What Can Be Done for the Poor Souls in Purgatory?
Before attempting to answer this question I want to read a verse of Scripture. It is found in the book of the prophet Isaiah. I want to read it both from the King James or Authorized Version of the Bible and also from the Douay or Roman Catholic translation. In our Authorized Version we read in Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” In the Roman Catholic translation the same verse reads like this, “To the law rather, and to the testimony. And if they speak not according to this word, they shall not have the morning light.” There is a very slight difference, as you will notice, in the translations but the meaning is exactly the same. Isaiah, the inspired prophet of God, is telling us in this verse that the supreme test of every doctrine must be whether or not it is in accord with God’s revealed Word for that is what is meant by the expression, “The law and the testimony.” The moment one tries to press a doctrinal teaching upon mankind for which scriptural authority cannot be found it becomes perfectly plain that he is walking in the darkness and does not have “the morning light” on that particular subject. And so we want to see what the Word of God itself tells us about purgatory.
Before doing this, however, I want to read a few paragraphs from “Our Sunday Visitor,” a public national Catholic Action weekly published in Huntington, Indiana. The number I have here is that of November 7, 1937. This is the article that stirred my heart and made me feel that I must in faithfulness to God and the souls of men seek to give a clear unequivocal message so far as it is in my power to do so. “Poor Souls Depend on Your Prayers” is the title of the article, and it is written by Father Faber. He says:
“The very state of the holy souls, is one of the most unbounded helplessness. They cannot do penance, they cannot merit, they cannot satisfy; they cannot gain indulgences; they have no sacraments; they are not under the jurisdiction of Christ’s vicar overflowing with the plenitude of means of grace and manifold benediction. They are a portion of the Church without either priest or altar at their command.
“They lie like the paralytic at the pool. Not even the coming of an angel is any blessing to them unless there be some one of us to help them. Some have even thought they cannot pray. Anyhow, they have no means of making themselves heard by us, on whose charity they depend. Some writers have said our Blessed Lord will not help them without our cooperation; and that our Blessed Lady cannot help them except in indirect ways, because she is no longer able to make satisfaction; though I never like to hear anything that our dearest Mother cannot do. Whatever may come of these opinions, they at least illustrate the strong way in which theologians apprehend the helplessness of the holy souls.
“Then another feature of their helplessness is the forgetfulness of the living or the cruel flattery of relations, who will always have it that those near or dear to them die the death of saints. They would surely have a scruple if they knew of how many Masses and prayers they rob the souls by the selfish exaggeration of their goodness. I call it selfish for it is nothing more than a miserable device to console themselves in their sorrow.”
This article is written by a well known priest and appears in a paper which is recognized as one of the outstanding Roman Catholic periodicals of our day. I am rather a regular reader of the Sunday Visitor. I am thoroughly familiar with it for I always make it a point to keep abreast of all these different lines of teaching. I often find excellent articles in this paper. They are not all as strange and peculiar, and will you pardon me if I use the word “superstitious,” as the article I have just read to you. Let me read another article from this particular number which contains some things that I think are very excellent. The article is headed, “Holds Rebirth in God Is Needed.”
“Karl Adams, one of Europe’s most eminent Catholic writers, remarks that one of the reasons for our current distress is the superficiality of our Christianity. ‘There is something profoundly lacking in our lives,’ he says. ‘Why have egotism and self-seeking individualism been able to strike root so deeply? And why have they produced among the poor and the destitute that false and distorted idea of fellowship which is Communism?
“‘It is because we have been and are superficial Christians. In particular it is because we have for centuries failed to appreciate those immense forces, powerful to create genuine fellowship and powerful to maintain it, which flow from a living faith in the essential union of all Christians with one another and with Christ their Head, from the mystery of the body of Christ. We need a renewal, a renewal from the ultimate source of our being, a rebirth in God.’”
I indorse that article heartily. I might not word it exactly as the author has done but I indorse the meaning and I believe that we are cursed today with a superficial Christianity, people professing to be Christians who need to be born again, and that if all real believers could recognize their unity with Christ their Head and understand the mystery of the body of Christ and live in accordance with it, it would settle ten thousand questions for us. But right here I direct your attention to a very strange thing. In one article in this paper we are told of the essential union of all Christians with one another and with Christ their Head. In the other article we read of holy souls, Christians then, who are shut away in purgatory, for whom Christ can do nothing without our help, for whom the mother of Christ can do nothing, though the priest writing this article is very reluctant about acknowledging that. Strange, is it not, that he is not reluctant to say that Christ is unable to do anything for them but he does dislike acknowledging that the blessed mother of Christ cannot do something! As much as to say that surely her merits are such that she ought to be able to help those whom even Christ cannot help! What a strange thing when you think of what holy Scripture tells us, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). Imagine any one supposing that the mother of Jesus could do for needy souls in purgatory or anywhere else what Christ himself is unable to do.
