All Souls’ Day

St. Catherine of Genoa had a vision of the souls in purgatory, which she carefully described and explained in a treatise on the subject. She tells how sin is like rust on the soul that must be burned away.

I believe that no happiness can be found worthy to be compared to that of a soul in purgatory — except the happiness of the saints in heaven. Day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls; more and more he consumes every hindrance to his entering them. Sin’s rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. 

An object that’s covered cannot respond to the sun’s rays, not because of any defect in the sun, which is shining all the time, but because the covering is an obstacle. If the covering is burnt away, the object is open to the sun. More and more, as the covering is consumed, it responds to the rays of the sun. 

In the same way, souls are covered by sin like rust, and in purgatory that rust is burned away by fire. The more the rust is consumed, the more the souls respond to God, who is the true Sun. As the rust lessens and the soul is opened up to the divine ray, happiness grows, until the time comes when the rust is gone and the sunlight is no longer blocked. 

Nevertheless, the pain doesn’t lessen in this process, but only the duration of the pain. As for the will of those suffering: The souls in purgatory don’t even speak of these pains as pains, because they are so contented with God’s arrangement. In pure love, their will is united to his. 

On the other hand, the pain they endure is so extreme that no tongue can be found to tell it, nor could the mind understand even the least of such pains if God by special grace didn’t reveal it. 

— St. Catherine of Genoa, Treatise on Purgatory, 2 


We hear little said about purgatory these days, yet the reality of this cleansing process after death is a defined truth of the Catholic faith. How might St. Catherine’s teaching inspire me to cooperate with God to purify my soul in this life so that less purification will be necessary in the next? 


Merciful Lord, though you love us as we are, you love us too much to leave us as we are. Thank you for purifying us in this life and the next, and help me to cooperate even now with your cleansing process.

The souls in purgatory are in great need of our prayers, St. Alphonsus Liguori reminds us. We should pray and have Masses said for them out of charity, and also because of the pleasure it gives to our Lord, the merits it brings to us, and our confidence that they will pray for us when they reach heaven.

To pray for those suffering in purgatory should be regarded as a Christian duty. For charity obliges us to meet the needs of our neighbor when we can do it without great inconvenience. Now it’s certain that among these are to be numbered the souls in purgatory who, though no longer in this life, share in the communion of saints, which makes them our neighbors. So we should, according to our ability, alleviate their pains. And since their need is even greater than that of the living members of the Church, it seems to me that we’re bound by an even stricter obligation to contribute to their relief. 

It’s a matter of faith that we can assist these souls by our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf, and especially by the prayers that the Church has recommended and used for their deliverance. For my part, I can’t conceive how a Christian can be excused for making no effort to relieve them, even by his prayers. 

So let’s endeavor to assist them, if not from a sense of duty, then at least because we know it will afford some satisfaction to Jesus Christ to see us seeking to release from prison his own beloved spouses and to obtain their admission into his kingdom. Or we can pray because we recognize the treasure of merits we’ll acquire by practicing so great an act of charity towards these blessed souls. 

Remember that they are extremely grateful. They know the great benefit we grant them when by our prayers we obtain a lessening of their pains and an anticipation of their entrance into the glory of heaven. As soon as they take possession of God’s kingdom there, they will certainly not neglect to pray for us. 

— St. Alphonsus Liguori, A Short Treatise on Prayer, 1 


How often do I pray for the souls in purgatory? One longstanding Catholic custom is to pray for them after every meal, so that we pray for them at least three times daily. 


Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

This article is taken from a chapter in A Year With the Saints by Paul Thigpen, which is available from TAN Books.



Related Posts

Meditations on Mary

“Most Favored Daughter” and “The Sinless Mother” are two meditations on Mary by Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman. Here he reflects on the abundant favor

Read More »