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This Page Last Updated:

November 26, 2003


Vol. 42, Issue No. 128

Presentation of Our Lady Defending Papal Infallibility Back to Previous Issues

The Dogma of Purgatory

Queen of the Poor Souls in Purgatory    The dogma of Purgatory is too much forgotten by the majority of the faithful; the Church Suffering, where they have so many brethren to succor, whither they foresee that they themselves must one day go, seems a strange land to them. This truly deplorable forgetfulness was a great sorrow to St. Francis de Sales. "Alas!" said this pious Doctor of the Church, "we do not sufficiently remember our dear departed; their memory seems to perish with the sound of the funeral bells."

    The principal causes of this are ignorance and lack of faith; our notions on the subject of Purgatory are too vague; our faith is too feeble. In order, then, that our ideas may 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.

    As faithful Catholics, we need not dwell long on the ample proofs for the existence of Purgatory, which is foolishly questioned by skeptical minds. It serves our purpose better to remind the pious faithful that the existence of Purgatory is a dogma revealed by God, which we are bound to believe with Divine and Catholic faith.

    In actuality, we have three distinct sources of light whereby we may place this great truth in the strongest possible light; first, the dogmatic doctrine of the Church; then that doctrine as explained by the Doctors of the Church; in the third place, the revelations and apparitions of the Saints, which serve to confirm the teachings of the holy Doctors.

  1. The dogmatic doctrine of the Church on the subject of Purgatory comprises two articles: first, that there is a Purgatory; second, that the souls which are in Purgatory may be assisted by the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful, especially by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These two articles are of Faith, and must be believed by every Catholic.
  2. The teaching of the Doctors and theologians, or rather their opinions on several questions relative to Purgatory, and their explanations of them; these 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 and Fathers of the Church.
  3. The revelations of the saints, called also particular (or private) revelations; these do not belong to the Deposit of Faith confided by Jesus Christ to His Church; they are historical facts, based upon credible human testimony. When approved by the Church, however, it is permitted to believe them, and our piety can draw wholesome inspiration from them. We may, on the other hand, disbelieve them also without sinning against faith. But since they are authenticated by the Church, we cannot reject them without offending against reason; because sound reason demands that all men should give assent to truth when it is sufficiently demonstrated.

    To illustrate this subject more clearly, let us explain the nature of these private revelations. Private revelations are of two kinds: the one consists in visions, the other in apparitions. They are called particular or private, because they differ from those found in Holy Scripture, not forming part of the Divine Doctrine officially revealed for mankind, and not being proposed by the Church to our belief as dogmas of the Faith.

    Visions, properly so called, are subjective lights (experienced by an individual, or a subject), infused by God into the understanding of His creatures, in order to discover to them His Mysteries. Such are the visions of the prophets, those of St. Paul, of St. 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, or symbolic images, which represent to our limited understanding things which are purely spiritual, of which ordinary language is incapable of conveying an idea.

    Apparitions, on the other hand, are objective phenomena which have a real exterior object (something which can be externally experienced through our senses, such as sight, hearing, etc.) Such was the apparition of Moses and Elias on Mount Thabor; that of Samuel evoked by the Witch of Endor; that of the Angel Raphael to Tobias; those of many other Angels; of such also are the apparitions of the Poor 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 declare it? When our Risen Lord and Savior appeared for the first time to His assembled Apostles, they supposed they saw a spirit. Our Divine Lord, far from saying that spirits do not appear, 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; handle and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, us you see Me to have. (Luke 24:37 et seq.)

    Apparitions of the Souls that are in Purgatory are of frequent occurrence. We find them in great numbers in the "Lives of the Saints"; they happen to the ordinary faithful. The excellent book, The Doctrine of Purgatory, presents an extensive collection of those that are best authenticated, and appear to be best qualified to instruct and to edify the Catholic faithful.

