Charity for the poor souls
by Fr Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.
1. What is the foundation of the charity for the souls who are in Purgatory?
Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us the principle :
All the faithful in the state of grace are united with another by charity. They are all members of one sole body, that is, of the Church. Now in an organism each member is aided by all others. Thus every Christian is aided by the merits of all Christians. 1.
[…] Charity loves God, loves all who are now children of God, and all who are called to be His children. But the suffering souls are children of God and will be His children forever. The Blessed Trinity dwells in them, Jesus lives in them intimately. And whereas we love them all, we have special duties to the souls of our dead relatives.
The poor souls can do nothing for themselves. They can no longer merit or give satisfaction or receive the sacraments or gain indulgences. They can only accept and offer their own suffering. Hence they have a special right to be aided by others.
The foundress of the Helpers of the Poor Souls2, while still a child, said to her friends :
If one of us were in a fiery prison and we could deliver him by a word, would we not say that word quickly? The poor souls are in fiery prison, and our good God, to open that prison, asks only a prayer from us. Can we refuse this prayer?
[…] Father Faber remarks that work for the suffering souls is sure of success. As they cannot be lost, our work for them must bear fruit. To obtain for these souls the greatest of all gifts, God seen face to face, will, at the same time, increase the accidental joy of Our Lord, of His blessed Mother, and of the saints.
2. How shall we exercise this charity?
We exercise this charity by praying for the dead, that is, by offering our merits, our prayers, our satisfactions, our deeds of almsgiving, by gaining indulgences, and above all by offering Holy Mass for their repose.
The Church Herself gives us the example. During each Mass she prays for them in the Memento of the Dead. Further, she opens her treasures, the merits of Christ and of the saints, in the form of indulgences applicable to the poor souls.
Indulgences, says saint Thomas, offer chief value to him who accomplishes the good work. But they have a secondary value, for those for whom this work is done. Nothing hinders the Church from applying indulgences to the souls in Purgatory. […]
Perseverance, too, is necessary. Many believe too easily in the prompt deliverance of their dear ones, and after a period, say of a month, no longer pray for them.
3. Fruits of this charity
Masses, prayers, etc. offered for these souls in Purgatory increase our own store of merits : God is pleased to reward our least service.
And these souls, too, will not fail to aid us by their own gratitude in Heaven. Even before their deliverance, they pray for their benefactors. They have charity, which indeed excludes no one, but which imposes on them a special duty toward those friends. Their prayers are efficacious even if they do not know in detail our condition, just as our prayers for them are efficacious though we do not know their condition.
May we also pray to the poor souls? The liturgy does not pray to them [but only prays FOR them]. But we are not forbidden to pray to them, though we must give preference to prayer for them. Here is a sentence from saint Thomas Aquinas :
“The souls in Purgatory are not in the state of praying, but in the state of being prayed for.” […]
The parable of the Good Samaritan may serve as summary. He is moved by the misery of his neighbor, and reacts in the most efficacious manner. Hence he, too, merits the mercy of God : « Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy » (Mt 5, 7).
(From the book of Fr Garrigou-Lagrange O.P., Life everlasting, Saint-Louis [Missouri], Herder Book, 1952).