THE DARK TRIDUUM
I’ve come to think of the three days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls as a kind of “Dark Triduum.” And yes I know the word “Dark” is really just clickbait in this case, but I like it so I’m keeping it.
Rather than a “Dark” Triduum, it’s actually something of a “Human” Triduum, with each day corresponding to one part of the Tripartite Church.
Halloween gives us cause to reflect on the Church Militant, the human members of the Church who struggle here on the physical plane. This connection can be emphasized by the day’s connection with the Protestant Revolt and the Catholic Reformation that arose to combat it.
All Saints’ Day is the day on which we celebrate the Church Triumphant who fought their way past this “vale of tears” and merited eternal glory in the next life. These are the mighty heroes who now watch over us and advocate for us in our trials here below.
All of this brings us to today, All Souls’ Day, on which we remember the Church Suffering in purgatory. Today the white vestments and celebratory mood of yesterday’s Mass are but a memory, traded in for black vestments, the removal of the Gloria Patri and Judica Me, and the beautiful terrifying lyrics of the Dies Irae. The day is a somber reflection on Death, the Four Last Things, and any pains borne by those faithful departed now being cleansed with the guaranteed destination of Heaven.
As today is the conclusion of this year’s Human Triduum, let us turn our attention to how belief in the Poor Souls can be implemented in the practice of a Catholic magician.
WHAT IS PURGATORY?
We live in times where the average Catholic no longer knows his or her faith, so let’s begin at the beginning and work our way up from there.
In Catholic theology, purgatory is not a place but an intermediate state in which souls “not good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell” undergo a period of purification before being allowed into heaven. As nothing impure is allowed into heaven (Apocalypse 21:27), in the Catholic mind purgatory is an example of God’s mercy because it means a soul with a “speck of dirt” is not automatically condemned to hell but instead placed in a spiritual washing machine after which it’s guaranteed to see the beatific vision. In essence this just means it’s a longer way into heaven.
Of course, the technical explanation of purgatory is that it’s “where souls go” to purify guilt of venial sin, or the “temporal guilt” of mortal sin (“temporal guilt” means that mortal sin still leaves a stain on your soul even after confession). The Catechism mentions it during its discussion of Hell, and explains it thus: “the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled entereth.” (I, 6, 3)
The concept of purgatory is part of the doctrinal content Christianity inherited from Judaism. While Judaism has a number of differing views on the afterlife, one of the predominant beliefs we encounter is that hell (“Ge Hinnom”) is not a place of eternal punishment but a stage of purification lasting up to 12 months before the soul is admitted into “The World to Come.” This is the source of the “Mourners’ Kaddish” prayed in Judaism and the Bible’s encouragement to pray for the dead in 2 Maccabees 12:46.
Of course, Catholic purgatory is significantly different from Jewish purgatory: while the Jewish purgatory only lasts for up to 12 months, the Catholic purgatory can last hundreds of thousands of years unless the soul is helped by the faithfuls’ prayers or indulgences, remissions gained from pious works which shave time off a soul’s sentence in purgatory.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
In my own opinion (and only my own opinion), most baptized people probably end up in purgatory. This means our parents, families, friends, and others we care about. Theologically speaking, it’s also possible that unbaptized people may enter into purgatory (or even heaven) if they did the best they can with what they had and to the best of their knowledge. The seed for this possibility is planted in Romans 2:11-16 and is connected to what’s technically known as Baptism of Desire.
If my opinion’s right, then it means two things: 1) most of our deceased family members are being shown God’s mercy by way of purgatory, and 2) most of our deceased family members can use some help in being let out of the washing machine. Does not being a good blood-relative or descendant mean pitching in to help?
This tells me it’s important for priests to offer Mass for the departed and for the Faithful to pray for them.
WHAT CAN THE POOR SOULS THEMSELVES DO?
In Catholic theology, there has been debate on whether the souls in purgatory could intercede on behalf of the faithful on earth, even though they could not pray for themselves.
The Church herself has never issued a decision on the subject, and the Catholic Encyclopedia article on purgatory gives a good summary of the debate in the section titled “Invocation of Souls” so I won’t reproduce that here. What’s important to take away is that the invocation of souls known or suspected to be in purgatory was and is noted as a common practice, and for my own part I take the side of Suarez and St. Alphonsus that yes, they can intercede for us.