    But, it may be asked, are all these facts historically certain? If, among the vast number of such apparitions, a doubter finds some which he thinks are dubious, he need not consider them. But we must beware of being overly critical of these approved apparitions, which can lead to a weakening of our faith. It is good to remark that, generally speaking, such apparitions of souls do indeed occur, and that they frequently occur cannot be doubted. "Apparitions of this kind," says the Abbé Ribet, "are not uncommon. God permits them for the relief of souls in order to excite our compassion, and also to make us sensible of how terrible are the rigors of His Justice against those faults which we consider trivial." (La Mystique Divine, Distinguée des Contrefaçons Diaboliques et des Analogies Humaines. Paris, Poussielgue). Pope St. Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues, cites several examples, which prove that this holy Doctor believed in the existence of these phenomena. A great number of other authors, not less reliable than St. Gregory, both on account of sanctity and learning, relate similar instances. Moreover, incidents of this sort abound in the lives of the saints.

    The Church Suffering has ever implored the suffrages of the Church Militant; and this communication, with its fearful portents of sadness, is also full of instruction. It is for the Poor Souls a source of inexhaustible relief, and for the Church Militant, a powerful incitement to holiness.

    The vision of Purgatory has been granted to many holy souls. St. Catherine de Ricci descended in spirit into Purgatory every Sunday night; St. Lydwine, during her raptures, penetrated into this place of expiation, and, conducted by her Angel Guardian, visited the souls in their torments. In like manner, an Angel led Blessed Osanne of Mantua through this dismal abyss.

    Blessed Veronica of Binasco, St. Frances of Rome, and many others had visions exactly similar, with impressions of terror.

    More frequently, it is the souls themselves that have appeared to the living and implored their intercession. Many appeared in this manner to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, and to a great number of other holy persons. The souls of the faithful departed frequently besought the intercession of Denis the Carthusian. This great servant of God was one day asked how many times the holy souls appeared to him. "Oh! hundreds of times," he replied.

    St. Catherine of Sienna, 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 strange figure, accompanied by a sign or word by which they may be recognized. At other times they betray their presence by moans, sobs, sighs, or hurried respiration and plaintive accents. They often appear enveloped in flames. When they speak, it is to manifest their sufferings, to deplore their past faults, to ask suffrages, or even to address reproaches to those who ought to assist them.

    Another kind of revelation, adds the same author, is made by invisible blows which the living receive, by the violent shutting of doors, the rattling of chains, and the sounds of voices.

    These facts are too multiplied to admit of doubt; the only difficulty is to establish their connection with the world of expiation. But when these manifestations coincide with the death of persons dear to us, when they cease after prayers and reparations have been made to God in their behalf, is it not reasonable to see therein signs by which the souls make known their distress?

    In the various phenomena to which we have just drawn attention, we recognize the souls in Purgatory. But there is a case when the apparition should be held in suspicion; it is when a notorious sinner, unexpectedly carried away by a sudden death, comes to implore the prayers of the living that he may be delivered from Purgatory. The Devil is interested in making us believe that we can live in the greatest disorders until the moment of our death and yet escape Hell. However, even in such instances, it is not forbidden to think that the soul which appears has repented, and that it is in the temporary flames of expiation; nor, consequently, is it forbidden to pray for it, but it is proper to observe the greatest caution in regard to visions of this kind, and the credit which we give to them. (Ribet, Mystique Divine, vol. 2, chap. 10).

    The details into which have been given here should serve to give the reader an ample explanation for profitably reading the accounts of the supernatural manifestations which testify of the pains and punishments of Purgatory.

    Finally, let us add that the Christian must guard against too great a skepticism in supernatural facts connected with Dogmas of Faith. St. Paul tells us that Charity believeth all things 1 Cor. 3:7), that is to say, as interpreters explain it, all that which we may prudently believe, and of which the belief will not be prejudicial to faith. If it is true that prudence rejects a blind and superstitious credulity, it is also true that we must avoid another extreme, that with which our Savior reproached the Apostle St. Thomas. You believe, He said to him, because you have seen and touched; it were better to have believed the testimony of your brethren. In exacting more, you have been guilty of incredulity; this is a fault that all My disciples should avoid. Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed. Be not faithless, but believing. (John 27:29).

    The best authorized persons in the Church, such as St. Gregory, St. Bernard, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori, and many others, as much distinguished for their learning as for their piety, when writing their excellent works knew nothing of the impious demands of present day Rationalists and Modernists, requirements which in nowise constitute genuine intellectual progress.

