Based on numerous accounts of mystical experiences on purgatory as shown in the lives of some particular saints, we can glean from them the importance of understanding what Purgatory is and why we should offer prayers and good works for the suffering souls languishing there. Praying for the dead is a spiritual act of mercy. Helping these poor souls now will surely redound to our favor when it's our time to depart this life and face the judgment seat of God.
When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin.
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 willfully 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.
-- St. Catherine of Genoa, Treatise on Purgatory Chapter VIII
-oOo-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.
- St. Faustina Kowalska (Diary 20)
-oOo-Saint John Massias, known as the "Helper of the Poor Souls", offered three rosaries every night for the souls in Purgatory, praying for them on his knees despite bodily fatigue. Saint John also sprinkled holy water on the ground several times a day for their relief. He also offered hundreds of short ejaculations("sudden short exclamations, especially brief pious utterances or prayers") as he went around his regular work, applying the merit of these little prayers to the Holy Souls. Not a day passed that St. John didn't unite himself with the priest at the altar begging the Heavenly Father to grant all the souls eternal rest through the merits of Christ's death on Calvary.
The Holy Souls often appeared to him begging his powerful intercession, "Give us prayers", they cried with one voice. "Oh brother John, you are the friend of the poor and sick! Be our friend too! Help make us worthy to be with God and His Blessed ones."
- St. John Massias by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, page 89, 1972, Tan Books, Rockford IL,
-oOo-Father Stanislaus’s three mystical experiences of the sufferings in Purgatory have been well documented.
First, in 1675 when he was in the Ukraine as the army chaplain during the war against the Turks -- he received a vision of deceased soldiers asking for his intercession before the Lord. Upon his return to the Korabiew Forest he called his companions to pray, make acts of contrition, and perform works of mercy for the intention of the deceased, especially victims of war.
The next incident took place at the Karski’s courtyard, after he had already initiated the communal life in the Korabiew community. Fr. Papczyński had a vision of Purgatory during the meal that followed the Holy Mass. In the presence of many people, he fell into ecstasy (eyewitnesses corroborated this during the Informative Process), after which, deeply shaken, he immediately returned to the monastery. He said to his confrères, surprised by his unexpected return: “I beg you, brothers, pray for the souls in Purgatory, because they suffer unbearable tortures.” After this he remained for several days in his cell, fervently praying and fasting for the deceased.
Finally, the third experience of the mystery of Purgatory was granted Fr. Papczyński at the shrine of Our Lady in Studzianna, in 1676, where he made a pilgrimage with the goal of begging for the personal grace of good health. While he stayed there at the monastery of the St. Philip’s Fathers his health worsened. There was fear that he might die. Precisely then -- being in ecstasy -- he was transported to Purgatory. He saw there the Mother of God praying for him, that he would receive a healing in order that he could further assist the dead. At the end of the vision, he quickly recovered strength and in the Studzianna Church he delivered a long sermon to the faithful on the need to assist the departed brothers and sisters. Finally, on February 11 of that same year, he accepted as one of the goals of his Order, that assistance be provided “with utmost diligence, piety, and zeal” for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, especially soldiers and victims of epidemics.
- Blessed Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczyński
-oOo-Padre Pio told this story to Padre Anastasio. “One evening, while I was alone in choir to pray, I heard the rustle of a suit and I saw a young monk that stirred next to the high altar. It seemed that the young monk was dusting the candelabra and straightening the flower vases. I thought he was Padre Leone rearranging the altar, and, since it was supper time, I went to him and I told him: “Padre Leone, go to dine, this is not the time to dust and to straighten the altar”. But a voice, that was not Father Leone’s answered me”: “I am not Padre Leone”, “And who are you?“, I asked him. “I am a brother of yours that made the noviciate here. I was ordered to clean the altar during the year of the noviciate. Unfortunately many times I didn’t reverence Jesus while passing in front of the altar, thus causing the Holy Sacrament that was preserved in the Tabernacle to be disrespected. For this serious carelessness, I am still in Purgatory. Now, God, with his endless goodness, sent me here so that you may quicken the time I will enjoy Paradise. Take care of me.” I believed to be generous to that suffering soul, so I exclaimed: “You will be in Paradise tomorrow morning, when I will celebrate Holy Mass”. That soul cried: “Cruel!” Then he wept and disappeared. That complaint produced in me a wound to the heart that I have felt and I will feel my whole life. In fact I would have been able to immediately send that soul to Heaven but I condemned him to remain another night in the flames of Purgatory.”
