Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Can the poor souls pray for us?

In the month of November, it is fitting that we think on the poor souls in purgatory. While it is a matter of faith that the saints can pray for us, and likewise that we can pray for the poor souls, there is no little question as to whether the souls in purgatory can pray for us. While there is much popular devotion today – which seems also to be supported by the experiences of certain more recent saints (for example, St. Pio) – by which the faithful invoke the intercessory power of the holy souls, it is good to recognize that the majority of the tradition is decidedly against this possibility.
Granting that nearly every Church Doctor has either implicitly or even explicitly held that the poor souls cannot pray for us, is there any ground for imploring their intercession?
[Much of this article was occasioned by comments and questions regarding an earlier post on the nature of purgatory.]

It would seem that the poor souls cannot pray for us
The nature of purgatory is a passive purgation. The souls there are rendered entirely passive, suffering the purifying fires of purgatory. Thus, they are in a state of needing our assistance, and are in no state to give us assistance.
Further, we must note that the way in which a human soul naturally comes to knowledge of things in the world is through sense experience. By nature, a man can have no knowledge without sense experience.
However, the saints in heaven know of the occurrences on earth both through the beatific vision and the infusion of knowledge in their intellect. Yet, the souls in purgatory lack the beatific vision and also (ordinarily) do no receive infused knowledge – at least we have no reason to think that they receive knowledge in this mode. Therefore, the better part of the Doctors and theologians maintain that the poor souls know nothing of what is occurring on earth.
Thus, there is a double objection to the idea of the poor souls interceding in our behalf: first, they are not in a state to offer assistance to us, but rather are in need of our prayers; second, even if they could pray for us, they do not seem to know anything of what we are experiencing and would have no knowledge of our request for their assistance.
The witness of the tradition and of the liturgy of the Church
We must admit that the tradition and the liturgy give no reason to think that the poor souls can pray for us. At no point in the liturgy does the Church invoke the prayers of the souls in purgatory – rather, she prays in their behalf.
Further, there is no substantial evidence that any of the Church Fathers believed that the poor souls could ordinarily intercede in our behalf. Likewise, the scholastic theologians are decidedly against the idea. St. Thomas rejects the notion principally because of the fact that the poor souls are in a passive state and cannot actively pray. St. Robert Bellarmine adds that, even if the poor souls could pray, they would have no knowledge of that for which they ought to pray.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church touches upon this point briefly saying: “Our prayer for them [i.e. the poor souls] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” (CCC 958) The point here is that, once our prayers help the poor souls to attain to heaven, then they will be able to intercede for us.
A further consideration from St. Alphonsus
Yet, all this notwithstanding, there is the simple fact that many saints have claimed that the poor souls do regularly intercede for them. Thus, we must attempt to understand what is occurring. In this matter, we turn to the great Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori (from The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection):
“Again, it is disputed whether there is any use in recommending one’s self to the souls in purgatory. Some say that the souls in that state cannot pray for us; and these rely on the authority of St. Thomas, who says that those souls, while they are being purified by pain, are inferior to us, and therefore ‘are not in a state to pray for us, but rather require cur prayers.’
“But many other Doctors, as Bellarmine, Sylvius, Cardinal Gotti, Lessius, Medina and others affirm with great probability, that we should piously believe that God manifests our prayer to those holy souls in order that they may pray for us; and that so the charitable interchange of mutual prayer may be kept up between them and us. Nor do St. Thomas’ words present much difficulty; for, as Sylvius and Gotti say, it is one thing not to be in a state to pray, another not to be able to pray.
“It is true that those souls are not in a state to pray, because, as St. Thomas says, while suffering they are inferior to us, and rather require our prayers; nevertheless, in this state they are well able to pray, as they are friends of God. If a father keeps a son whom he tenderly loves in confinement for some fault; if the son then is not in a state to pray for himself, is that any reason why he cannot pray for others? and may he not expect to obtain what he asks, knowing, as he does, his father's affection for him?
“So the souls in purgatory, being beloved by God, and confirmed in grace, have absolutely no impediment to prevent them from praying for us. Still the Church does not invoke them, or implore their intercession, because ordinarily they have no cognizance of our prayers. But we may piously believe that God makes our prayers known to them; and then they, full of charity as they are, most assuredly do not omit to pray for us. St. Catharine of Bologna, whenever she desired any favor, had recourse to the souls in purgatory, and was immediately heard. She even testified that by the intercession of the souls in purgatory she had obtained many graces which she had not been able to obtain by the intercession of the saints.”
Can the poor souls pray for us?
Generally, we must say, “no” the poor souls cannot pray for us. In the ordinary course of things, the poor souls are neither in the state to pray in our behalf, nor have they knowledge of our needs or our prayers.
However, there is no reason to think that God could not grant special dispensations to certain of the poor souls at times. Thus it was that, according to the testimony of several saints, some poor souls have heard and answered the prayers of the living.
Still, this is not in the norm and the Church does not at this time recommend a regular habit of asking for the prayers and intercession of the poor souls. Rather, especially in the month of November, we are to recall our duty to pray for them – certainly, the soul which is freed from purgatory by our prayers, will not fail to reward us with many blessings.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.