But now in trying to answer this question, “What can be done for the poor souls in purgatory?” several other questions press their way to the front.
First, Are there any souls in purgatory? According to the teaching that is suggested by this article, there are and they are holy souls. In other words, they are Christians, people who, to use the language of Roman Catholic theology, have died in venial sin but not in mortal sin. They are not lost forever, therefore they are not in hell but they are not good enough to go to heaven, and so are supposed to be in an intermediate place called purgatory. Where do we read anything about holy souls in purgatory in the Bible? Remember our text, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Never mind if the most venerable Church authorities teach certain things, if they cannot be found in the Word of God there is no light in them, and we are called upon to reject them. The fact of the matter is that you can search your Bible (and I hold the two versions in my hand) from cover to cover and you will never find a syllable about holy souls in purgatory.
There is nothing in the Old Testament, there is nothing in the New Testament that speaks of holy souls in purgatory. Quite the contrary, for the New Testament clearly and definitely locates all believers, all real Christians (and no one else ought to be called a holy soul but one who has been set apart to God in the infinite value of the atoning blood of Christ), in one of two places. Let me read from the 3rd chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, verses 14 and 15, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.” What does he mean by the whole family? All who have been born of God. Let me read the Roman Catholic translation of that passage which makes it even plainer, “For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity (that is, all who know God as Father) in heaven and earth is named.” Observe, if there is anything in the doctrine enunciated by the Roman Catholic Church about holy souls being in purgatory, this is the place to speak of it. You would have expected the apostle Paul to say, “The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and in purgatory and on earth is named” but he leaves out the second place and mentions only heaven and earth. The entire family of God is located in one of these two places and so as you turn to Scripture after Scripture you look in vain for any intimations of the possibility of some holy souls being in a place where they are suffering punishment. Let me read from the 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians, from the Roman Catholic translation, “For we know, if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved (that is, if our bodies die, and he is speaking of Christians), that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven. For in this also we groan, desiring to be clothed upon with our habitation that is from heaven. Yet so that we be found clothed, not naked. For we also, who are in this tabernacle, do groan, being burdened; because we would not be unclothed, but clothed upon, that that which is mortal might be swallowed up by life. Now he that maketh us for this very thing, is God, who hath given us the pledge of the Spirit. Therefore having always confidence, knowing that while we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord. (For we walk by faith, and not by sight.) But we are confident and have a good will to be absent rather from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
Why does not the apostle here intimate that we must be very careful lest we fail to enter into the presence of the Lord in the hour of death but find ourselves in that half way house called purgatory? Simply because Paul had never heard about it. No such doctrine had ever been revealed from heaven to him. He speaks elsewhere, in the first chapter of the epistle to the Philippians, of what death means to the believer. He says in verse 22 and 23, Roman Catholic translation, “If to live in the flesh, that is to me the fruit of labor, and what I shall choose I know not. But I am straightened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better.” He had no thought of the possibility of dying in venial sin and going to purgatory in order to be cleansed. If I turn to our honest Roman Catholic friends and say, “How many who die go directly to heaven?” they tell me very few, probably some great saints get right through into heaven. I say, “Suppose the pope dies. Does he go to heaven?” “oh no,” they tell me. They are having masses still for the repose of the soul of Pope Leo XIII. He has been dead a long time and there have been several popes since but they are still saying masses for the repose of the soul of Pope Leo XIII. Paul knew that death for him would be to go immediately into the presence of the Lord. No Romanist knows where Pope Leo is yet, no one knows where this great scholar, and he was a scholar, this great church statesman, and he was a great church statesman, this great Roman Catholic theologian, and he was a great Roman Catholic theologian, is tonight. Think of the pitiableness of it!
When a child comes into the world the church of Rome baptizes him as soon as possible, and if you say, “Why is the child baptized?” the answer is, “To cleanse him from original sin and make him a member of Christ.” He grows up, and you say, “Is the child cleansed from original sin, is he a member of Christ?” They answer, “We do not know.” When he becomes accountable, about twelve years of age, he is instructed and confirmed and takes his first Communion and is supposed in that Communion to actually receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Lord Jesus into his own being. And when he comes away with a bright happy light upon his face, you say to his parents, “Is the child now saved? If he should die now would he go to heaven?” They will answer, “We do not know.” When he is conscious of sin, he goes to the priest and makes confession and certain penances are laid upon him. Through the sacrament of penance, through his own contrition added to the infinite merit of our Lord Jesus Christ he is supposed to find forgiveness. See him as he comes forth from the confessional or as he completes his penance and say, “Now is his soul saved?” And the answer will be, “We do not know.” He goes on through life making confession after confession and doing penance again and again and again, and at last comes down to death. As he lies there upon his death bed the priest is summoned and he gives him the Holy Communion for the last time and the sacrament of extreme unction and anoints him for his death. He passes away, and as he lies there with the crucifix on his breast you look down upon him and say to his friends, “Is he saved now? Is he with Christ? They say, “We do not know.” His friends arrange for masses for his soul, presumably he is in purgatory. Masses are said and paid for sometimes for years, and at the end of scores of such services you go to the priest and say, “Well, is our friend out of purgatory now, is he with Christ in heaven?” “We do not know.” My dear friends, how strange all that uncertainty when contrasted with the blessed certainty of the Word of God.
