There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls in purgatory, save that of the saints in paradise, and this peace is ever augmented by the inflowing of God into these souls, which increases in proportion as the impediments to it are removed. The rust of sin is the impediment, and this the fire continually consumes, so that the soul in this state is continually opening itself to admit the divine communication.
–St. Catherine of Genoa
A first cousin of mine died a couple of weeks ago. She was 67 years old—older than my parents, because her mother, my aunt, is herself much older than my mother, my aunt’s sister. I’m not going to share all the details because to this day there is a great deal of tension in my family concerning this cousin, who was adopted out of the family as a newborn. But in your charity, I would appreciate all Where Peter Is readers’ prayers for the repose of her soul.
I write about this because this is the first death in my family in about a decade, and the first death in the family that I can ever remember taking place during the Octave of All Souls. I don’t know whether dying during the Octave of All Souls is traditionally thought to be auspicious or inauspicious, but either way, I think my cousin would have found it interesting. As someone who’s long had a devotion to some of the traditional, morbid-seeming, “gothic” All Saints and All Souls prayers and practices, the fact that the death happened when it did has eased the pain a bit for me too. I took the opportunity to read St. Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory (an interesting read easily available in English online), and have been saying an impromptu chaplet composed of prayers from St. Catherine’s writings and those of other late medieval mystical writers.
One thing I have not yet done is gotten to a graveyard to obtain the indulgence for a soul in purgatory. I’ll have the opportunity to do this by the end of November because I’m visiting my parents for Thanksgiving and my parents live next to one of the old Puritan graveyards that still dot rural New England. I’m grateful to Pope Francis and to the Apostolic Penitentiary for extending the indulgence to the whole month of November this year (just like last year). It’s provided me with extra leeway but also with great comfort to think that so many souls like my cousin’s will have so many more prayers said for them than they would have otherwise.
This type of “quantification of grace” is out of favor among most non-Traditionalist theologians, mostly for good reason (who is really edified or illuminated by quibbling about whether there’s “more grace” for those who receive the Eucharist in both kinds or go to daily as opposed to weekly Mass?). Even so, the image of a “cloud of witnesses”—the saints interceding for us, us interceding for the poor souls, en masse and over an extended period of time—is a powerful one. Rightly so; “no one is saved alone,” and it’s a great comfort to remember that there really is a great host of people praying for us and with us throughout the ages. This is the message of the truth of purgatory and the efficacy of prayer for the dead, and it’s a truth that has been close to my heart this November.
Image: “Prayers for the Dead” by Gustave Doré.
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Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.