Kuba said...

Just a quick remark. In the discussion over the Talents you spoke very harshly against any "anthropomorphic approach" to theology (in responce to Leo's comment). And here you quote St Alphonsus that uses this very same approach.

"If a father keeps a son whom he tenderly loves in confinement for some fault; if the son then is not in a state to pray for himself, is that any reason why he cannot pray for others? and may he not expect to obtain what he asks, knowing, as he does, his father's affection for him? "

Could you comment on when this sort of approach is acceptable and when it's missing the mark.

Father S. said...


This is decidedly an open question. While you may say that "nearly every Church Doctor has...held that the poor souls cannot pray for us," there are still those who assert that they can. Further, they are not lightweights.

Here is an exceprt from St. Alphonsus' (The Doctor Zelantissimus) "The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection": (1.3.2)

"Again, it is disputed whether there is any use in recommending one's self to the Souls in Purgatory. Some say that the Souls in that state cannot pray for us; and these rely on the authority of St. Thomas, who says that those Souls, while they are being purified by pain, are inferior to us, and therefore are not in a state to pray for us, but rather require our prayers. [2. 2. q. 83, a. 2] But many other Doctors, as Bellarmine, [De Purg. 1. 2. c. 15] Sylvius, [In Suppl. q. 71, a. 6] Cardinal Gotti, [De St. an. p. vit. q. 4, d. 2] Lessius, [De Just. 1. 2, c. 37, d. 5] Medina and others, affirm with great probability, that we should piously believe that God manifests our prayer to those holy souls, in order that they may pray for us; and that so the charitable interchange of mutual prayer may be kept up between them and us."

Here, too, is an excerpt from Francisco Suarez (not a Doctor) and his "De Poenitentia":

Maxime quia illae animae sunt sanctae et carae Deo nosque ex charitate diligunt et noslri recordantur noruntque saltem generaliter ea pericula in quibus versamur et quantum indigeamus divina ope et auxilio cur ergo non orabunt etiamsi alias suis pcenis solvanl quod debent?

(You may note that these are simply expanded references from the Catholic Encyclopedia artice on this subject.)

As I mentioned to begin with, this is an open question. A definitive answer is speculative, though not fruitless.

Kind Regards.

Denise said...


You might want to keep this personal, but my 10 year old son, hears from 3 Holy Souls daily and last Sunday Mary told him that his suffering would be for them and he heard from new ones on Monday. They warn him, instruct him, even admonished him once. They answer some of his questions and seem to know absolutely everything about his life, even what he is thinking at times. I know this is all private revelation but they even help us with prayers that we should say because my son has to also deal with lots of attacks of the evil one. My take is the Holy Souls know whatever God wants them to know and they are the most wonderful friends in the world to have.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S,
Yes, thank you for the citation from St. Alphonsus - you will notice that the same text is quoted in my article above, but without the references to the works of the other theologians (so thank you for adding those).

