The Holy Souls or the Souls in Purgatory is a subject often regarded today as something old fashioned belonging to the past and often associated with a church language of a bygone era.
It is true that there is a shortage of contemporary written material on the Holy Souls and it is a long time since the popular short books on purgatory and the Holy Souls by Fr. Paul O' Sullivan were written in a post depression America of the 1930s, an age also when the same subjects were often portrayed by artists in a fiery and vivid way causing perhaps a fear of death and what was to follow.
This book which aims to describe in simple terms what the Catholic Church holds and teaches about the Holy Souls and purgatory and to provide the reader with a reflective view on life, death and what awaits us all in the heavenly realm.
Who are the Holy Souls
For centuries people have wrestled with the same big questions that we all are faced with at some point in our lives sometimes to the point of anxiety - the meaning of life, suffering, death, a person’s true destiny and what lies beyond or put another way how to live the great mystery of faith. Our faith is the victory over the world. We believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It is this faith in Jesus that helps us to overcome the world with its temptations and doubts. We have not seen yet we believe and we acknowledge that Christ is our Lord and our God (John 20:28-29).
Living this mystery leads us to understand what the meaning of life is and to accept what we are here for and for anyone who professes to be a Christian the answer to the above is: To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and all our strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) or to praise God, to love God and to Serve God or put even more simply: to love one another. And it is St. John of the Cross who reminds us that “at the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love”.
Our lives do have meaning. We spend our time on life’s journey and for those who believe in Jesus Christ this is a journey of faith. And at the end of this journey is the greatest reward of all, our homeland in heaven, the reward of eternal life.
So why is there suffering in peoples lives? Suffering in this world only makes sense to those who follow and believe in Jesus Christ and is seen in the light of being a Christian. Nobody suffered more than Jesus, through his Passion, the agony, the condemnation, the torture of scourging, carrying the cross and finally the crucifixion. He did this for us. He died for our sins. Those who suffer in any way or form are following in Christ’s footsteps, with our wounds, afflictions, diseases, pains and torments. By sharing in Christ’s sufferings we become heirs to the Glory of the eternal Kingdom. To share His suffering is to share His glory (Romans 8:17) and what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory as yet un-revealed, which is waiting for us (Romans 8:18).
Throughout life we all experience many “small deaths”, as a child the death of a pet, parents experiencing their children leaving home or family members moving to far away places. But nothing truly prepares us for the death of a loved one.
Every human being is created in the image of God and is both corporeal (physical) and spiritual (soul). The Church teaches that body and soul are truly one nature united together and whilst our bodies are corruptible and decay our souls that are created by God alone and not by our parents are immortal (CCC 362-366). Death therefore brings to an end human life. The New Testament affirms that each person will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with what they have done, for example by good works and through their faith and there is a destiny of the soul which can be different for some and for others. Each person therefore receives their eternal retribution (punishment for wrongdoing and sin) in their immortal soul at the moment of death in a particular judgement that refers to the life of Christ: either by entrance to heaven immediately or through a period of purification or by immediate and everlasting damnation (CCC 1021-1022). The Holy Souls then are the souls of those who have died in a state of God’s grace and friendship. They are assured of eternal salvation but after death because they are imperfect they need to undergo a period of purification that will allow them to gain the holiness needed to enter the joy of heaven (CCC 1030).