    In fact, if the spirit of our Fathers in the Faith was more simple, what is the cause of the disappearance of that ancient simplicity in the present time? Is it not the Protestant Rationalism with which, in our day, so many so-called Catholics are infected? Is it not the spirit of rationalism and criticism that emanated from the Lutheran Revolution, propagated by modern false philosophies of the French, which, leading them to consider the things of God from a purely human point of view, kills their faith, and alienates them from the Spirit of God? The Venerable Louis of Blois, speaking of the Revelations of St. Gertrude, says: "This book contains treasures. Proud and carnal men," he adds, "who understand nothing of the Spirit of God, treat as daydreams the writings of the holy virgin Gertrude, of St. Mechtilde, St. Hildegarde, and others; it is because they are ignorant of the familiarity with which God communicates Himself to humble, simple, and loving souls, and how in these intimate communications He is pleased to illumine these souls with the pure light of truth..." (Louis of Blois, Epist. ad Florentium).

    Thus, may the reading of the approved accounts of these apparitions (especially during the month of November), profoundly inspire all who read them with a holy and salutary fear of Purgatory.

    Purgatory is, then, a transitory state which terminates in a life of everlasting happiness. It is not a trial by which merit may be gained or lost, but a state of atonement and expiation. The soul has arrived at the term of its earthly career; that life was a time of trial, a time of merit for the soul, a time of mercy on the part of God. This time once expired, nothing but justice is to be expected from God, whilst the soul can neither gain nor lose merit. She remains in the state in which death found her; and since it found her in the state of Sanctifying Grace, she is certain of never forfeiting that happy state, and of arriving at the eternal possession of God. Nevertheless, since she is burdened with certain debts of temporal punishment, she must satisfy Divine Justice by enduring this punishment in all its rigor.

    Such is the meaning of the word Purgatory, and the condition of the souls which are there.

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The Presentation of the Infant Mary in the TempleTHE PRESENTATION

History. This Marian Feast was introduced first in the East and then, later, in the West. In 1372 Pope Gregory XI granted it to the Papal Curia, which celebrated it the first time at Avignon. The Feast spread rapidly throughout the Church, and in 1585 the Presentation of Our Lady was made a universal Feast under Pope Sixtus V. Pope Clement VIII elevated it to the rank of double major and re-elaborated its Office.

    Liturgical writers call our attention to the fact that Holy Mother Church does not intend merely to honor the fact of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s abode in the Temple; rather, She especially wants us to consider Our Lady's virtues as a child and as a young girl.

Her Holy Purpose. The Blessed Virgin Mary consecrated herself to God at the very dawn of her existence. Already in her first years, then as a child and as a young girl, she was a living lesson to all girls and young women. She was a beautiful portrait of modesty, of prudence, of obedience, of faith, of kindness, and of charity. She was exemplary for her spotless purity, her self-denial, her temperance in speech, and her moderation in food and repose, so as to dedicate the greater part of her time to the meditation of holy things.

    According to many authors, there was a type of feminine institute at the Temple of Jerusalem for girls and young women. The maidens served in the Temple and received a good formation, spiritual and practical.

    Three reasons, in particular, accounted for the large number of girls at the Temple: 1. Their parents desired to remove them from dangers and to provide for their proper formation. 2. Their innocence would thus be protected. 3. They could attend to the making of sacred vestments, to the cleaning of the house of God, and to prayer for their people.

    The Blessed Virgin Mary, also, when still an infant (according to the ancient meaning of that word), was presented to the Temple by her parents, and offered to God in the ‘morning’ of her life: "The stream of the river maketh the City of God joyful: the most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle. God is in the midst thereof, it shall not be moved: God will help it in the morning early. " (Psalm 45:5-6) The ‘City of God’ of which the Psalmist speaks is none other than the young Virgin, soon-to-be Mother of God.

    The Lord God willed to prepare this tender Virgin for the great Mystery to come, for the sublime dignity of Mother of God, and His grace rendered her ever more perfectly suited for it. He had already made her Immaculate and superior in sanctity even to the Angels. But from the time of her Conception until her fourteenth year, she continually increased in sanctity and in grace until she was deemed worthy of receiving the only-begotten Son of God. The Eternal Father prepared this Chalice, this Pyx of purest gold, to deposit in it His Son, the living Host. The Abbot Robert wrote: "In her first sanctification Mary was similar to the dawn, in the Conception of her Son she was similar to the light; in death she was similar to the sun." Thus does he describe the lifelong increase of grace and supernatural holiness with which the Immaculate Virgin was adorned.