It is primarily on the authority of Alphonsus and also on account of the testimony of many saints that I believe that the poor souls can, with special divine permission, pray on our behalf -- however, I do not think that this is in the norm; and we ordinarily ask the prayers of the saints rather than of the poor souls.

Peace to you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You ask and excellent and very insightful question! :-)

The truth is that we can use anthropomorphic analogies in theology ... we just have to be very careful. This was what I meant to say in the comments on the earlier article (on the talents).

However, I would also note that St. Alphonsus is here discussing not so much the nature of God himself, as the relation of the souls in purgatory to us on earth -- hence, the analogy to human life is more fitting.
True, he does compare God to a father who has detained his son, but the point being made is principally about the poor souls and not about God in himself.

The other article (on the parable of the talents) was specifically about the Divine Love in itself, and less about the interrelation of human beings.

Still, you are correct, there is some overlap here ... in truth, I don't find that particular analogy in St. Alphonsus' argument to be very convincing (precisely because it is an anthropomorphic analogy) ... though I do agree with Alphonsus' conclusion. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It will be very important for your son (especially as he gets older) to have a wise and prudent spiritual director to help him sort all this out.
In the meantime, frequent confession and additional mortification/fasting will be necessary for all.

Always, the key to holiness is charity - concrete acts of love for God and neighbor.

And, as you mention, it is certainly true that God will choose certain individuals to be special intercessors for the poor souls -- and this could be accompanied by various mystical phenomena.
Prayer will be very important! (and, as I said, a good spiritual director - for him, and probably also for you)

Peace to you! +

A Sinner said...

There's also the question of the ministry of the Angels isn't there? If we make it to heaven, we are said to reign with OUR guardian angel, so surely the Poor Souls still have theirs. Isn't there some sense in which their angels (even without an extraordinary intervention of God) could be "delivering" prayers to them?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Thank you for mentioning the guardian angels! Yes, most certainly, the angel guardians are with the poor souls and encourage them.

However, the human soul - when separated from the body - has no natural way of learning. Thus, it can only gain knowledge through the beatific vision or through the infusion of knowledge upon the intellect.
Of course, the poor souls lack the beatific vision -- which means that the only way they could know would be through infusion of intelligible species.
However, this would require a special grace; just as (even for the living) special grace is needed to receive infused knowledge.
Hence, it is not "in the norm" - not even the angels can do this without the special assistance of God.

Additionally, the fact remains that the Church does not ask the prayers of the poor souls, at least not in the liturgy or in any of her official public prayers. This also indicates that praying to the poor souls is not in the norm, but neither is it to be totally excluded - it is simply extraordinary.

I hope that it is a bit more clear! +

RFSjr said...

Please consider the following data in support of the notion that the souls in purgatory pray in some manner:
1. Catechism section 1689, referring to the celebration of the funeral mass, says:
"The Eucharistic Sacrifice. When the celebration takes place in church … the Church expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: …. It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," … by praying for him and with him."
Assuming the funeral mass does not effect a canonization of the deceased, it would seem that the deceased would presumably be in purgatory at the time the deceased prays "with" us.

2. Fr. Ludwig Ott expressly opines that the prayers of the deceased merit us based upon “sententia probabilis” (“probable sentiment” of the entire faithful, one of the lower grades of certainty).

3. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia Prayer at the site in an article caption "Prayer" says:

"Even the souls in purgatory, according to the common opinion of theologians, pray to God to move the faithful to offer prayers, sacrifices, and expiatory works for them. They also pray for themselves and for souls still on earth."

In conclusion, in my opinion, the souls in purgatory pray with and for us. I speculate that this would more likely occur when we initiate the conscious contact by our prayers insofar as they are helpless without our prayers.

Pax Christi

Stomachosus said...

It is interesting to note that Leo XIII granted an indulgence to a pray to the Holy Souls in 1889. It was removed in 1937, and certainly is not definitive, but I do think it adds support for those who claim we can pray to the Holy Souls. There were also several provincial in various countries in the 19th century that explicitly taught that they can intercede for us (Vienna in 1858, Utrecht in 1865). I find it interesting that such prayer as a devotion was becoming more widespread up through the 1950's and the Church never acted against it, though other than the indulgence in 1889 the Church universal never encouraged it either. I thought of posting the prayer, but it is rather long.