- St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
Saint Gertrude had a deep empathy for the Church Suffering, the Holy Souls in Purgatory. At every Holy Communion she beseeched Jesus for His mercy to be bestowed on them. During one Holy Communion she experienced the descent into Purgatory with Our Lord. She heard Him say: "At Holy Communion I will permit thee to draw forth all to whom the fragrance of thy prayers penetrates." After Holy Communion Our Lord customarily delivered more Souls than she had dared to ask for.
One time when Gertrude was praying with great fervor for the Holy Souls, she asked Our Lord how many souls His mercy would release, He answered: "My love urges Me to release the Poor Souls. If a beneficent king leaves his guilty friend in prison for justice's sake, he awaits with longing for one of his nobles to plead for the prisoner and to offer something for his release. Then the king joyfully, sets him free. Similarly, I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the Poor Souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from Purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer!"
Our Savior taught Gertrude for whom she should most ardently pray for. On the day when the community commemorated in common the death of their parents, Gertrude saw the happy souls ascend the darkness of Purgatory like sparks from a flame. She asked Our Lord if all these were relatives. He answered: "I am thy nearest relative, thy father and thy mother. Therefore, My special friends are thy nearest relatives, and these are among those whom I have liberated."
Gertrude was asked by someone, that when she offered to God all the gratuitous gifts with which He had favored her, to request that she might have a share in their merit. "As she prayed thus, she perceived this person standing before the Lord, Who was seated on His throne of glory, and held in His hand a robe magnificently adorned, which He presented to her, but still without clothing her in it. The Saint, being surprised at this, said to Him: 'When I made a similar offering to Thee, a few days since, Thou didst at once take the Soul of the poor woman for whom I prayed to the joys of Paradise; and why, most loving Lord, dost Thou not now clothe this person with the robe which thou hast shown her, and which she so ardently desires, through the merits of the graces Thou hast bestowed on me, though so un worthy of them?' Our Lord answered: 'When anything is offered to Me for the faithful departed, I immediately use it for them, according to My natural inclination to show mercy and pardon, either for the remission of their sins for their consolation, or for the increase of their eternal felicity, according to the condition of those for whom the offering is made.'
The Prayer of St. Gertrude, below, is one of the most famous of the prayers for souls in Purgatory. St. Gertrude the Great was a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived in the 13th century. According to tradition, our Lord promised her that 1000 souls would be released from purgatory each time it is said devoutly.
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
- St. Gertrude the Great
And so that blessed soul, seeing the aforesaid things by the divine light, said: "I would fain send up a cry so loud that it would put fear in all men on the earth. I would say to them: 'Wretches, why do you let yourselves be thus blinded by the world, you whose need is so great and grievous, as you will know at the moment of death, and who make no provision for it whatsoever?'
"You have all taken shelter beneath hope in God's mercy, which is, you say, very great, but you see not that this great goodness of God will judge you for having gone against the will of so good a Lord. His goodness should constrain you to do all His will, not give you hope in ill-doing, for His justice cannot fail but in one way or another must needs be fully satisfied.
"Cease to hug yourselves, saying: 'I will confess my sins and then receive plenary indulgence, and at that moment I shall be purged of all my sins and thus shall be saved.' Think of the confession and the contrition needed for that plenary indulgence, so hardly come by that, if you knew, you would tremble in great fear, more sure you would never win it than that you ever could."
- Treatise on Purgatory Chapter XV