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St. Paul speaks of all Christians as members of Christ, so that with Him, they form one Mystical Body (Cf. 1 Cor 12:12-31; Col 1:18; 2:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:13). The Mystical Body of Christ is made up of three parts with Christ as the Head. The first is the Church Militant which is made up of Christians on Earth, and is thus called the Church Militant because its members struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The second, is the Suffering Church, referring to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The third, is the Church Triumphant, referring to the Church in Heaven. The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on Earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven is also called the Communion of Saints. (Cf. The Basic Catholic Catechism PART FIVE: The Apostles’ Creed IX-XII
Ninth Article: “The Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints”; The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, William Most ewtn.com)
Purgatory where the Suffering Church is located, is a state of final purification for those who die in God’s Grace and friendship, but who are still imperfectly purified. While assured of their eternal salvation, they undergo purification to achieve the necessary holiness needed to enter into Heaven. In 2 Maccabees 12:46, we read, “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” St. John Chrysostom also states, “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030 – 1032)
The Suffering Church having no corporeal bodies can pray for us here on Earth, but cannot make reparation and sacrifices for themselves to expedite their period of Purgatory. St. Faustina writes in the Diary of St. Faustina, about a vision she had of Purgatory: “I saw my guardian angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames, which were burning them, did not touch me at all. My guardian angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God.”
“I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in purgatory. The souls call her ‘The Star of the Sea.’ She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my guardian angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice, which said] ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.’” (Diary of St. Faustina 20)
St. Catherine of Genoa, a 15th century Saint, had similar visions to St. Faustina. Of these she writes, “No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love.”
“I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have wilfully done against his so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.” (Treatise on Purgatory)
According to such accounts of Purgatory, Purgatory is not so much of a physical place, but a spiritual state, where the soul, according to its need for purification undergoes different purification processes. This differs for various souls. St. Lidwina of Schiedam was led into Purgatory by her Guardian Angel and encountered a place of frightful horror like a “prison” with “lamenting voices, cries of fury, chains, instruments of torture, violent blows which the executioners discharged upon their victims,” and when she asked her Guardian Angel if it were Hell, the Angel replied, “No, sister, but this part of Purgatory is bordering upon Hell.” St. Lidwina who had requested to see the soul of a sinful man whom she had been praying for before he died, found him in a miry well of flames. After her sacrifices and prayers for the soul, the soul’s Guardian Angel presented himself to her with joy saying that the soul had moved on from the Purgatory bordering Hell to where normal Purgatory is. However, St. Lidwina did not stop praying for him, until she saw the Gates of Heaven open for the soul. (Fr. F. X. Schouppe S. J., Purgatory)
What we can do for the Suffering Church:
1.Offer up Eucharistic Celebrations for the reparation of the souls of the Faithful Departed, those who do not have anyone to pray for them, the lost and forgotten, and the Souls in Purgatory.
2.Pray the Rosary for the reparation of the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
3.Pray a Holy Fast for the reparation of Holy Souls.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls into Heaven, especially those in need of Thy Mercy.
By Brian Bartholomew Tan