I note that Ludwig Ott in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma holds that we must say they can intercede for us based on their belong to the Church, though he only (correctly) labels the proposition a "sententia probabilis". But Pohle-Preuss in their dogmatic work weigh against it with just as much certitude!

One question I have is that I was under the impression that the separated souls already receive infused species, even in purgatory, anyway (not necessarily of intercessory prayer though). Is that not the case?

Anonymous said...

While I recall being taught that the poor souls cannot pray for us, I have in front of me a book with an imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat, a foreward by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. and an opening prayer of Blessed James Alberione to ask the poor souls to pray for us. o who is a Catholic susposed to believe?

Dan Buckley said...

We seem to have neglected those who were once in purgatory and now reign in heaven. Their gratitude is not to be overlooked, and if one asks the intercession of the souls in purgatory, might not those who have previously benefitted from the prayers of the supplicant when they were in purgatory be most attentive to his prayers now that they share the beatific vision?
Dan Buckley

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1914). I had not seen that particular quote before.
I will say that, if it was (as they claim) the "common opinion of theologians" in 1914, it certainly has not been the common opinion of theologians throughout the Church's history ... nor is it the common opinion of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Still, as I mention in the article, I do believe that the poor souls can intercede for us ... I only state that this is not the norm.

As to the citation from the Catechism ... it is clear from the context that the prayers of the funeral Mass are not pleading the intercession of the poor souls in behalf of the living -- likewise, the Catechism (in that place) says nothing of the poor souls interceding for the living.

As to the authority of Ludwig Ott ... even he states that the poor souls could only pray if they were giving special knowledge of our prayers "by Divine Revelation".

Again, thank you for the citations from Ott, the CCC and the Catholic Encyclopedia. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Regarding Ludwig Ott ... see my comment to RFSjr.

As to whether the poor souls have knowledge through infusion of species ... I do not see any reason to think that they ordinarily would receive such ... though, if you know of a source, I would be very happy to look it up!
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, and St. Thomas, I haven't seen anything to that effect; but I may well have overlooked something.

St. Thomas says very simply that, since they lack the beatific vision, they cannot (ordinarily) have any knowledge of things on earth.

Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am not familiar with the prayer of Bl. Alberione ... but St. Thomas Aquinas is a Doctor of the Church (and a saint, rather than a blessed) ... hence, he would clearly have the greater authority.

On the other hand, I believe that St. Alphonsus (also a doctor) takes the best road -- stating that the intercession of the poor souls is possible, though not in the norm.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ Dan Buckley,
Certainly, there is no question that the poor souls who are released and enter into heaven do pray for those who prayed for them.

However, this article discusses whether or not it is good to ordinarily request the prayers of the poor souls, while they are still in purgatory -- and we say that it is not in the norm, but is extraordinary. +

Fr. Savio said...

Father, perhaps we can add a consideration that Thomas may not have had at the forefront of his mind. Since the 13th century, there seems to have been a development of doctrine regarding ecclesiology, especially at Trent and Vatican II. Without giving an entire other article, I will simply float the possibility that our more robust understanding of the mystery of the Church, especially as communio caritatis, would lend more weight to the idea of the holy souls praying for us. they are still in the state of grace, and still part of the communion of the Church. Our knowledge of their actual state is slim. It seems that there would be good reason to suppose that, given the full weight of the ecclesial mystery of which they are still a part, that the holy souls could exercise some form of apostolate of charity - e.g., intercessory prayer. It seems to say otherwise would relegate them to being outside the Church, outside the communion of charity, unable to be an active part of the life of the Church in any real sense, i.e., charity. Their state would seem to be worse than catechumens or excommunicates. While I would agree that their suffering was more, I think their dignity in the Church and in the life of communal charity is far greater.

Anyway. Just some meditations on why later saints, doctors, and approved theologians would disagree with earlier. I think it has to do with a clearer sense of the mystery of the Church. I just offer that for your reflection.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Fr. Savio,
Yes! Most certainly, there have been some very significant developments in the field of Ecclesiology since the time of St. Thomas.

