety-five years for some negligences; a priest forty years for similar reasons; a nobleman sixty-five years 0n account of his fondness for gambling; another soul had suffered for eight years when it appeared to Frances. The Venerable Catherine Emmerich, a great friend of the Suffering Souls, mentions souls that were in Purgatory for centuries. She relates: "I was led to the various abodes of the souls, and remember being transported to a mountain whence a soul advanced towards me, wearing a chain and surrounded by a red blaze. It had been there for a long time, abandoned by everybody, remembered by and prayed for by no one. It was the soul of a man whose education had been neglected, and it seemed to me, by the fault of his mother. He had retained a kind of dread and respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Once, when passing an image of the Blessed Mother, he was tempted to destroy it, but refrained from doing so by some emotional impulse. After this he was attacked by a malignant fever, and desired to make his confession, but became unconscious before he could do so. Yet, he had the grace to make an act of perfect contrition before his death, and thereby was saved. He said that Holy Masses would be of particular assistance to him, and that his term of punishment would be shortened greatly by suffrages of every kind." (Schmoeger, Revelations of Catherine Emmerich.) Faber, speaking of the duration of the punishment in Purgatory, says: "If Sister Frances beheld the souls of many pious Carmelite Sisters, some of whom had been favored with the gift of miracles during life, still suffering in Purgatory ten, twenty, thirty and sixty years after their death, and even then not near their deliverance, what must become of us and ours?"
Many Holy Souls not found sufficiently pure to enter heaven at their death, suffer long in Purgatory because we deny them the aid of our suffrages in the belief that they are high in the glory of heaven, whilst they are helpless in the torments of the middle state. We deem it an act of Christian charity to regard our deceased beloved ones as beyond the need of purification; hence the misplaced phrase, "The dead are at rest; they are better off than we," etc. This is a delusion, by which satan but too often succeeds in causing us to neglect our dead. For though the souls in Purgatory are assured of their salvation, and are no longer subject to temptation, they are yet deprived, as long as they are detained in Purgatory, of giving that glory to God which He receives by the adoration and praise of perfectly pure souls. By thus influencing persons to refrain from praying for their deceased friends, the devil evidences his hatred of God and his envy of the Holy Souls, and we, by listening to his suggestions, become instruments of his malice if we neglect, under the semblance of charity, to come to the aid of our suffering friends. In this respect St. Augustine is an example worthy of imitation. It is related of him that for twelve, yea, for thirty years after his mother's death he continued to celebrate Holy Mass himself, and caused it to be celebrated by others, for the repose of her soul, and that he urgently implored the prayers of the faithful for her.
The Venerable Cure d'Ars, J. B. Vianney, reckons among the forsaken souls those of bishops, priests and other pious persons who died in the fame of sanctity, or at least had better opportunities of sanctifying themselves than common Christians. According to the rule that much shall be required of them to whom much has been given, such souls are subjected to a severer scrutiny than the generality of Christians. Ecclesiastical writers often dwell on the fact that priests and superiors have to undergo a particularly long and painful purification in Purgatory. Moreover, it is a sad experience that no person is forgotten so easily and so soon after death, as the priest; in some instances the faithful have so high an opinion of his sublime dignity and virtue that they resent the thought of his being in Purgatory; in other instances it is a punishment of his neglect in coming to the relief of the Suffering Souls.
The Venerable Sister Frances had apparitions of two popes, who begged her prayers for the abbreviation of their long Purgatory; of a Cardinal, who suffered thirty years for some negligences; of a Spanish bishop, who had been in Purgatory seven years for seeking his own advancement in his high office, and for neglecting some of its duties; of several priests of Pampeluna, who had suffered forty and fifty years for faults of idleness, of ambition, and of neglect of duty. One priest that appeared to her had to suffer for distractions during the recitation of the divine office, for undue haste in the celebration of Mass, for ambition and for fickleness in his good resolutions.--To these examples might be added a number of others from unimpeachable sources; but we deem them sufficient to fill us with intense pity for the Suffering Souls, and to induce us to reject the practice of praising the deceased for their good qualities and actions, meanwhile forgetting that their debts have to be paid "to the last farthing," which we can and ought to do for them by our prayers. It does great harm to them and to us to believe that they do not need our prayers. Such souls become the most forsaken and forgotten ones, and we expose ourselves to the danger of experiencing the truth of the words of Scripture: "With what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matth. VII. 2.)
That Purgatory is of long duration, that it is extended to centuries, and, for some souls, even to the day of general judgment, can be gathered also from the works of theological writers, and from the prayers of the Church. Some of the holy Fathers explain the difficult passage in the first epistle of St. Peter, where he mentions those as saved "which had been sometime incredulous when they waited for the patience of God in the time of Noe." (I. Pet. in. 20.) Many, they say, seeing the prediction of Noe fulfilled, were undoubtedly converted, and repenting, were pardoned by God. They perished in the waters which covered the earth, and their souls were detained in the prison of which St. Peter speaks, until the Redeemer appeared amongst them after His death, and announced to them their deliverance. Thus they had to suffer in Purgatory many centuries.
The heinousness of mortal sin, the multitude of sins, though pardoned and remitted as to the guilt and eternal punishment, by their very nature demand a long duration of temporal punishment. In her ancient liturgical prayers the Church intercedes for all the departed since the creation of the world.--Another proof of the possibility of a long duration of the punishment in Purgatory is found in the fact that there are so called perpetual foundations of Masses, of Masses to be said as long as the church in which they are founded exists. In the ages of faith this laudable pious custom was very general, and it is most commendable. For who knows but what the souls of our departed ones are among the number of those unfortunates, who, if they are not assisted by our suffrages, see the end of their sufferings only after the lapse of years, so that they, poor children of the Sacred Heart, pine and sigh for relief in their torments? Oh, how few Christians know the true state of their conscience, the actual amount of their indebtedness to divine justice, to be paid after their departure from this world! True, our Judge is merciful, but His mercy does not abate His justice; and this is appeased only by good works in Christ Jesus, our Redeemer: by Holy Mass, prayer, alms-deeds and acts of mortification, or other works for the relief of the Holy Souls.-- Christian soul, what have you done, what do you do for this purpose?
Prayer to the Holy Souls in Purgatory
O Holy Souls, tormented in most cruel pains, as one truly devoted to you, I promise never to forget you, and continually to pray to the Most High for your release. I beseech you to respond to this offering which I make to you, and obtain for me from God, with whom you are so powerful on behalf of the living, that I may be freed from all dangers of soul and body ; I beg both for myself and for my relations and benefactors, friends and enemies, pardon for our sins, and the grace of perseverance in good, whereby we may save our souls.
Set us free from all misfortunes, miseries, sicknesses, trials and labors. Obtain for us peace of heart; assist us in all our actions; succor us promptly in all our spiritual and temporal needs; console and defend us in our dangers. Pray for the supreme Pontiff, for the exaltation of holy Church, for peace between nations, for Christian princes, and for tranquillity among peoples ; and obtain that we may one day all rejoice together in Paradise. Amen.