Circle of Prayer - The Holy Souls in Purgatory
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"Dear Lord we ask you to cover us with Your protection against all harm and evil and to bind every spirit that may come against us. Into Your hands Dear Lord I commend my body, mind, soul and spirit. St Michael the Archangel pray for us"

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The concept of Purgatory is often a difficult one for non-Catholics to take on board and as a result see no reason to pray for the dead as a public offering of prayer. Let's just walk back in history to the time of Christ. Jesus was Jewish as was His Mother, His step-father, His Apostles, His disciples and most of the early converts to Christianity. In the Jewish tradition it is commonplace to pray for the dead. Prayers are offered for a deceased parent, spouse or child for a period of 11 months and then on every anniversary. So this tradition was natural to Jesus and His followers.

Now we have to take a look at why there could possibly be such a state as purgatory. In order to answer that we have to look at sin and the different types of sin. Can murder be equated with stealing a penny from our mother's purse? Can blasphemy be equated with telling a little white lie? I'm sure there's loads more examples but the point is that there are those grievous sins which are mortal to the soul and those venial sins which remove us from a state of grace but do not leave our souls in peril.

Now we have to look at heaven and at hell. We know that nothing unclean can enter heaven and that those who commit serious sin without any remorse are more than likely destined for hell. Let's tryand picture the soul as a perfectly pristine white sheet without a blemish on it. That's how our souls are at baptism, but along the road of life we add stains to that lovely white soul. The greater the sin the darker the stain. For every sin confessed there is repentance but there must also be reparation - repairing the damage, also known as temporal penalty due to sin, and commensurate to the wrongdoing.

So, let's say a good-living person dies suddenly without the means to 'clear the slate' with God. We are imperfect beings and even to lose one's temper or engage in gossip or waste time are generally seen as little, or venial sins, depending on the damage they cause to others. Now, unless we lead lives of constant prayer, austerity and personal sacrifice, we place those little stains on the 'white sheet'. So the person who dies suddenly carries their stained soul before God's judgement and cannot enter heaven, yet certainly doesn't deserve hell. What a conundrum eh? Hence purgatory! A time of 'cleansing'. 

Of course, there are those who go straight to heaven but they are few and far between I'd say coz it's awful hard to live the life of a saint. The Church of Christ was conceived by His Blood on Calvary and born at Pentecost. Those believing in Christ, baptised in the Name of the Trinity, and living by His ways become the Communion of Saints, brothers and sisters in Christ and in His Church. The Communion of Saints, or the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the living called the Church Militant, those in purgatory called the Church suffering and those in heaven called the Church Triumphant.

The Church of Christ is built on both Scriptures and Tradition, bearing in mind that the New Testament wasn't written until 65AD at the earliest and some of the books at a later date. So all that Christ taught and that was passed on by the Apostles was based on Tradition. In the catacombs were found many inscriptions asking for prayers. So the early Christians realised the need for prayer after their death.

The Early Church Fathers taught on the need to pray for the dead and the concept of a state of reparation before going to heaven. The Council of Florence defined purgatory as a doctrine of the
Faith in the early 1400's. Where it began to unravel was at the time of the Reformation when Luther separated himself from the Church because of the human greed, worldliness and the abuse of indulgences by some of the higher ecclesiastics of the day. When he stepped away from Christ's Church he also deleted 7 complete books and part of 2 others in the Old Testament, parts of the sacred writings held to be inspired by the Holy Spirit for over 1200 years by the Early Church Fathers and the many theologians since.

One of those removed was the 2nd book of  Maccabees within which is the following:

" It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins" (2 Mac 12:46)

Saint Paul was quite explicit in his words:

"For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." (I Cor., 3: 11-15: 

And so the tradition of praying for the dead became lost to most of the Protestant churches, sadly.

In 2003 a small group in Ireland came together to highlight the need for constant prayers and sacrifices for the Holy Souls and calls itself the Holy Souls Crusade. Please check out the website and learn more about the Holy Souls, the group itself and some prayers that can be said for our deceased family and friends.

Fr. McNamara and ZENIT have kindly given us permission to use an article on Indulgences, published in February 2005. It helps explain how we can gain indulgences for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

Moytura has several other sites with a 'Christian flavour'. Prayerful Thoughts & Thoughtful Prayers is a little collection of prayers and thought-provoking stories, and a few links to some other really nice websites. Reflections for Lent offers a daily meditation for the 40 days of lent and the week leading into Easter. As part of my Journey section of the website join me to learn a little of the Early Christian Church in Ireland by visiting Clonmacnoise, founded by St. Ciaran on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6th. Century. Read about Saint Brendan the Navigator who started a Monastic settlement in the tiny village of Clonfert in the 6th century, located on the Galway/Offaly/Tipperary border. Travel on my journeys to two of Canada's most famous Catholic Shrines - Saint Anne de Beaupré and Cap de la Madeleine, both on the shores of the Saint Lawrence river in Quebec. Finally I welcome you to come with me to see a little of Medugorje, a peaceful haven in a war-torn country - Bosnia-Herzogovina. Please also pay a visit to  Moytura's Irish Bookshop where you can find books on the history of Christianity in IrelandIrish Prayers and Celtic Christianity

Below are some of the other areas of Moytura's web site.

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