Still, I am quite certain that the Common Doctor would have rejected your statement that the poor souls must (or ought to) have "an active part" in the Church -- it seems to me that the primary nature of purgatory is "passive" purgation ... hence, the poor souls are not able to be "active".

Still, I think you are correct in your fundamental point ... and I believe that it is by the bond of charity that (by an extraordinary gift) God allows the poor souls to pray for us, though this does not seem (to me at least) to be in the norm.

Certainly, you make a good point. +

Stomachosus said...

Father, I had in mind S. Th. I q. 89 where St. Thomas talks about the knowledge of the separated soul. Particular interest is article 4 and article 8. He expressly states throughout the question that he is speaking of the natural knowledge such souls would have, and still affirms that the separated soul, like angels, understands through species received from the Divine light. That he affirms belongs to the separated soul by nature, and hence even the souls in purgatory. It knows singulars only in a confused way through this, and only those singulars that they have a disposition to know (through affect, former knowledge, natural fittingness, the disposing of the Divine order).

He does clearly explain in this why the dead don't know what goes on with the living, though he also admits exception to that (ad 1 of article 8)

Liam Ronan said...

For nothing is impossible with God...if the Church is one Body then are we to believe that one part of the Body is of no use to the other?

Brad said...

Part of me agrees with Fr. Savio, surely, but the other part naggingly reminds myself that supposedly the poor souls are no longer able to act out on choices for the good (prayers of intercession being such acts) or for the evil, i.e. they no longer have the luxury of using God's grace to, with it and because of it, act in faith, hope and charity, which is a graceful luxury that we enfleshed souls enjoy thanks to our wayfaring state. The poor souls are holy in the sense that they have met our Judge at the particular judgment and have been deemed passable, shall we say. But they are passive for now. Their passivity is no doubt a source of extreme consternation to them, since they still feel charity toward their fellow man. Perhaps this consternation is itself part of the purifying flame. Once they enter heaven, however, their prayers, acts, will beautifully flow! Of course, since we are talking about reality outside of time, perhaps the prayers of intercession they can and will offer from heaven can be applied retroactively to us here on earth, by order of a kind God who can do such wonders. Therefore, it would seem to us here on earth, according to our time frame, that the souls in purgatory are interceding for us "now", from where we consider them to be "now", in purgatory.

The preceding is just a layman's musing. I am sure I am very confused. It's hard not to be in this vale of tears!

Anonymous said...

While this article is about Holy Souls still in purgatory, we don't know (apart from canonized Saints and Blesseds) when a soul moves from purgatory to Heaven (or if a particular soul even made it to purgatory). Thus we do not know when to ask such souls to intercede for us. Is it probable that asking the Holy souls for intercession now leads to their intercession when they enter Heaven?

Is it truly a pious practice to drop/ sprinkle Holy Water on the floor to alleviate the pain of the Holy Souls in purgatory?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Liam Ronan,
Here we must recall that the Tradition does not hesitate to affirm that the souls in purgatory stand in relation to us as needing our prayers.
So yes, I think we can very safely say that - in the norm - the souls in purgatory do not pray for us ... still, we grow in charity by praying for them.

After all ... would you say that we are of "any use" to the saints in heaven? (clearly, they do not benefit from our prayers)
- hence, it is clear, that one part of the Body of Christ need not necessarily be "useful" to every other part -
Why should we be afraid to state that we do not (normally) benefit from the poor souls? Rather, indeed, we are of great benefit to them.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The question of the relation between time in purgatory and time on earth is a difficult one ... but we must assert that there is passage of "time" in purgatory (just as there is for the saints and angels in heaven), for only God is outside of time in the eternal "present".

Still, you are most certainly correct in affirming that God can apply a future prayer to the present moment. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am not aware of the practice ... perhaps others know something about this? - sprinkling holy water on the ground for the benefit of the poor souls.

Generally, holy water should be used to sanctify persons or things.

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, you are correct!
Thank you for the citation!

