Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why do the souls in purgatory suffer so? An answer from St. John of the Cross

The month of November is dedicated to the poor souls in purgatory. These holy souls are assured of their salvation and enjoy the possession of the three theological virtues, and yet they suffer greatly. Indeed, excepting only the pains of hell, there is no suffering which can compare with that which the souls endure in the purifying fires of purgatory.
The one consolation of purgatory would be the fact that it is only temporal and not eternal suffering which must be endured. Indeed, every soul in purgatory will eventually enjoy the beatitude of heaven. However, the souls which languish there are not consoled by this thought, for it seems to them that their purgation will go on forever. While they do truly possess the theological virtue of hope (and so are certain of their salvation), yet they are overcome by the thought that their current sufferings will go on forever and that God has abandoned them.
This is the teaching of the mystical doctor, St. John of the Cross. His experience of the dark night of the soul gave him light in this point.

Dark Night of the Soul, book II, chapter 7
Speaking of the sufferings which those who on earth suffer the dark night of the soul must endure in order that they be purged from every evil impulse and desire, St. John of the Cross compares this to the sufferings of purgatory. Indeed, the dark night of the soul is a veritable purgatory on earth, just as the unitive way is a quasi-heaven in the soul even while she remains upon earth.
“This is the reason why those who lie in purgatory suffer great misgivings as to whether they will ever go forth from it and whether their pains will ever be over. For, although they have the habit of the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—the present realization which they have of their afflictions and of their deprivation of God allows them not to enjoy the present blessing and consolation of these virtues.
“For, although they are able to realize that they have a great love for God, this is no consolation to them, since they cannot think that God loves them or that they are worthy that He should do so; rather, as they see that they are deprived of Him, and left in their own miseries, they think that there is that in themselves which provides a very good reason why they should with perfect justice be abhorred and cast out by God for ever.
“And thus although the soul in this purgation is conscious that it has a great love for God and would give a thousand lives for Him (which is the truth, for in these trials such souls love their God very earnestly), yet this is no relief to it, but rather brings it greater affliction. For it loves Him so much that it cares about naught beside; when, therefore, it sees itself to be so wretched that it cannot believe that God loves it, nor that there is or will ever be reason why He should do so, but rather that there is reason why it should be abhorred, not only by Him, but by all creatures for ever, it is grieved to see in itself reasons for deserving to be cast out by Him for Whom it has such great love and desire.”
How greatly do the poor souls need our prayers! They cannot help themselves and they know not how long they must yet suffer. As we come to the end of the month of November, we would do well to gain a plenary indulgence for their succor through visiting a cemetery and offering prayers in their behalf.

Eternal rest grant them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.


Liam Ronan said...

It sounds almost as if the Holy Souls are in a state of despair. It is an odd thing, but I was once told that it is the sin of pride to wallow in feelings of believing oneself unlovable by God.

Daria Sockey said...

St. Catherine of Genoa contradicts John of the Cross. She says the happiness of souls in purgaroty is greater by far than the greatest earthly happiness. I believe her work is available online. Just search Purgatory and Catherine of Genoa.

Clinton R. said...

It is tragic that the teaching of purgatory is largely non existant in the Church post Vatican II. How the Saints in purgatory suffer because there are not prayers for them. May Our Blessed Mother pray for the Saints in the Church Suffering. May Masses be said to quicken their entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. +JMJ+

Brad said...

The souls have seen, at the moment of the particular judgment, the Reason Incarnate for our faith, hope, and love. Faith is no longer needed, since they have seen Him. Hope is no longer needed, per se, since they understand that heaven will be theirs, having been pointedly assured by their Judge in His Mercy. Only love remains, the desperate, woeful love of one who finally and beautifully requites the love that God has for her, but is held back from being with her Beloved: the frenzied, sorrowful love of the Magdalen beseeching anyone in the dawn garden to help her find Him, to allow the force of her love to rest upon and with its Object. This is abject torture (we feel a glimmer of this here on Earth when we crave God or our loved ones) and is the great flame to be endured, the flame -- let us not kid ourselves -- commingled with the other flame, the flame of the crucible: the flame that burns away the impurities of the sort of sins the soul indulged in while enfleshed on Earth, in the parts of the body, mind, will and soul in which those sins were centered. This second, yet simultaneous, flame is sensory pain, most probably, but the soul is so focused on the distant Object of her affections that she not only hardly takes notice, but gladly submits to it: like a dove whose pinions are being burned in real time, she cares only for the soft Hand of her Master over yonder, and notices nothing else. Lord, mercy. We are afraid but trust You.