The Event. The Infant Mary was taken to the Temple at the age of three years, and according to the holy Bishop and martyr St. Evodius (successor of St. Peter at Antioch), she spent ten years there.

    St. Francis de Sales beautifully describes her journey to the Temple: "When Mary went to the Temple to consecrate herself to God she was carried part of the way by St. Joachim and St. Anne, and she walked the rest of the way. Of course, her parents always helped her and put her down only when the road was smooth and level. The heavenly little child would then hold out her hands to them so that they would hold her up lest she stumble. When the road became rough, St. Joachim and St. Anne would again take her in their arms, and then allow her to her walk again after a while. They did this not so much that they might rest--for them, it was an ineffable delight to carry her--but, rather, for the great pleasure they experienced at seeing her walking alone."

    According to St. Germanus of Constantinople, the Priest who received the little Virgin from the hands of her parents was St. Zachary, the future father of St. John the Baptist, Precursor of the Messiah. And, trembling with joy, Mary entered the Temple. She was young in age but perfect in grace and unique in sanctity. St. John Damascene exclaims, "The heavenly Child, transplanted from her paternal home to the holy Temple, became, so to speak, the home of all virtues."

    She diligently studied the sacred books from which she derived food for her faith and nourishment for her piety. She was always absorbed in her God; she meditated upon Divine truths with such fervor and clearness of mind that she even remembered them in her sleep.

    Besides studying the sacred books, Mary learned in the Temple to weave wool and linen, and to work with gold and silk.

    Her bearing was serious and distinguished. She spoke wisely and listened attentively. She was always affable and respectful with all, and her every action bore the imprint of a truly Divine grace. "For this reason," writes St. Bridget, "the Holy Ghost was always close to Mary, like the vigilant bee hovering over a rosebud from early morning, waiting for the sun’s rays to cause it to open."

    We can imagine the Immaculate Virgin Mary chanting the Psalms and joining in the public prayers. How devout her prayer must have been! The Angels of Heaven certainly must have descended to contemplate her. We can imagine her among her companions at recreation: what charity, kindness, and goodness she must have shown! She was a fragrant violet who left behind the heavenly perfume of her virtues wherever she went.

The Breviary Account. "Joachim was joined in marriage to Anne, a most virtuous and praiseworthy woman. Like the first Anne, who was tried by the affliction of sterility but bore Samuel through prayer and a vow, Joachim’s wife bore the Mother of God with supplications and a promise, that not even in this might she be different from any of the most illustrious women. Thus, grace (for the name Anne means grace) gave birth to the Lady (for the name Mary means Lady). The Blessed Virgin truly became the Lady of all creatures, by becoming the Mother of the Savior.

    "She first saw the light of day in Joachim’s house… and later was brought to the Temple. Thus planted in the house of God and nourished by the Holy Ghost, she, like a fertile olive tree, became the sanctuary of every virtue. Her heart was entirely free from the desires of this life and of the flesh. She preserved virginity of soul and of body, as was befitting the one who was to receive God into her womb.

    "Such was Mary that her life is a model for all. If the reader will not be displeased, we shall demonstrate the truth of this statement, in order that whoever aspires to her reward may imitate her example. How many virtues sparkle in this one Virgin! She is a mystery of modesty, of intrepid faith, and of reverent piety. As a virgin, she lives at home; as a wife, she is all immersed in domestic cares; and as a mother, she accompanies her Son to the Temple. How many virgins she will help! How many she will embrace and lead to the Lord, saying: ‘Behold the bride of my Son, the one who has always preserved herself His worthy and faithful spouse.’

    "And what shall we say of her rigorous abstinence and numerous good works--abstinence which left nature’s needs barely satisfied, and good works which almost seemed beyond the powers of nature? She took no respite from labor, and she fasted every day. When she did permit herself to take something, it was always the most ordinary food and only enough to sustain herself. She never took anything merely to satisfy her own tastes. She slept only out of necessity, never to gratify nature, and even while her body rested, her spirit remained alert, dwelling upon things she had read, or continuing thoughts that had been interrupted by sleep, or reviewing what she had already done, or planning what was yet to be done."