The poor souls do receive infused knowledge - just not (normally) about us.
Peace. +

Unknown said...

It seems that the poor souls "hear" in a different mode than the saints.

The saints have access to our prayers and all the circumstantial conditions of our requests through the Beatific Vision. As we all know, the poor souls do not have the Beatific Vision.

However, the poor souls do have charity, grace, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in their souls. So perhaps there is a way by which messages can be delivered to the poor souls.

Perhaps a helpful distinction would be to say that saints always do hear us and respond, but the poor souls can only do so by a special intervention via God, angels, or saints. This seems to be precisely what you saying. So the poor souls COULD perhaps hear us, but certainly not in the way that the saints hear us.

ad Jesum per Mariam,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for mentioning also the role that the angels and saints could play in this. Certainly they could bring our prayers (in certain circumstances) to the poor souls!

Further, you make a good point (which is really the fundamental purpose of my article, but you said it more clearly) -- when it comes to intercession in our behalf, the poor souls are not like the saints. +

Liam Ronan said...

Dear Father Erlenbush, I'll grant you my characterization "any use" was inept however, if there is more joy in heaven over a sinner come to repentance than 99 just who have no need of it then it might be inferred that the joy of saints can be increased by human action and therefore while 'useful' might not be quite right it might be argued that we actually can increase the joy of saints by our actions on earth.

Zevlag said...

Luckily we are touching upon this subject and I want to ask you this question which I have not gotten a direct answer. Having read books about saints, one common theme (if I can call it that) is that it is costly and difficult to release one soul from purgatory. With that being said, is the prayer of St. Gertrude the Great factual? Does it actually release 1000 souls from purgatory every time it is said? I tend to dismiss it because it seems too easy.

Howard said...

My mother used to claim that when she had difficulty sleeping, she prayed to the poor souls. I told her we are supposed to pray for the poor souls, not to them. But I don't think she agreed with that bit of theology.
One case where poor souls might pray for someone: if their purgation is due to injuring or scandalizing some person, this might be a major source of their prayers.

Veronica said...

I haven't read all of the comments, so forgive me if this was already brought up, but what about those "Novena to the Holy Souls" booklets? Are they useless?


Michelangelo said...

Dear Father Ryan,

Great post, but back the train up, Father! Have you explained elsewhere the concept of "time" for those in Purgatory and Heaven, with only God being "outside of time"? I always thought that once we died, we also left time as we know it... Do I win the dunce hat AGAIN??? Thanks, Father, I'm praying for the poor souls, God bless you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

As I understand it, the prayer of St. Gertrude is only found in certain manuscripts and not in the Revelations of St. Gertrude ... further, the promise is made solely to St. Gertrude and is contingent upon perfect love.

Still, it is most certainly a very valuable prayer and, I would think, that if it is said with perfect love it would free many souls from purgatory -- though, I doubt whether the average recitation of this prayer does in fact free 1000 souls.

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ Howard, You make a good point ... there could be something to the idea of certain poor souls having a special obligation in charity to some of the living.

@ Veronica, while I would say that the novena to the holy souls would ask for their prayers in an extraordinary way, i would not immediately discourage the use of that novena.
But I would say that our general devotion should be of praying in their behalf (rather than for their intercession).
Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ Michelangelo,
Certainly, after death, we leave time "as we know it" ... but we do not leave time all together.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange speaks well to this point in "Life Everlasting", chapter 12 on the separated soul, "eternity and time" ... see the link to this work in the right tab.

Peace to you always! +

A Sinner said...

"Of course, the poor souls lack the beatific vision -- which means that the only way they could know would be through infusion of intelligible species. However, this would require a special grace; just as (even for the living) special grace is needed to receive infused knowledge. Hence, it is not 'in the norm' - not even the angels can do this without the special assistance of God."

Ah, see, I lean more towards the belief that it IS within the natural powers of the angels to infuse intelligible species (to lower spirits). After all, that's their manner of communicating with each other is it not? The infusion "downwards" of knowledge?

Maybe you have some reason, but if they do it naturally with each other, I'm not sure why they couldn't naturally with human souls.

