THE MUSEUM OF PURGATORY
by Marc Conza
reprinted from the Garabandal Journal, November-December 2014, with permission of the author
Our Lord is unequivocal in Sacred Scripture when He declares that nothing unclean will enter Heaven(Rev 21:27). He commands us to “therefore be perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect”(Mt 5:48). To go directly to Heaven after death, the soul has to be completely free not only of even the smallest venial sin, but also all the penalty required to make perfect satisfaction to God for committing that sin. If the slightest speck of reparation remains to be paid on a forgiven soul that departs from this earthly life, that soul will go to Purgatory to finish its atonement, and quoting Christ again from scripture:“Thou shalt not go out thence, until thou payest the very last mite”(Mt 5:26).
Although the doctrine of Purgatory is contested by Protestants, even among many Catholics today this teaching from the Deposit of the Faith left by Our Lord with His Apostles is foundering. This dogma is one of several “hard” teachings at the nucleus of the growing trend to choose only what is comfortable to believe in, and seek to ignore, or change those Church teachings that are incompatible with certain views. Rather than subjecting their desires to God’s laws and teachings, these people believe that the laws and teachings God gave to govern His Church should be subject to their desires.
God, however, made certain to impress upon us throughout Scripture that He does not change,(Mal 3:6), that he is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Heb 13:8), and that all of nature will eventually pass away, but His Words will never pass away (Mt 24:35).
The core teachings being abandoned are those that involve any notions of serious sin, and of punishment or suffering for sin in the afterlife. While “progressive” Catholics have no problem with there being a Heaven, the doctrines of Purgatory and Hell unsettle them. Believing in their existence carries an obligation to live a life in strict accordance to God’s law to avoid going anywhere other than Heaven after death.
Taught by Jesus to the Apostles, and by the Apostles to their successors, Purgatory was an unquestioned article of the Faith for almost 1500 years until the Protestant Reformation. To safeguard the doctrine, Pope Pius IV found it necessary in the year 1563 during Session 25 of the Council of Trent to remind the whole Church that Purgatory was an unalterable teaching (Dogma) of Our Lord.
The existence of Purgatory is not up for debate, and choosing to not believe in this place of purification does not stop it from existing, or prevent God from using it for its intended purpose. In this present article we will highlight the very real, but mercifully temporary state of Purgatory, and the plight of the souls who go there to finish their spiritual purification before being admitted to the direct and eternal Vision of God that comprises Heaven.
Purgatory comes into the salvific equation when the remaining sins differentiated by Our Lord are factored in. St. John in his first epistle (5:16-17) describes a type of sin that is great enough to eternally damn the soul (mortal sin), and sins of a lesser gravity that do not eternally damn the soul (venial sins). Persons that die with unrepented mortal sins on their souls go immediately to Hell. If those mortal sins are at least sincerely repented of before death (even if not yet confessed) the soul escapes damnation and goes to Purgatory to make satisfaction to God for those offences. If a person dies with only venial sins on their soul, full expiation in Purgatory is necessary before the soul can enter Heaven. Since all mortal and venial sins have varying degrees of seriousness, the length of time spent in Purgatory and the degree of suffering the soul must undergo there will depend on the number of sins it has to expiate, and the degree of satisfaction that must be made to God for each of them.
PHYSICAL TRACES FROM PURGATORY
While any attempt for living persons to contact deceased souls is condemned as a mortal sin by Scripture and Tradition, God has allowed departed souls detained in Purgatory to appear on earth on many occasions. Scripture reports such a happening at the death of Christ (Mt. 27:52-53). One of the earliest post-scriptural accounts of a soul appearing from Purgatory is left us by St. Perpetua in her diary. Prior to her martyrdom in 203 A.D., Perpetua obtained the release of her brother Dinocrates who had been suffering in Purgatory for venial sins he had committed before his untimely death at the age of seven.