Spiritual Fruits to be Drawn from our Reflection on this Feast

  1. This Feast was and is especially dear to educational institutions for both boys and girls. It should be even dearer, however, to all girls and young women, and to all those entrusted with their formation.
  2. One of the most grave responsibilities of parents, educators, teachers, and priests is that of preserving the purity of young girls, forming them to piety, to study, to their role in the family, and to Christian virtues. If girls are well-behaved, devout, responsible to their family obligations and to their work, and desirous of acquiring virtue, we shall be rewarded with wonderful benefits to the family, to the community, to the school, and to society. But this takes docility on the part of the girls, if they are to be properly formed.
  3. It is certain that in her education both at home and in the Temple, Mary was more a pupil of the grace of the Holy Ghost than of men. In fact, the Holy Ghost had taken complete possession of Mary in the Immaculate Conception. Hardly had she been betrothed to St. Joseph when the Angel appeared and greeted her with the words, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." St. Nicholas says that for an instructor, she had grace, and for a teacher, the Divine Word, Who formed her to be His Mother. From this we see how important it is for every soul to be docile to grace.

Her Readiness to Follow the Divine Vocation

    This is one of the most admirable lessons of this mystery. See Our Lady, a tender child of three years, saying goodbye to her parents, quickly climbing the steps of the Temple without turning back, and delivering herself to the service of God in the sanctuary. What sublime detachment at the age of three! How Our Lady hastens to give herself up entirely to the service of God!

    By an exceptional miracle, Mary had already at that age the use of reason. So deliberately, and quite aware of what she was doing, she hastened to the Temple. There was no danger whatsoever at home for her, for hers was a home of saints. She does not consider her tender age, at which she needs so much the care of a father and, far more, that of a mother. She does not stop at the thought of the sorrow which her absence will be to Her good parents. She is not preoccupied about the new kind of life she is going to undertake. All these considerations are those of merely human prudence. But she has heard the Voice of God and immediately flies to answer it. The sooner the better. All delay is too great for her. She climbs rapidly the flight of steps which leads to the Temple. What a beautiful lesson of fervor is given to us by that incomparable Handmaiden of the Lord. Do we try to serve God in the same manner? What do we do with God’s inspirations? Do we follow them with the same promptitude? Do we, like Mary, throw ourselves into the arms of God, blindly, confidently, without any preoccupation, leaving to him the care of the rest? Oh, that we shall all reach that absolute detachment from everything, even from ourselves, from our selfish way of looking at things, from our own judgment, so that we desire and perform only what God wills, and as He wills it!

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Defending Papal Infallibility

His Holiness, Pope Pius XII (d. 1958)    One of the most pernicious of all the heresies that are prevalent today is that which undermines and attacks the solemn dogma of Papal Infallibility. This dogma is the Rock of Peter upon which all heresies break and are destroyed, but if men refuse to listen to Its infallible Voice, they are quickly swallowed up by the torrent of error. Modernist heretics, of both the "traditionalist" and "liberal" stripe, attempt to stifle the clear Voice of papal teaching by limiting Its infallibility to a handful of solemn or extraordinary utterances by the popes, many of whom never taught in this manner. Since the clear and definitive condemnation of ALL modern errors are primarily contained in encyclicals and other ordinary vehicles of papal teaching, it behooves us to understand well that these documents ARE infallible teaching, and that to deny or reject them is to commit the sin of heresy, thus separating oneself from the Mystical Body of Christ. To that end, listen to the very precise words of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII on this critical matter. Note that what is underlined is an ERROR which the Holy Father rejects:

"NOR MUST IT BE THOUGHT THAT what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters ARE taught with the Ordinary Magisterium, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth Me" (Luke 10:16), and usually what is set forth and inculcated in these Encyclical Letters is already included, under some other title, in the general body of Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is clear to all that this matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians." Humani Generis, Concerning some False Opinions which Threaten to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine, p. 20 (1950) [emphasis added]

    All those so-called Catholics who try to "serve two masters" by taking a tolerant view of the current Modernist heresies, such as that of false Ecumenism, Indifferentism, and Liberalism, do so at the expense of their immortal souls; for these very heresies have been vigorously condemned over and over again by the INFALLIBLE TEACHINGS of true Popes of the last two centuries.

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