Furthermore, there is the question of demons. Of course, we must say, "allowing a demon to interact with a person must be allowed by God"...but EVERYTHING must be allowed by God in the general sense of Providence. I think it's odd to think of things like as if God is giving "special graces" when demons possess someone (which I take to mean a certain type of infusing of knowledge.)

In fact, I thought that one of the whole points of guardian angels is that they protect all people (generally, unless for reason of sin or testing God has the angel "step down") from demonic influence or infusion (because, after all, only one angel can act on one "place" at a given time, so if my soul is already being guarded by my angel, a demon can't come in).

If there are reasons this position can't be possible, I would like to know them, but it seems to me that if angels have to rely on a direct act of God to communicate with a lower spirit every time...this would be quite a "gulf" in creation, given that we as humans can easily interact with animals and vegetables and minerals even just under our natural powers.

pepin the short said...

Growing up I was always thought that we can pray for souls in purgatory and they can pray for us. They can't, however, pray for themselves - for their own needs. Anybody else remembers this...?

Brad said...

Pepin, I agree with that. Praying for oneself is a luxury afforded by the wayfaring state. The poor souls are no longer wayfaring.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@pepin and brad,
I guess I'm just wondering how you would explain the idea that the poor souls are able to pray ... but just not for themselves.
This seems very odd ... for, if a man cannot help himself, how is it that he helps another?
Even Christ, through his Cross, merited first his own glory (i.e. the Resurrection) and then the salvation of others.

If the poor souls are able to pray, and this is in the norm -- how is it that they are unable to pray for themselves?

My explanation (which is really that of St. Alphonsus) would explain this by saying that, when the poor souls do pray for us, it is by a special divine dispensation and is not part of their normal abilities.

Liam Ronan said...

If anything this blog posting has provoked a sort of sensus fidelium and, if I'm not too obtuse, the sensus seems to hold for the belief that the Poor Souls (often our nearest, dearest, and closest in life) do not expunge us from their thoughts and prayers even while in Purgatory.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please do note that several of the comments have been in agreement ... I will not take the time to go back and count, but it is certainly not as though all those here speaking believe that the poor souls can ordinarily pray for us.

Further, the sensus fidelium is generally expressed through the sacred Liturgy ... and we see no reference there to the intercession of the poor souls.
Finally, the "sensus fidelium" is more than just those gathered at any one moment (especially, in a time like ours which is so ill-catechized) ... rather, we must look to the whole of the tradition ... and we see almost nothing of praying to the poor souls (at least not for the vast majority of the Church's history).

Still, I am inclined to think that the poor souls can pray for us by the special dispensation of God, in certain extraordinary circumstances.
Peace! +

Anonymous said...

@FR Erlenbush: I suppose it's because once you have died you have 'sealed your fate', in that you have chosen to go to heaven or hell by accepting or refusing God; you can ever change that. Maybe by the same reasoning souls can't pray for themselves because that would constitute accelerating their purging process and in away would be altering their heavenly-ordained time in purgatory. Others, however, can ask for the mercy of Heaven to intercede on their behalf and shorten the process. I don't know, but besides my parents I received my religious education through diocesian priests and the nuns of Don Bosco and they sure knew their onions... :) pepin the short

Anonymous said...

Your site does not always allow one to log in under a name and to word-verify

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I understand that there is some problem with that ... which I why I request that (at the very least) the pseudonym be left at the bottom of the comment ... like so ....

- Fr. Ryan

A Sinner said...

"Further, the sensus fidelium is generally expressed through the sacred Liturgy ... and we see no reference there to the intercession of the poor souls."

Why would we expect to see it though?

We do see references to all the unknown (ie, not publicly canonized). Though we do not invoke them as individuals in public prayer, yet we know that there are many saints who are known "only to God" and in fact this is in some sense the point of All Saints.

I admit it may seem a bit odd to pray too the Poor Souls AS Poor Souls specifically. BUT, they are also "Holy Souls," their salvation is assured, and I don't see any reason why they wouldn't be covered by the general sense that all the faithful departed are interceding for us even if we only "single out" canonized Saints in public worship.

