Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and a New View of Purgatory
The last paragraph, the quote down below, what St. Catherine of Genoa wrote about Purgatory, that the ever-common and most propagated belief that it is a type of Flaming Hell is blasphemous, really struck me. She described it as a place where the Fire, the Torment is one of being so close and yet, not quite there. That we are Guaranteed God’s Infinite Love, but that we are Burning with this desire to be Worthy of It.
I don’t know about you, but this provided me with an entirely Different take on Purgatory. I have an image of a Soul in Purgatory…It is quite old…but it’s a female, she is in chains, she is looking up, she is surrounded by tongues of fire that reach well up to her shoulders…
She is in Desperation!
THIS to me was Purgatory. Pain…Writhing Excruciating Agony…yes, a Mini Hell. You went there because you weren’t worthy enough. Not yet. You needed a bit more suffering. And the explications that I had received from Clerics and very knowledgeable lay persons only affirmed this. They would say it was a Refining Fire. Fire…like a Blacksmiths….PAIN, right?
Well, St. Catherine writes about a fire, but this fire is an Anticipation. A Joyous Anticipation. You are Guaranteed this Eternal Ecstasy, and you’re almost there, but YOU, you yourself want to be Worthy of it, so you wait there burning with God’s Love that fills your Soul with Love for Him and this Love just makes you Love Him more and want even more to be Perfect…make sense??
Okay, so I know it’s basically the same thing, if you really look at it, but it’s the perspective and the details that make it Completely and Utterly DIFFERENT!
In my lifelong belief, you’re in Agony. You did not WANT to be there. You HAD to be there to be made right.
In St. Catherine’s writings, You don’t Want to go before God, because His Love is SO PERFECT that you want to be Worthy of it! You know He’s there. He’s waiting for you, but….you’re not ready to be with Him…
The analogy that keeps coming to mind is when one is in Love with another person. You’re in a Relationship. A Long Distance Relationship. You haven’t seen each other in a while. He (change to she if you’re a guy) is coming in a couple of weeks. You want to look your best, so you get your hair done, nails done, wax, workout like a fiend, go shopping for cute outfits, etc. You want to be with them, but you want to be with them when You are Perfect! You don’t want to see them just yet, your hair hasn’t been trimmed in a while. You haven’t been to the gym in months. Your hands aren’t bad, but they will look so much better if they’re manicured…Everything! You want Everything to be Perfect, down to the Tiniest of Details.
Therefore, as much as you want to be with them, you’re just not ready and these couple of weeks you hope would be a little longer because you may not be ready. And sure enough, it’s the day before they arrive and you do not want them to come yet, because you are still NOT Perfect!
Maybe my analogy isn’t the best, okay, it’s not the best. But I hope you understand what I mean.
Besides, the Love between a man and a woman, specifically between husband and wife, the Loving Embrace, is God’s Love for us on Earth. It is how we express Divine Love. True, Free, Divine Love.
Having written the above, perhaps my analogy should be changed from just being in a Relationship to your Wedding Day. ♥
You are preparing for it. You want it to be Perfect. YOU Want to be Perfect. You are going to be Giving Yourself to the Person you Love. You are going to Receive the Person you Love in that Eternal, God-given Gift of the Marital Embrace. And for that moment, superficial creatures that we are, we want to be physically perfect too. So again, we workout. We pluck, tweeze, wax, manicure, trim, shave, and all those fun things that we torture our physical selves with to look so Effortlessly Attractive to our Soon-to-be Spouse. We do it For Love, out of Love and because we want to be Perfect for the One that we Love!
So this is my new view of Purgatory. It is a more placid one. Perhaps there is a danger in that….Hmmm….Perhaps…..
The Church has encouraged prayer for the dead from the earliest times as an act of Christian charity. “If we had no care for the dead,”Augustine noted, “we would not be in the habit of praying for them.” Yet pre-Christian rites for the deceased retained such a strong hold on the superstitious imagination that a liturgical commemoration was not observed until the early Middle Ages, when monastic communities began to mark an annual day of prayer for the departed members.
In the middle of the 11th century, St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny (France), decreed that all Cluniac monasteries offer special prayers and sing the Office for the Dead on November 2, the day after the feast of All Saints. The custom spread from Cluny and was finally adopted throughout the Roman Church.
The theological underpinning of the feast is the acknowledgment of human frailty. Since few people achieve perfection in this life but, rather, go to the grave still scarred with traces of sinfulness, some period of purification seems necessary before a soul comes face-to-face with God. The Council of Trent affirmed this purgatory state and insisted that the prayers of the living can speed the process of purification.
Superstition easily clung to the observance. Medieval popular belief held that the souls in purgatory could appear on this day in the form of witches, toads or will-o’-the-wisps. Graveside food offerings supposedly eased the rest of the dead.
Observances of a more religious nature have survived. These include public processions or private visits to cemeteries and decorating graves with flowers and lights. This feast is observed with great fervor in Mexico.
Whether or not one should pray for the dead is one of the great arguments which divide Christians. Appalled by the abuse of indulgences in the Church of his day, Martin Luther rejected the concept of purgatory. Yet prayer for a loved one is, for the believer, a way of erasing any distance, even death. In prayer we stand in God’s presence in the company of someone we love, even if that person has gone before us into death.
“We must not make purgatory into a flaming concentration camp on the brink of hell—or even a ‘hell for a short time.’ It is blasphemous to think of it as a place where a petty God exacts the last pound—or ounce—of flesh…. St. Catherine of Genoa, a mystic of
the 15th century, wrote that the ‘fire’ of purgatory is God’s love ‘burning’ the soul so that, at last, the soul is wholly aflame. It is the pain of wanting to be made totally worthy of One who is seen as infinitely lovable, the pain of desire for union that is now absolutely assured, but not yet fully tasted”
(Leonard Foley, O.F.M., Believing in Jesus).