"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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St Alphonsus de Liguori  (1696 - 1787)

 

PRAYER - The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection (cont)

 

by St Alphonsus de Liguori

Part I: The Necessity, Power and Conditions of Prayer


Chapter 1: The Necessity of Prayer

3. Invocation of the Saints

1. Is it good and useful to have recourse to the intercession of the saints?

Here a question arises, whether it is necessary to have recourse also to the intercession of the Saints to obtain the grace of God.

That it is a lawful and useful thing to invoke the Saints, as intercessors, to obtain for us, by the merits of Jesus Christ, that which we, by our demerits, are not worthy to receive, is a doctrine of the Church, declared by the Council of Trent. "It is good and useful to invoke them by supplication, and to fly to their aid and assistance to obtain benefits from God through his Son Jesus Christ." [Sess. 25, De. inv. Sanct.]

Such innovation was condemned by the impious Calvin, but most illogically. For if it is lawful and profitable to invoke living Saints to aid us, and to beseech them to assist us in prayers, as the Prophet Baruch did: "And pray ye for us to the Lord our God" [Bar. 1: 13] and St. Paul: "Brethren, pray for us; [1 Thess. 5: 25] and as God Himself commanded the friends of Job to recommend themselves to his prayers, that by the merits of Job he might look favourably on them: "Go to my servant Job, . . . and my servant Job shall pray for you; his face I will accept;" [Job 42: 8] if, then it is lawful to recommend ourselves to the living, how can it be unlawful to invoke the Saints who in Heaven enjoy God face to face?

This is not derogatory to the honour due to God, but it is doubling it; for it is honouring the king not only in His Person but in His servants. Therefore, says St. Thomas, it is good to have recourse to many Saints, "because by the prayers of many we can sometimes obtain that which we cannot by the prayers of one." And if any one object, But why have recourse to the Saints to pray for us, when they are already praying for all who are worthy of it? The same Doctor answers, that no one can be said to be worthy that the Saints should pray for him; but that "he becomes worthy by having recourse to the Saint with devotion." [In 4. Sent. d. 45, q. 3, a. 2]

2. Is it good to invoke also the souls in Purgatory?

Again, it is disputed whether there is any use in recommending one's self to the Souls in Purgatory. Some say that the Souls in that state cannot pray for us; and these rely on the authority of St. Thomas, who says that those Souls, while they are being purified by pain, are inferior to us, and therefore are not in a state to pray for us, but rather require our prayers. [2. 2. q. 83, a. 2] But many other Doctors, as Bellarmine, [De Purg. 1. 2. c. 15] Sylvius, [In Suppl. q. 71, a. 6] Cardinal Gotti, [De St. an. p. vit. q. 4, d. 2] Lessius, [De Just. 1. 2, c. 37, d. 5] Medina and others, affirm with great probability, that we should piously believe that God manifests our prayer to those holy souls, in order that they may pray for us; and that so the charitable interchange of mutual prayer may be kept up between them and us.

Nor do St. Thomas' words present much difficulty; for, as Sylvius and Gotti say, it is one thing not to be in a state to pray, another not to be able to pray. It is true that those souls are not in a state to pray, because, as St. Thomas says, while suffering they are inferior to us, and rather require our prayers; nevertheless, in this state they are well able to pray, as they are friends of God. If a father keeps a son whom he tenderly loves in confinement for some fault; if the son then is not in a state to pray for himself, is that any reason why he cannot pray for others, and may he not expect to obtain what he asks, knowing, as he does, his father's affection for him? So the Souls in Purgatory, being beloved by God, and confirmed in grace, have absolutely no impediment to prevent them from praying for us.

Still the Church does not invoke them, or implore their intercession, because ordinarily they have no cognizance of our prayers. But we may piously believe that God make sour prayers known to them; and then they, full of charity as they are, most assuredly do not omit to pray for us.

St. Catherine of Bologna, whenever she desired any favour, had recourse to the Souls in Purgatory, and was immediately heard. She even testified that by the intercession of the Souls in Purgatory she had obtained many graces which she had not bee able to obtain by the intercession of the Saints.

