In indulgences the eternal mercy of God is mani- fested as a most consoling truth. God gave to His Church the power not only to forgive grievous sins with their eternal punishment in the Sacrament of Penance, but also outside of this Sacrament the power to remit in part or in whole temporal punishment due to sin. But besides this power of the Church, the doctrine of indulgences shows in a special manner the faith in the Communion of Saints in its most touching beauty. This is especially so in regard to the communion of the faithful on earth with the poor souls in purgatory. According to the expression of the Apostle St. Paul the Church is the body of Christ, but He is the head (Eph. 5,). As in the human body all the members are not only united with the head in the most intimate union, but also among themselves, so that the whole body feels what each member feels or suffers, so is it also in the Church of Christ. She is united with her divine Head in a most intimate manner, and so are all the faithful as members of the Church united with Jesus Christ and among them- selves most closely. Therefore, the graces and merits of our Saviour penetrate the whole Church, the triumphant Church in heaven, the militant on earth and the suffering in purgatory, and flow over all the faithful who are united with the Church, just as the blood in the human body flows through all its mem- bers. In like manner the prayers and sacrifices, the merits and good works of the just and the saints flow out in all directions and benefit the faithful on earth by indulgences, and the dead in purgatory by inter cession. Holy Scripture says : " It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead." (2 Macch. 12,46.) If we consequently pray for them and if the Church by her priests can offer the holy sacrifice to God for the poor souls, why should she not also have the power to apply through the intercession of the faithful indulgences to the poor souls? Whoever would deny this truth, would also be obliged to deny that we could not in general pray for the dead and consequently could not offer the holy sacrifice for them. Such a denial contradicts the experience and the practice of the centuries and offends Christian sentiment. Precisely by the doctrine of indulgences the Catholic Church shows herself in her true light, in her true greatness as the one kingdom of God in heaven, on earth and in purgatory. By indulgences the militant Church on earth grasps with one hand the triumphant Church in heaven, with the other the suffering Church in purgatory. From heaven she takes the abundance of the merits of the sufferings of Jesus Christ and the Saints, and applies them by indulgences to the faithful on earth and applies them by intercession through the faithful to the poor souls.
Now if this truth is so firmly established that we, by intercession can apply indulgences to the poor souls on account of our communion with them, how great is our duty, my beloved, to do so as often as possible. Just as the Saints in heaven joyfully apply to us the abundance of their penitential works, in like manner we should compassionately come to the assistance of the poor souls, in order that God may lessen their sufferings, shorten or entirely remit them. Therefore I will speak to-day of the intercession for the poor souls and of our duty to assist them by indulgences in order that you may see indulgences in a new and touching light.
O Jesus, assist me with Thy grace.
1. The real object of the holy Catholic Church is the intimate union of the faithful with God. Therefore all the faithful have a communion among themselves. They enter into this communion by baptism and as its indelible mark lasts for eternity, so this communion continues in eternity for all who obtain eternal life. We live, it is true, still in this visible world, which is the battlefield of the Church, but we are nevertheless inseparably united with the blessed in heaven and with the poor souls in purgatory. Year after year the trium- phant Church in heaven receives new armies of holy Christians from earth and from purgatory. And the number of its blessed adherents exceeds by far the number of the faithful on earth. And who knows how many of our friends, acquaintances, brothers and sisters, parents and ancestors are in the number of the Blessed with Jesus in His triumphant Church ?
And in the same manner, my beloved, year after year the suffering Church in purgatory receives a great number of Christians who died in the state of grace, but still have much to atone for before they will be worthy to join the triumphant Church in heaven. And in fact the suffering Church also exceeds in extent and in the number of the poor souls by far the militant Church on earth with its millions of faithful. The suffering Church in purgatory is that holy kingdom of grief but also of sinlessness where the poor souls suffer, indeed, suffer severely, but in heavenly patience and with that marvelous silence which adores the Justice of God. They are holy souls in the state of grace who can sin no more ; they are the chosen of the Lord, the suffering sacrifice, who have submitted to the will of God, but will be tormented no more by the fear of sin nor doubt of their early coming bliss. Even the most bitter suffering of the poor souls is accompanied with the great est peace, which this world cannot conceive. No com plaints, no murmurings, no impatience overshadows this holy place, for they all persevere faithfully until their painful time of penance is past and the angel of God takes them and leads them into the land of their most ardent longing, into the kingdom of the blessed.