Accounts such as these continue throughout history, mostly among those saints who were specially gifted with mystical charisms. By these visitations, God reminds us of the reality of Purgatory, the necessity for us to live lives that will keep us from going there, and of our obligation to assist our suffering brethren in Purgatory using all the means He has made available to us through His Church. In many of these cases, the Poor Souls coming to appeal for relief have left behind in our world permanent signs to authenticate their apparitions.
A 19th Century French priest of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart named Father Victor Jouet was tireless in his life’s work of assisting the Souls in Purgatory and urging others to empathise with their plight. In 1893, he founded in Rome the Association of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Suffrage of the Souls in Purgatory by which members united their daily prayers, sacrifices, and merits to obtain relief for the Suffering Souls. Operating first out of his small oratory, Father Jouet soon found it necessary to acquire a parcel of nearby land to build a larger chapel. In 1894, Bishop Joseph-Jean-Louis Robert of Marseilles (Fr. Jouet’s birthplace) blessed the cornerstone for the chapel and building began immediately. The chapel was completed in 1896.
A miracle occurred the following year when, on November 15, 1897, the altar unaccountably caught fire. Many persons present attested to seeing a human figure suffering in the midst of the climbing flames, and when the conflagration was finally put out, the scorch mark left on the wall had included the face of the apparition imprinted in it. Inspired by this event, Father Jouet conferred with the Holy See on Church-authenticated cases where visitations of souls from Purgatory had occurred in which similar physical proof of the encounters had been left behind. He then proceeded to travel throughout Europe to collect the evidence to bring back to Rome and display the proofs in his chapel. These acquisitions inspired greater zeal among the faithful to assist the Poor Souls, and remind the lukewarm that Purgatory was real, and a certain destination for them if they didn’t strive to perfect themselves.
Of the proofs Fr. Jouet obtained, a handful were the actual objects imprinted by the appearing Soul. As the majority of these apparitions, however, occurred in monasteries and convents, many of these religious Orders were reluctant to part with such relics. In these cases, Fr. Jouet settled for photographs that, nevertheless, are excellent testimonies to the reality of the proofs he personally verified in his travels. Due to space considerations, we will only highlight some of Father’s more impressive acquisitions here.
Fifty-nine years after her death in 1637, Sr. Maria Clara Schoelers of the Benedictine convent at Winnemberg, Germany appeared on October 13, 1696, to Sr. M Herendrops, pleading for prayers to alleviate her sufferings. As proof of the visitation, Sr. Maria Clara scorched a handprint onto Sr. Herendrops’ apron, and a set of handprints on a separate piece of linen.
On June 9, 1789, Joseph Leleux of Wodecq, Belgium, was haunted by frightful and unexplained noises in his house for eleven consecutive nights, until his deceased mother appeared to him on June 21, 1789. Mrs. Leleux, who had died 27 years earlier, reproached her son for neglecting to have Masses celebrated for her, and for living an un-Christian life. She then exhorted him to change his ways and devote himself to the service of the Church. Before disappearing, Mrs. Leleux left her scorched handprint on the sleeve of Joseph’s nightshirt. The event caused Joseph to renounce his sinful life, and found a congregation of pious lay persons. He died a holy death in 1825.
On November 1, 1731, a deceased abbot from Mantua, Italy, named Fr. Panzini, appeared to Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares in Todi, who is today a Venerable. After pleading for the holy abbess’ prayers, Fr. Panzini left four proofs of his visit: his handprint and a Cross burnt onto Mother Fornari’s work table, a handprint on a sheet of paper, and a final one on the abbess’ tunic. The latter print, however, was so forcefully made that her chemise underneath was imprinted also, and finally her own skin beneath that, drawing blood as a result. Mother Fornari’s confessor, Fr. Isidoro Gazala, made a report of the incident and ordered the abbess to cut out the imprints from her habit and chemise and turn them over to him for preservation.
In 1815, Margherite Demmerlé of Ellinghen, France, was visited by her mother-in-law who had died 30 years earlier. The woman instructed Margharite to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariental and have two Masses offered for her there. After the pilgrimage, the mother-in-law appeared to inform Margharite of her release from Purgatory as a result, and Margharite, in obedience to the parish priest, asked the departed woman to leave a proof of her visits. The apparition then touched Margharite’s copy of the book The Imitation of Christ, leaving scorches over a prayer to the Saviour for liberation from the penalty of sin.
