Thursday, March 22, 2007

Does Anyone Believe in Purgatory Anymore?

By Ralph Roiter-Doister

Does anyone believe in purgatory anymore? In this age where prayer life is regarded as a remnant of an obsolete monasticism, does anyone believe that prayer for the suffering souls in their place of expiation on the border of hell is a worthy activity? Is Fr. F.X. Shouppe's book, Purgatory Explained By the Lives and Legends of the Saints, likely to be looked upon in Catholic circles as more than just a horselaugh? Let's see. Here's an excerpt:
Faith does not teach us the precise duration of the pains of Purgatory. We know in general that they are measured by Divine Justice, and that for each one they are proportioned to the number and gravity of the faults which he has not yet expiated. God may, however, without prejudice to His justice, abridge these sufferings by augmenting their intensity; the Church Militant also may obtain their remission by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and other sufferages of the departed.
Regarding which, can anyone remember hearing a prayer offered, say during the General Intercessions, for the poor souls in purgatory? I haven't heard many. Oh, I've heard remembrances for a particular dead parishioner in whose behalf the current Mass is being offered, and I've heard general good wishes offered for "the dead", but that's not really what I'm talking about. "The dead" is a generic, even a misleading term: our prayer should be for souls, specifically, those souls suffering the pains of purification in Purgatory. Why the eschewal of clarity in the name of – what? -- delicacy?

Fr. Shouppe continues,
According to the common opinion of the doctors, the expiatory pains are of long duration. "There is no doubt, " says Bellarmine (De Gemitu, lib. 2, c. 9), "that the pains of Purgatory are not limited to ten and twenty years, and that they last in some cases entire centuries. But allowing it to be true that their duration did not exceed ten or twenty years, can we account it as nothing to have to endure for ten or twenty years the most excruciating sufferings without the least alleviation? . . . . Shall we then find any difficulty in embracing labor and penance to free ourselves from the sufferings of Purgatory? Shall we fear to practice the most painful exercises: vigils, fasts, almsgiving, long prayers, and especially contrition, accompanied with sighs and tears?
Fr. Shouppe then describes the "calculus of probability" of a Fr. Mumford, who mentions in his Treatise on Charity towards the Departed, that "according to the words of the Holy Ghost, The just man falls seven times a day (Prov. 24-16)". Thus, "even those who apply themselves most perfectly to the service of God, notwithstanding their good will, commit a great number of faults to the infinitely pure eyes of God." Pertinacious Papist, in a recent lenten blog topic, lists the seven deadly sins, and suggests the ease with which even good people fall prey to them. Fr. Shouppe does the same here:
Let us take a moderate estimate, and suppose that you commit about ten faults a day; at the end of 365 days you will have the sum of 3,650 faults. Let us . . . facilitate the calculation [by reducing the number to] 3,000 per year. At the end of ten years this will amount to 30,000, and at the end of twenty years to 60,000.

Let us continue our hypothesis: You die after these twenty years of virtuous life, and appear before God with a debt of 30,000 faults [presumably having worked off the other half], which you must discharge in Purgatory. How much time will you need to accomplish this expiation? Suppose, on the average, each fault requires one hour of Purgatory. This measure is very moderate, if we judge by the revelations of the saints; but at any rate this will give you a Purgatory of 30,000 hours. . . . Thus, a good Christian who watches over himself, who applies himself to penance and good works, finds himself liable to three years, three months, and fifteen days of Purgatory.
Suppose each fault requires a day of Purgatory? Good thing all of this is just an outmoded parlor game.

Fr. Shouppe has no problem with clarity, and no need for relativistic accomodation of various "readings" of purgatorial metaphors. He is just a simpleminded priest of the old school, using the mind God gave him to illuminate His truth in the clearest way possible. Find a place for his book in your busy schedule of lenten reading, along with the Enchiridion of Indulgences, or perhaps the Raccolta.