"To relieve the souls of the departed is to perform all the works of mercy in a single act." -- Saint Francis de Sales
The Souls in Purgatory are Saints who love God intensely, but are prevented from enjoying Him on account of some debts to Divine justice because of sin. Their pains are great. Their greatest torment is their unsatisfied desire of being with God. They have already seen Him at their judgment, and they now know His perfections in a way far different from anything possible in this life. If we only thought of this, how careful we should be not to commit venial sins.
There are many motives to induce us to help the poor souls, such as the glory that their praises will give to God when they are before His throne; pity for them-suffering without being able to help themselves; and our own interest, as charity to them brings blessings from God, and puts them under an obligation to assist us by their prayers.
We may relieve them by prayers, indulgences, almsgiving, Holy Communion, and particularly by the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
One special effect of this devotion to- the poor souls is to cause us to lead a very pure life, because, as we are pleading for those, some of whom have offended God only slightly, we are constantly reminded of the punishment, and so it is not likely that we will commit similar offences.
So many reasons, then, urge us to help the poor souls; it is no wonder that Holy Church should encourage us by her own example. No Mass can be celebrated, no Divine Office recited, and no grace after meals should be said, without a prayer for the happy repose of their souls.
In pains beyond all earthly pains,
Favorites of Jesus! there they lie,
Letting the fire wear out their stains,
And worshipping God's purity.
Augustine - the wayward Augustine - having at last been converted as the result of a mother's tears and prayers, St. Monica felt that her work on earth was done, and henceforth she sighed for Heaven.
"Son," said she to him, "I have now no tie to earth. I have nothing more to hope for in this world. One thing there was for which I did desire to tarry a little longer in this life, which was that I might see thee a Christian Catholic before I died. My God hath granted me more than this, in that, I see thee now despising earthly felicity, entirely devoted to His service. Why, therefore, do I tarry here? Lay this body anywhere, be not concerned about that; only this I beg of you, that wheresoever you be, you make remembrance of me at the Lord's altar."
From that moment Monica was silent, wholly absorbed in preparing herself for the advent of her heavenly Bridegroom. Augustine, full of love and fortitude, remained by his mother; though alternately lost in wondering admiration, and overcome by sorrow, with his prayers and ardent love he aided her in this last painful struggle.
After her happy death, he says: "I let go my tears, which I had kept in before, that they might flow as much as they pleased, and found rest to my soul in weeping for her, who so long had wept for me."
To the very day of his death he ceased not to mourn for his mother. In compliance with her dying request, he daily remembered her in his prayers, and at the holy altar. "And now," writes St. Augustine thirty years after her death, "my heart being healed of that wound, in which a carnal affection may have had too great a share, I pour out to Thee, O Lord, in behalf of that servant of Thine, a far different sort of tears, flowing from a spirit frighted with the consideration of the perils of every soul that dies in Adam. . . Therefore, 0 God of my heart, my glory and my life, setting aside her good deeds, for which I give Thee thanks, I entreat Thee at present for my mother's sins. Hear me now, I beseech Thee, through that Physician of our souls Who hung upon the Cross, and Who now intercedeth for us at Thy right hand. I know that mercifully, and from her heart, she forgave her debtors their trespasses; do Thou likewise forgive her her debts, if she has contracted any during those many years she lived after her Baptism. Forgive them, 0 Lord, forgive them, I beseech Thee. . . . Let her therefore rest in peace, together with her husband, her only spouse, whom she dutifully served that she might be worthy of gaining him to Thee. And do Thou inspire, 0 Lord my God, my brothers, my masters, whom I wish to serve with my voice, heart, and writings, that as many as shall read this may remember at Thy altar Thy handmaid Monica, with Patricius, her husband, by whom Thou brought me into this life. Let them remember with a pious affection those who were my parents in this transitory life, that so my mother's last request to me on her death-bed may be more abundantly performed for her by the prayers of many than by mine alone."