On December 21, 1838, the deceased Joseph Schitz appeared to his brother Georg at Sarralbe, Lorraine (today part of France), to plead for prayers to relieve the sufferings he was undergoing for his lack of piety while on earth. To document his appeal, Joseph scorched his fingertips onto the page of Georg’s prayer book, directly over the words: “thus discharge in that life hereafter by Mercy the consequences of their trespasses... (grant) the souls of the departed the eternal rest...” In all of the above cases (and all other authenticated cases), the fire applied by the Suffering Souls confined itself only to the spots it directly touched, and never consumed the surrounding material, as earthy fire would do.
CHURCH OF THE SACRED HEART OF SUFFRAGE
The exhibit of Father Jouet’s “museum” of the Souls of Purgatory consists of no more than a rectangular glass case along one wall of the sacristy. Including an enhanced reproduction of the face from the 1897 chapel fire, the exhibit totals just under twenty pieces. The room is not visible inside the present day church unless one knows where it is to be found, and goes purposely to look for it; even then it is usually locked and the visitor must request a custodian to open it. It is perhaps a misnomer to consider only this one room to be the “museum” when in fact the entire Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Suffrage, that contains it, is itself a complete exhibit of everything Christ and His Apostles taught the Church regarding Purgatory.
Construction of the present-day church began in 1908, and finished in 1917; it was consecrated on May 17, 1921, by the Archbishop of Tyre. Only ten minutes walking distance from St. Peter’s Square, the Church sits on the Lungotevere Prati, the boulevard that runs along the Tiber river. Three doors provide entrance to the church. Above the main entrance is a lunette depicting the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and surmounting this is a statue of the sacred Heart of Jesus standing between two angels. The smaller entrance to the right features a depiction of Christ being placed in the tomb, and the matching entrance to the left depicts Our Lord’s Resurrection. The nineteen statues adorning the rest of the façade were selected by Pope St. Pius X personally, and feature Our Lady along with eighteen saints who are inextricably associated with the mysteries of Purgatory.
Inside, there are six auxiliary chapels dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. Anthony of Padua, and Pope St. Gregory the Great, before one reaches the main altar. In each chapel are depicted on the predellas beneath the alter tables additional saints who were devoted to the relief of the Suffering Souls.
All throughout the rest of the Church interior are additional paintings, sculptures, stained glass, and other works that depict sin, expiation, and Redemption in their various aspects.
ASSISTING THE POOR SOULS
Any assistance beneficial to helping the Poor Souls in Purgatory owes its efficacy to the infinite merits of Jesus Christ from His Passion and Death. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the single greatest means to bring them relief and release. All other applications of the merits of the Passion to the Souls include the Way of the Cross, the Chaplet of Mercy (a.k.a the Chaplet of the Holy Wounds), and devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the Precious Blood.
Our Lord promised Ven. Martha Mary Chambon that every time a person gazes upon the Crucifix with love He would release five souls from Purgatory, one soul for each of His Five major Wounds. It was also through the application of the Crucifix that Our Lady demonstrated at Garabandal other ways to assist the souls in Purgatory. While many people are aware of the visionaries presenting the Crucifix to be kissed by the invisible souls in the village cemetery, it is less known that Our Lady also instructed the seers to make the Sign of the Cross with their crucifixes over photographs or over the vacant pillows of villagers who were deceased.
The Holy Rosary and the Brown Scapular are the chief devotions of Our Lady that have the greatest efficacy in helping the Holy Souls. Our Lady promised that all those who are invested in her Brown Scapular and wear it devoutly would be delivered from Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death. (Sabbatine Privilege). Devotion to her Seven Sorrows – which centre on the Passion of Christ – is likewise applicable to those in Purgatory, and brings them great relief.
Regarding the necessity of there being a Purgatory, Our Lord once pined to St. Faustina Kowalska: “My Mercy does not want this, but My Justice demands it.”