In fact I would go even farther and speculate that since the souls in purgatory are likely our deceased parents and friends, they are more likely to get results for us because we already have a connection formed by blood or honor.
We probably find the greatest treasure trove of information in Fr. Schouppe’s Purgatory Illustrated by the Lives and Legends of the Saints, where he tells us on page 263:
“The souls pray for us not only when, after their deliverance, they are with God in Heaven, but even in their place of exile and in the midst of their sufferings. Although they cannot pray for themselves, yet, by their supplications, they obtain great grace for us.”
Schouppe also quotes St. Catherine of Bologna as saying:
“When I wish to obtain any favor from our Father in Heaven, I have recourse to the souls that are detained in Purgatory. I entreat them to present my request to the Divine Majesty in their own name, and I feel that I am heard through their intercession.” (p. 264)
This quote has been copypasted all over the internet in various forms, one version being: “I received many and great favours from the saints, but still greater favours from the Holy Souls,” and another version: “St Catherine of Bologna assured her sisters that: she obtained many favours by the prayers of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, which she had asked in vain, through the intercession of the saints.”
Lastly, Schouppe quotes St. John Vianney on p. 265:
“Oh! If it were but known how great is the power of the good souls in Purgatory before the Heart of God! And if we knew all the graces we can obtain through their intercession, then they would not be so much forgotten. We must, therefore, pray much for them, that they may pray much for us.”
We also needn’t look far to find anecdotal evidence of the practice bearing fruit, such as this webpage (possibly a transcribed booklet?) detailing multiple instances of the Poor Souls’ intercession. We also have this webpage on “Ask a Catholic” which goes into a great deal more detail on whether the Poor Souls can do anything on our behalf and under what circumstances we can seek their aid.
HOW DO WE APPROACH THEM?
Having established that the souls in purgatory are helped by us and help us in return, we can talk about how best to approach them and ask their intercession.
The first thing to consider is the same thing we talked about in yesterday’s blog post about the Saints: you don’t start by asking for stuff, but you start by giving comfort and aid.
Develop a devotion to the Poor Souls as a part of your daily routine. This could be a set of prayers like those found in My Everyday Prayer Book, or it can be the versicles commonly said for the deceased:
V. Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine.
R. Et lux perpétua lúceat eis.
V. Requiéscat in pace.
In English, this says:
V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R. And perpetual light shine upon them.
V. May they rest in peace.
You can add these versicles to the end of your daily prayers, or you can say them at regular intervals throughout the day, meanwhile thinking wanting to help the Poor Souls (whether collectively or any one in particular) complete their purification faster.
Likewise if you have indulgences from some pious exercise, offer up that indulgence every so often.
When you go to Mass, afterwards make a donation at the votive rack and light a large candle for them. If you are a priest, then offer a Votive Mass for them on ferias when your schedule and the rubrics allow.
As with the Saints, work on modeling your life and behavior to be (or become) the kind of person the Poor Souls can be proud to call a friend and benefactor. In this case it’s even more important, because amongst the Poor Souls are your ancestors; this is more then friendship, it’s about your very bloodline. So be more than someone they can call friend, be someone they can be proud to call FAMILY!
As with the Saints, practice your devotion uninterrupted for at least three weeks before asking for favors. In fact I would suggest asking for favors less often, especially if your family has a tendency to become disapproving of their children. The power of their intercession isn’t based on a transactional “worship bargain” so much as on a relationship of love, respect, and understanding. I’ve said before this is Family, with the potential for all the dynamics and drama that word implies.
When asking them for help, there’s no formality needed. If you’re a priest you can say Mass, if you’re a layperson you can offer a Rosary or any kind of fervent prayer. In fact you can ask your Guardian Angel to visit the Souls to ask the favor for you.
Just work on building the connection, strengthening it, and keeping it strong. Ask only when you genuinely need something, and you should be well on your way to growing strong in your practice.
As today marks the last day of the “Dark Triduum,” or the “Human Triduum,” or maybe the “Autumn Triduum” since it balances out the Spring Triduum of Easter, we can see that we’ve celebrated and remembered a complex web of dynamics and interactions, and that mindfulness of our place within that web is important for how we advance both in this world and the next.