“I know” says the apostle Paul, “whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). And he knows nothing of souls in purgatory. He tells us that the moment a poor sinner puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ he is perfected forever before the throne of God. Hebrews 10 brings before us in a wonderful way the atoning work of our Lord Jesus and then contrasts that one offering on Calvary with all the many sacrifices offered under the law. Let me read the Roman Catholic translation, “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things; by the selfsame sacrifices which they offer continually every year, can never make the comers thereunto perfect” (verse 1). In what does that differ from those who depend upon the sacrifices of the mass week after week and year after year and do not know anything about being made perfect? “For then they would have ceased to be offered: because the worshippers once cleansed should have no conscience of sin any longer” (verse 2). When a man’s conscience is once cleansed before God he never again stands before the throne a convicted sinner. The worshipper once cleansed should have no more conscience of sin.
“But in them there is made a commemoration of sins every year. For it is impossible that with the blood of oxen and goats sin should be taken away. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. In saying before, Sacrifices, and oblations and holocausts for sin thou wouldest not, neither are they pleasing to thee, which are offered according to the law. Then said I: Behold, I come to do thy will, O God: he taketh away the first, that he may establish that which followeth. In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once” (verses 3 to 10). How dare any man say, in the light of that passage, that I need a continual sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
“And every priest indeed standeth daily ministering, and often offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man (that is, Jesus Christ) offering one sacrifice for sins, for ever sitteth on the right hand of God” (verses 11 and 12). He does not come down from the right hand of God to take His place in the hand of a priest. He sits exalted there, a glorified man at God’s right hand having made full and complete atonement for sin. “From henceforth expecting, until his enemies be made his footstool. For by one oblation he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (verses 13 and 14). To be sanctified is to be holy. The writer of our article, Father Faber, speaks of holy souls in purgatory. Holy Scripture tells us that by the one offering of Jesus Christ “He has perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
“And the Holy Ghost also doth testify this to us. For after that he said: And this is the testament which I will make unto them after those days, saith the Lord. I will give my laws in their hearts, and on their minds will I write them: and their sins and iniquities I will remember no more. Now where there is a remission of these, there is no more an oblation for sin” (verses 15 and 18). Neither on Roman Catholic altars nor Jewish altars will there ever be an oblation for sin that God will recognize for the one is sufficient and settles the sin question to divine satisfaction. Therefore, all who believe in Him are perfected forever, so there are no holy souls in purgatory!
Well then, another question, “Is there a purgatory?” We turn again to the Word of God for the answer. I may shock some of you when I say there is a purgatory. We read it in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, again taking the Roman Catholic translation, beginning with the first verse, “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high” (verses 1 to 3). This is the only purgatory we read of in the Bible and it is the purgatory of the precious blood of Jesus. It is not a purgatory of fire that burns out the remaining sin in a man who has died without being fully cleansed but it is that purgatory of infinite value, the precious blood that Jesus shed upon the cross which purges, which cleanses from all sin the one who believes in Jesus. Listen to this, “If we walk in the light, as he also is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Here is a man who has put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has been cleansed from all sin, he does trusting in the precious blood of Jesus. How much sin is there left to be burned out of him in purgatory? “The blood cleanses from all sin.” What an unintentional insult it is to our blessed Lord to intimate that the fires of an imaginary purgatory after death can do for man what the blood of Jesus could not do! I once heard a Roman Catholic priest say, “One drop of the precious blood of Christ is sufficient atonement for all the sins of all the world if men would but trust it.” I agree with that priest but I wonder how such a man dare tell people that even though they have trusted in the blood of Jesus, when they die they have to go to purgatory in order to be completely cleansed and fitted for the beatific vision. The precious blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. No, there are no holy souls in purgatory for there is no imaginary state known as purgatory in the Bible. The only purgatory is the precious blood of Jesus which purges from all precious blood of Jesus which purges from all sin those who come to Him as penitent sinners and put their trust in Him as their Saviour.
