Friday, 2 November 2007

Commemoration of the Holy Souls

Above: purgatory, not looking especially busy

I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!

(Hamlet, I, 5)

Of course now today when we are forced to talk about purgatory we are obliged to say that it's just like taking a hot shower, or, as one priest once said in his sermon on this day, like going for a haircut.

Why on earth would we offer the sacrifice of the Mass for souls who have nothing but a shower to undergo?


Elizabeth said...

Please remind me, which of our wonderful saints saw a vision of Purgatory and her description sounded very much (in my mind) like Hell.
And doesn't Our Lady visit purgatory to ease the souls' sufferings.
Give me a shower or haircut anyday!

The Holy Office said...


Good question! I think we can rule out St Catherine of Genoa (1147-1510), author of A Treatise on Purgatory, because I seem to remember that she held that there is no joy greater than the souls in purgatory save the joy of the blessed in heaven.

I hear that the Carmelite nun and mystic St Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi (d. 1607) had a rather more lurid revelation of purgatory. I don't really know much about her.

Other saints who are reported to have had visions of purgatory are St. Catherine of Siena and St Frances of Rome.

Thanks for reading my blog! I couldn't agree with you more about the shower/haircut idea being rather more appetizing.

At the other extreme I once heard an idea that the suffering of purgatory was caused by the belief that one is actually in hell: a momentary (?) experience of the pain of 'loss'.

I think that such an idea is abhorrent, and can't believe that God would punish us in such an awful and deceptive way, and one that in any case would cause the soul to commit the further sin of despair!

Mac McLernon said...

I definitely subscribe to the happiness idea... after all, if you fetch up in Purgatory, you know that
a) you are not worthy to meet God face to face, and need to be "cleaned up"
b) Purgatory is that "cleaning up" process and
c) you will definitely get to heaven

Obviously, being purified from all those little faults and failings is terribly painful, partly because, if it wasn't difficult we'd have done it during our earthly life, but mostly it's because of our shame in the face of God's amazing love for us...

Lee Gilbert said...

I don't dispute the existence or severity of purgatory in the least, but I've often thought that if some small part of the religious energy spent getting souls out of purgatory were devoted to getting souls *into* purgatory we'd please Our Lord far more.

If only we knew as much about how to evangelize and catechise as we do about the geography, population, temperature, and ambience of Purgatory, and how to release souls therefrom! In your local parish, how many Masses for the dead, whom we believe to be in Purgatory, but how few for those we know to be in a wayfaring state. When I have Masses said, they are overwhelmingly for the living, who are in danger for their immortal souls, while those in Purgatory are not. To me the logic of this policy is unassailable and I cannot understand- at all- any other.