Unknown said...

So are u saying that the soul in purgatory doesnt have the fruit of the holy Spirit? No joy or peace?

Anonymous said...

This paragraph (excerpted) is confusing.

"The one consolation of purgatory would be the fact that it is only temporal and not eternal suffering which must be endured.... However, the souls which languish there are not consoled by this thought.... While they do truly possess the theological virtue of hope (and so are certain of their salvation), yet they are overcome by the thought that their current sufferings will go on forever and that God has abandoned them."

Are the souls in purgatory consoled by their hope or not?

Anonymous said...


Can you explain how the souls in purgatory maintain the virtue of hope while 'they cannot think that God loves them'? Thank you, and I will continue to pray for the suffering souls in purgatory.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are wrong ... the souls in purgatory have not yet seen God face to face ... they have not yet come to the beatific vision, and thus do have the virtue of hope.

This is the teaching of the Church. Re-read your catechism.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, the souls in purgatory have a most intense interior joy while also suffering the greatest paints.

Their pain is greater than any, excepting the damned in hell.
Their joy is greater than any, excepting the blessed in heaven.

This is also the teaching of St. John...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

They do have joy and peace, but this is a very interior sort of joy and peace which does not carry with it the consolations which delight the soul.

However, I would point out that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are actions which proceed from the Gifts ... since the souls in purgatory are wholly passive, they do not exercise the acts of the fruits, but they do possess the gifts in a high degree.

Hope that helps. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please use a pseudonym at least to claim your comment ... then I will be happy to respond.

jillmarie said...

Fr. Ryan, can you tell me if it is true that there are different levels of intensity of pains that souls may suffer in purgatory, depending on the life they've lived on earth?

Brad said...

Father, thank you. Sorry, I only meant that the soul upon her particular judgment has seen Christ in person. Not the Beatific Vision of heaven per se. :-)

May God bless you.

Gillock said...

It is notable that according to St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787) we may piously believe in the power of the Holy Souls to intercede for us through God making our prayers known to them. This statement comes from his book on prayer called "The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection" which is available online.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You may find an earlier article interesting ... http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/11/can-poor-souls-pray-for-us.html

I think it would be all together extraordinary (not impossible) for a poor soul to intercede for us.
In any case, the Church does not pray to the poor souls, but only for the poor souls.
(though, private individuals are free to pray to the poor souls, I suppose).

Peace! +

Anonymous said...

How would one have a love so great as to give a thousand lives or have such intense suffering due to deprivation without first having at least glimpsed God in a much more profound way than through the dark glass of this life? When St. John experienced the Dark Night, hadn't he already been brought to an intimate relationship with God through an unfolding revelation of Himself that included many consolations in the process? My take on the Dark Night was partly a weening from the consolations which themselves can become a seriously derailment. It strips one of any remaining attachments leaving only the love and trust with a will totally conformed to the Divine Will.

Fr. Nate Harburg said...

Relevant selections from Spe Salvi (Benedict XVI):

-Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves.

-But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.

-The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ.[39] The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

-The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving.

Bobby Bambino said...


I thought I remembered reading in "Life Everlasting" by Fr Garrigou-Lagrange that the main cause of suffering of the Holy Souls is that they know they will see God and desire this so much. In other words, the fact that they know they will experience the Beatific vision is the cause of their suffering... am I misunderstanding this? Is this compatible with the idea that the Holy Souls believe they may never be relieved of their sufferings?

Joshua said...

Fr., you may be interested in there having been an indulgenced prayer asking for the intercession of the Holy Souls.. It was indulgenced under Leo XIII, but removed in the 1930's. cf pg 513 of this http://www.archive.org/stream/newraccoltaorco00religoog#page/n522/mode/2up

There were also several plenary and provincial councils that taught they could intercede. So while I am inclined to St. Thomas's opinion here, there is some support for an opinion that they can intercede

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