Therefore, we hardly need consider the third question, “What can we do for the souls in purgatory?” We cannot do anything. It is written in Scripture concerning all mankind, “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever)” (Psalm 49:7 and 8). Let me give you the Roman Catholic translation; it is in Psalm 48 in the Roman Catholic psalter but in the 49th Psalm in our psalter. The reason is that the two psalms are combined in the Catholic psalter. “No brother can redeem, nor shall man redeem: he shall not give to God his ransom, nor the price of the redemption of his soul: and shall labor for ever.” That is a little bit more confused than the one I gave you but it means just the same. There is no man able to offer any satisfaction that will make in any sense a ransom for the sins of his brother but it is not necessary because Christ has made complete satisfaction. He who knew no sin was made sin for us “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
With a heart filled with compassion for dying men I say to you, if you are uncertain as to your standing before God, if you are not sure that your sins have been put away, if you cannot say with confidence what Paul could say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), if you do not know that should you be called out of this world tonight you would go to be with Christ which is far better than anything earth affords, then I beg of you, come to God as a penitent soul, come to Him in repentance acknowledging your guilt, confessing that you are the sinner for whom Jesus died. Cry to Him as David did, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7), and be assured that the moment you put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ your sins will be forever put away. Listen to the words of the apostle Peter, and surely you will take him as an authority, the chief of the twelve, who said, “To him all the prophets give testimony, that by his name all receive remission of sins, who believe in him” (Acts 10:43). Who said this? It was the apostle Peter. When? When preaching in the household of Cornelius the gentile centurion, and the message comes to you today, “To him all the prophets give testimony, that by his name all receive remission of sins, who believe in him.” Saint Paul has already told us “Where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). And therefore, you may enter into the blessedness and the gladness of the knowledge of remission of sins if you come as a poor, guilty soul, confessing your need and putting your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul preached in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, and said, “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). Imagine a man coming down to death who knows all this, and the priest comes and says, “You are about to die and I have come to give you the last sacrament in order to prepare you for death.” What would he say?
An intelligent Christian would say, “My dear friend, you are too late. I am already prepared for death. That was settled long ago. It was settled when I put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“But I want to give you the last sacrament in order that you may receive Christ and be ready to die.”
“But I have received Christ and it is not a question of the sacrament.” (I personally, have enjoyed the privilege of remembering Him in the Lord’s Supper hundreds and hundreds of times but that had nothing to do with the saving of my soul). “I do not need any sacrament to fit me for heaven, the precious blood of Jesus has cleansed me from all sin.”
“Let me place this holy oil upon you.”
“But what does it symbolize?”
“It symbolizes the Holy Spirit.”
“I do not need the oil, I have the reality for Scripture says, ‘Upon your believing, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory’ (Ephesians 1:13 and 14). So I need no other priest than my High Priest above who is ever making intercession for me—
‘His intercession ne’er has ceased
Since first I knew His love’
and trusting Him I am going out into death in perfect peace.”
A poor woman dying in one of our large hospitals had been brought up in the Roman Catholic Church. She had not been a good member of it and now her sins were tormenting her and she was crying out in anguish, “My sins! What will I do to get rid of them?” A sweet faced sister of charity passed through the ward and seeing her distress talked to her kindly. “O, Sister,” the woman said, “can you get me a priest that I may confess my many many sins and be prepared for death?”
“Yes, I will go for the parish priest. But in the meantime let me put this Scapular around your neck. It may help you at least a little if you die before the priest comes.” And away she went.
In the meantime, as God would have it, a city missionary was passing through the ward and she heard the groaning, for the Scapular had not given her peace. She said, “My poor woman, you seem to be in great distress.”
“Oh yes, my sins are troubling me and I do not know how to put them away.”
“Let me read to you from God’s Holy Word,” and reading Scripture after Scripture she unfolded to her peace through Jesus alone, and finally the poor dying soul rested on the Word, “Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” and oh the joy that came to her. A few minutes later the priest arrived. He was a kind man and he had all his paraphernalia with him. He said, “Now make a good confession, in order that I may give you absolution that you may die in peace.”
She was very weak now but said, “Father, let me see your hand.”
He thought he mind was wandering and said, “Pull yourself together, you have only a little time. Make your confession that your sins may be forgiven.”
“Let me see your hand, father.”
Thinking that he better humor her, he held up his hand but her eyes were glazed and she could not see but she reached up her hand and felt his and then said, “It won’t do, father, it won’t do.”
“What do you mean, it won’t do? Do not waste the time, make a good confession that I may do all I can for you before you die.”
She said, “It won’t do. The hand of the One that forgives my sins has a nail print in it. I can’t find it in yours.”
Dear friend, do you know what it is to trust the One with the nail-pierced hand? He died for you. He shed His precious blood for you and the Scripture declares that all who put their trust in Him receive remission of sins.