Yes, my beloved in Christ, if the quiet meek suffer ing even on earth is something most estimable and touching what a sight must the suffering Church in purgatory offer, this marvelous likeness to the suffering Saviour on the cross and of the sorrowful Mother of God? Therefore you will clearly understand that the poor souls remain in the most intimate union with Jesus Christ, with the saints in heaven and with us Catholic faithful on earth. Jesus Christ is the Head of all in the militant, suffering and triumphant Church, which is only one holy Church in heaven, on earth and in purgatory.
But yet let us not deceive ourselves ! The pains of the poor souls are great and terrible, and last long, according to the number of their sins and the great or little penance which they have performed on earth for them. No tongue can adequately describe this suffering, and no intellect can grasp it, for we know that they are almost equal to the pains in hell, but yet with this two fold difference that these pains are not eternal and that the poor souls are not tormented by despair. There fore their greatest pain is their separation from God and His bliss. The poor souls feel themselves power fully drawn to God and this power becomes the stronger the longer the separation lasts.
But what makes the suffering souls, truly poor souls, is their boundless helplessness. Neither the angels nor the saints in heaven can help them or make intercession for them, much less can the poor souls help themselves or one another. They can acquire no merits, make no satisfaction, receive no sacraments, gain no indulgences; no consoler stands by them and no charitable Samaritan relieves their pains. They can only suffer and do penance. They are a thousand times more helpless than a helpless sick person, than a paralytic or the little child, and present in their helplessness a wonderful picture of our Divine Saviour in His Passion on the cross. Their helplessness becomes the more awful, the more these poor souls are ungratefully abandoned and forgotten by their own relatives, friends or children.
2. Yes, my beloved in Christ, I repeat again, the helplessness of the poor souls in their unspeakable pains becomes the more terrible the more they are abandoned and forgotten by their relatives. If the angels and saints cannot help them, God in His adorable mercy has nevertheless imposed upon us Catholic faithful on earth the duty to help the poor souls. Therefore God has given us such a glorious power over the dead that their lot almost seems to depend more on us than upon heaven. We can sweeten the sufferings of the poor souls; we can lessen and shorten them, if we pray for them, have the holy sacrifice offered up for them, and especially if we gain indulgences for them. We can consequently apply to them the abundance of the means of grace which are at our command on earth and we can offer for them the merits of Jesus and the Saints, for they are in communion with us.
Just as the holy martyrs and confessors formerly interceded for penitent Christians who had been excluded from the communion of the Church and obtained for them the remission of their penance, so should we Catholic faithful intercede for the poor souls who are still excluded from the triumphant Church in heaven and shorten their time of penance. And this we can do in addition to praying for them and offering up the holy sacrifice and communion for them, especially by gaining indulgences for them.
Hear how a mysterious whispering rises from grave to grave, and numberless voices cry out from purgatory: "Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, at least you my friends, for the hand of the Lord hath touched me." These are the voices of the poor souls who cry to us for mercy, and our mercy is their one hope of help and a quick redemption from their pains. Redeem souls, my beloved in Christ, redeem souls from purgatory, which are precious in the eyes of God. Even if they are now victims to His Justice, nevertheless His love and His pleasure rests upon them.
3. Oh, what a thought, to be able to save souls, holy, precious souls, to redeem them from pain and before the end of the time allotted to their painful penance to lead them before the throne of God and into the circle of the Blessed! What a consoling thought for zealous Christians, thereby to glorify God and to rejoice the heart of our Divine Saviour by leading souls sooner to His Beatific Vision! Therefore the Catholic Church daily prays in holy Mass for the poor souls and grants to her faithful indulgences which can be applied to the Holy Souls. The Catholic Christian has nothing else to do than to faithfully fulfill the conditions of an indulgence, therefore to worthily receive the Sacraments and to perform the indulgenced prayers. If he has worthily done this he can offer to God the plenary or the partial indulgence for the poor souls.
