The Saint Paul the Apostle Purgatorial Society: What Is It?

11-05-2021From the desk of Fr. Villa

In the history of the Church there have been associations of the faithful called Purgatorial Societies. Purgatorial societies are Catholic associations or confraternities which aim to assist souls in purgatory to get to heaven. One of the crises following the Second Vatican Council was ceasing to preach and teach the doctrine of the Church about souls in Purgatory and clergy and people starting placing the deceased at funerals in heaven, which is really Protestant doctrine.

When a Christian dies, Catholics believe, they may go straight to heaven if they lack any outstanding temporal punishment due to sins they’ve committed. But many Christians will go to purgatory first, where, by the grace of Jesus Christ, they are purified and prepared to enter into the presence of the all-holy God.

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Church reminded the faithful in 1979: The Church excludes every way of thinking or speaking that would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead. This includes homilies by clergy proclaiming that the deceased is in heaven. The only persons we can say are in heaven with any certitude are baptized infants and by common theological teaching canonized saints. The funeral Mass is offered precisely to provide the fruits of the Mass and the prayers of the faithful for the purification of the soul of the one deceased. Even if known to God, the person is in heaven, God will use that Mass and prayer for some other soul known to Him. People’s certitude in their own minds that their deceased is in heaven should not stop them from praying for that person and having Masses offered for that person since they could very well be wrong. Only God has absolute certitude about the state of any person’s soul and whether they are in heaven.

The Congregation also reminded the faithful of the following: In fidelity to the New Testament and Tradition, the Church believes in the happiness of the just who will one day be with Christ. She believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. She believes in the possibility of a purification of the elect before they see God, a purification altogether different from the punishment of the damned. This is what the Church means when speaking of Hell and Purgatory.

Eternal punishment for the sinner means the sinner who dies in unrepentant mortal sin. All souls in Purgatory are elect souls, that is to say, they are going to heaven but their love for God needs to be purified. Purgatorial societies seek to love neighbor spiritually by having Masses offered for and praying for and offering penance for the souls in Purgatory, especially those no one is praying for. God gives us a share in assisting in the salvation and purification of souls. This is vitally needed in the Church today where so many have abandoned Catholic doctrine or are unaware of Catholic doctrine about judgment, heaven, hell and purgatory. Many have become functional Protestants.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following: #1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this back in 2011. Some highlights: .- For Catherine (St. Catherine of Genoa), instead, purgatory is not represented as an element of the landscape of the core of the earth; it is a fire that is not exterior but interior. This is purgatory, an interior fire.

The saint speaks of the soul's journey of purification to full communion with God, based on her own experience of profound sorrow for the sins committed, in contrast to the infinite love of God. We have heard about the moment of her conversion, when Catherine suddenly felt God's goodness, the infinite distance of her life from this goodness and a burning fire within her. And this is the fire that purifies, it is the interior fire of purgatory. Here also there is an original feature in relation to the thought of the era. She does not begin, in fact, from the beyond to narrate the torments of purgatory – as was usual at that time and perhaps also today – and then indicate the path for purification or conversion. Instead our saint begins from her own interior experience of her life on the path to eternity.

The soul, says Catherine, appears before God still bound to the desires and the sorrow that derive from sin, and this makes it impossible for it to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God. Catherine affirms that God is so pure and holy that the soul with stains of sin cannot be in the presence of the Divine Majesty. And we also realize how far we are, how full we are of so many things, so that we cannot see God. The soul is conscious of the immense love and perfect justice of God and, in consequence, suffers for not having responded correctly and perfectly to that love, and that is why the love itself of God becomes a flame. Love itself purifies it from its dross of sin.

Theological and mystical sources typical of the era can be found in Catherine's work. Particularly there is an image from Dionysius the Areopagite: that of the golden thread that unites the human heart with God himself. When God has purified man, he ties him with a very fine thread of gold, which is his love, and attracts him to himself with such strong affection that man remains as "overcome and conquered and altogether outside himself." Thus the human heart is invaded by the love of God, which becomes the only guide, the sole motor of his existence. This situation of elevation to God and of abandonment to his will, expressed in the image of the thread, is used by Catherine to express the action of the divine light on souls in purgatory, light that purifies them and elevates them to the splendors of the shining rays of God.

The story goes that on the day Pope Innocent III died, or soon thereafter, he appeared to St. Lutgardis of Aywières in Belgium. St. Lutgardis is considered to have been one of the great mystics of the 13th century, known for her miracles, visions, levitation, and particularly adept teaching. When Pope Innocent appeared to her, he thanked her for her prayers during his lifetime, but explained that he was in trouble: he had not gone straight to heaven but was in purgatory, suffering its purifying fire for three specific faults he had committed during his life. And he made a desperate plea for help: “Alas! It is terrible; and will last for centuries if you do not come to my assistance. In the name of Mary, who has obtained for me the favor of appealing to you, help me!” Then he vanished. With a sense of urgency, St. Lutgardis quickly told her fellow religious sisters what she had seen and prayed for his soul.

Those who join the St. Paul Purgatorial Society pledge themselves to:

  1. Pray daily for the souls in Purgatory.
  2. Offer the Rosary once a week for the souls in Purgatory.
  3. Enroll names of deceased to be prayed for by the Society.
  4. Download the Manual of the Purgatorial

You can also buy the Manual at Loreto Press or on Amazon. Type in: Purgatorian Manual. Once a month a Mass on Sunday will be offered for the Purgatorial Society and the enrolled names. The Society is dedicated to the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Gertrude, and St. Catherine of Genoa. The Legion of Mary of the parish will be promoting and assisting the Society in this great work of spiritual mercy.

Read the Introduction of Dorothy Sayers Dante’s Divine Comedy Vol 2 Purgatory Penguin Edition paperback.

Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great: Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.