"I guess I'm just wondering how you would explain the idea that the poor souls are able to pray...but just not for themselves.
This seems very odd...for, if a man cannot help himself, how is it that he helps another?"

I guess I'm not sure of the exact formulation "can't pray for themselves," either.

Of course, there is no longer any satisfactory value to their prayer. They depend on us to give them that, on the Church to offer up the satisfaction they are lacking (and this is why they are "poor" in the sense of poverty; they are truly beggars in some sense).

However, satisfactory/expiatory value for sins is one thing...simple intercession is another.

I assume the poor souls are praying generally speaking. If purgatory is an ascesis, as it were, then prayer (in the general sense of worship/contemplation, etc) would be essential to their eventual perfection, no?

Whether it can be prayer "for" anything raises some interesting semantic questions. Surely in some sense the prayer of the souls in purgatory is to their own benefit (by way of ascesis), is ordered towards their eventual perfection and attainment of the beatific vision.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
I think your comment shows well where this reasoning will lead ... for you end up concluding that the poor souls can (or should be able to) pray for themselves [which is contrary to the whole tradition].

Regarding the liturgy ... while we do pray to unknown saints (as on All Saints' Day), yet we never pray to the holy souls in purgatory ... this is the point you are missing: We only pray to the deceased insofar as they are in heaven, we never pray to them (in the liturgy) on the supposition that they are still in purgatory.

The whole point of purgatory is "passive purgation" ... they are not purifying themselves but they are being purified ... for this reason they are not able to actively pray for themselves.

The fact that you consider purgatory to be an "ascesis" -- which is generally thought of as an active asceticism, and active self-discipline -- shows that you do not recognize the essentially passive nature of purgatory.
Purgatory is not an act of asceticism ... it is the suffering of purgation (hence it is passive and not active).

Now, as I say, I am certain that the poor souls can, by the special permission of God, pray in our behalf -- this is not "the norm", but it could happen very often.

Peace to you. +

A Sinner said...

No, I assume it's in some sense like the passive purgation undergone in mystical advancement. However, persevering in prayer in the general sense (whether it is "for" anything or not) is surely still important for the living during passive purgations. Why are the poor souls different? Surely prayer could never NOT be good for someone. Or could it?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
I am delighted to see you connect purgatory with the passive purgations in the spiritual nights! You are most certainly correct in this insight (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange was excellent in emphasizing this as well).

However, I point out that in these stages, prayer is more a work of God than of the individual.
Indeed, this is all the more true in purgatory -- their communion with God is essentially passive.

Whether they are able to "pray" is an interesting question -- certainly, they long for God.
Whether they can normally pray for something -- I would say "no", since they are in passive purgation.

Peace to you! +

Fr PJM said...

Saint Robert Bellarmine (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv) taught that precisely because they are secure in their salvation, and permanently united to God, that they have a greater love for Him than the wayfarers, although he did not concede that they are aware of our particular circumstances.  The Tridentine doctor, Francisco Su├írez (De poenit., disp. xlvii, s. 2, n. 9), Bellarmine’s contemporary and fellow Jesuit, asserts more. He argues thus: “that the souls in purgatory are holy, are dear to God, love us with a true love and are mindful of our wants; that they know in a general way our necessities and our dangers, and how great is our need of divine help and divine grace”.

In the Bull of Beatification of Blessed Mary of Divine Providence, Eugenie de Smet, around 1957, it is stated that "it is the mind of the Church that the souls in Purgatory can pray for us."

In the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, St John Paul II states "Everything takes place between the individual alone and God. But at the same time one cannot deny the social nature of this sacrament [of Penance], in which the whole church-militant, suffering and glorious in heaven- comes to the aid of the penitent and welcomes him again into her bosom, especially as it was the whole church which had been offended and wounded by his sin."
How can "the Church suffering" that is, the souls in Purgatory come to the aid of poor sinners on earth? They cannot merit. But they can PRAY.

“Our prayer for them [i.e. the poor souls] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” (CCC 958) therefore THEY intercede.

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