Why, are there not many, who once loved us on earth, nourished, instructed and suffered for or by us as we may hope now they are on the way to bliss, therefore in purgatory? Parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends, teachers, benefactors, priests? Oh, behold, how they in the midst of their sufferings raise their hands to you and beseechingly say: "Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, at least you my friends." Lay your hand on your heart, my beloved, and let each one ask of himself : Is there a single soul in purgatory on my account? Is there no father, no mother, no brother, no sister, no friend, is there no soul there who must suffer grievously for my sake? who sinned on my account, whom I enticed, scandalized or induced to sin ? Who can, who will have the courage to answer: Not a single soul suffers on my ac count? Therefore, Christian justice demands that we help them as much as possible, confidently gain indulgences for them. Oh, how beseechingly do many parents look to their children on earth, how many brothers, sisters, relatives or friends look to those who belong to them and cry out: "have mercy on us at least you our friends." And if they do not receive help from those who owe it most to them, oh, how bitter is this cold indifference and heartless injustice !
4. In order that we may help the poor souls, God in His adorable mercy has given to us a power which even the angels and saints in heaven do not possess. We, and we alone can intercede for the poor souls, we can have the holy sacrifice offered for them, yes, we can gain indulgences for them. Therefore there are few devotions, which are so pleasing to God, as the devotion for the poor souls. There are few good works by which we can show such service and such honor to God as to redeem the poor souls from their pains and to help them on their way to eternal bliss. Behold here the grateful Christian who, as it were, repays the mercy which God grants to him day by day. Like our Divine Saviour, who applies to us daily in the holy sacrifice of the Mass His merits, His Passion and Blood, and like the saints who interceded for us and allowed us to share in their penitential works on earth, so also good Catholic faithful remember in love and mercy the poor souls and apply to them by indulgences the Church's treasure of grace.
How such love pleases God our heavenly Father! He has, as it were, committed to us the care of the poor souls, in order that we may make satisfaction to His justice for them by gaining indulgences. We should make it possible for His mercy to admit them before their time to the Beatific Vision. Oh, how very much our Divine Saviour will be pleased, if we lead these souls to Him in His glory ! What a service of love we render the Holy Ghost as soon as we re deem the poor souls from their suffering and lead them, the brides of His grace, to the ardent embrace of His love! How happy does Mary the Mother of Mercy feel when we strive to requite her love and intercession for us by leading the poor souls to her motherly heart, in freeing them from suffering in purgatory! It brings joy to the Angels of God, and the saints in heaven rejoice as often as a poor soul is freed from purgatory and enters into the heavenly Jerusalem before the throne of the Most Holy Trinity and into the blessed number of the heavenly hosts.
5. Oh, how great is the Catholic Christian in this power over the poor souls and how like to our Divine Saviour he becomes in its exercise! Can you show, my friends, your love, your gratitude and your faith better than when you remember the poor souls and return the grace and the mercy of Jesus to you with mercy? Can you become more like the Angels and Saints in heaven who lovingly look down and share in your joys and sufferings than when you, like an angel full of compassion, look down into the silent, sinless kingdom of the poor souls and pour out upon them the merits of Jesus and His Saints! Our Divine Saviour says: "Make unto you friends that they may receive you into everlasting dwellings." (Luke 1 6, 9.) The poor souls whom we free from their suffering are these friends, who richly requite us before the throne of God by their intercession for what we have done to them.
How glorious, therefore, is the Catholic doctrine of indulgences, how touching the love which it announces! It is love that animates the blessed souls towards us, and it is love that urges the Christians to help the poor souls. We should therefore never miss an opportunity when we can gain indulgences for our selves and for the dead, in order that we may as soon as possible after our Christian life on earth enter into the eternal Vision of God and into the blessed communion of the Saints. Amen.
Source: The Beauty and Truth of the Catholic Church, Vol. III Imprimatur 1913