3. It is our duty to pray for the souls in Purgatory

But here let me make a digression in favour of those Holy Souls. If we desire the aid of their prayers, it is but fair that we should mind to aid them with our prayers and good works. I said it is fair, but I should have said it is a Christian duty; for charity obliges us to succour our neighbour when he requires our aid, and we can help him without grievous inconvenience. Now it is certain that amongst our neighbours are to be reckoned the Souls in Purgatory, who, although no longer living in this world, yet have not left the Communion of Saints. "The Souls of the pious dead," says St. Augustine, "are not separated from the Church." [De Civitate Dei. 1. 20, c. 9] and St. Thomas says more to our purpose, that the charity which is due to the dead who died in the grace of God is only an extension of the same charity which we owe to our neighbour while living: "Charity, which is the bond which unites the member of the Church, extends not only to the living, but also to the dead who die in charity." [In 4. Sent. d. 45, q. 2, s. 2]

Therefore, we ought to succour, according to our ability, those holy souls as our neighbours; and as their necessities are greater than those of our other neighbours, for this reason our duty to succour them seems also to be greater.

But now, what are the necessities of those holy prisoners? It is certain that their pains are immense. The fire that tortures them, says St. Augustine, is more excruciating than any pain that man can endure in this life: "That fire will be more painful than anything that man can suffer in this life." [In Ps. 37] St. Thomas thinks the same, and supposes it to be identical with the fire of Hell: "The damned are tormented and the elect purified in the same fire." [In 4. Sent. d. 21, q. 1, a. 1] And this only relates to the pains of sense.

But the pain of loss [that is, the privation of the sight of God], which those Holy Souls suffer, is much greater; because not only their natural affection, but also the supernatural love of God, wherewith they burn, draws them with such violence to be united with their Sovereign Good, that when they see the barrier which their sins have put in the way, they feel a pain so acute, that if they were capable of death, they could not live a moment. So that, as St. Chrysostom says, this pain of the deprivation of God tortures them incomparably more than the pain of sense: "The flames of a thousand Hells together could not inflict much torments as the pain of loss by itself." So that those Holy Souls would rather suffer every other possible torture than be deprived for a single instant of the union with God for which they long.

So St. Thomas says, that the pain of Purgatory exceeds anything that can be endured in this life: "The pain of Purgatory must exceed all pain of this life." And Dionysius the Carthusian relates, that a dead person, who had been raised to life by the intercession of St. Jerome, told St. Cyril of Jerusalem that all the torments of this earth are refreshing and delightful when compared with the very least pain of Purgatory: "If all the torments of the world were compared with the least that can be had in Purgatory they would appear comfortable." [De Quat. Nov. a. 53] And he adds, that if a man had once tried those torments, he would rather suffer all the earthly sorrows that man can endure till the Day of Judgment, than suffer for on day the least pain of Purgatory. Hence St. Cyril wrote to St. Augustine: "That as far as regards the infliction of suffering, these pains are the same as those of Hell-----their only difference being that they are not eternal." [Int. Op. Aug. Ep. 19, E.B. app.]

Hence we see that the pains of these holy souls are excessive, while, on the other hand, they cannot help themselves; because as Job says: "they are in chains, and are bound with the cords of poverty." [Job 36: 8] They are destined to reign with Christ; but they are withheld from taking possession of their kingdom till the time of their purgation is accomplished. And they cannot help themselves [at least not sufficiently, even according to those theologians who assert that they can by their prayers gain some relief,] to throw off their chains, until they have entirely satisfied the justice of God. This is precisely what a Cistercian monk said to the sacristan of his monastery: "Help me, I beseech you, with your prayers; for of myself I can obtain nothing." And this is consistent with the saying of St. Bonaventure: "Destitution prevents solvency." [Serm. de Mort.] That is, those souls are so poor, that they have no means of making satisfaction.

On the other hand, since it is certain, and even of faith, that by our suffrages, and chiefly by our prayers, as particularly recommended and practiced by the Church, we can relieve those Holy Souls, I do not know how to excuse that man from sin who neglects to give them some assistance, at least by his prayers.

If a sense of duty will not persuade us to succour them, let us think of the pleasure it will give Jesus Christ to see us endeavouring to deliver his beloved spouses from prison, in order that he may have them with Him in Paradise. Let us think of the store of merit which we can lay up by practicing this great act of charity; let us think, too, that those souls are not ungrateful, and will never forget the great benefit we do them in relieving them of their pains, and in obtaining for them, by our prayers, anticipation of their entrance into glory; so that when they are there they will never neglect to pray for us. And if God promises mercy to him who practices: mercy towards his neighbour-----'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.' [Matt. 5: 7]-----he may reasonably expect to be saved who remembers to assist those souls so afflicted, and yet so dear to God.

Jonathan, after having saved the, Hebrews from ruin by a victory over their enemies, was condemned to death by his father Saul for having tasted some honey against his express commands; but the people came before the king, and said, "Shall Jonathan then die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel?" [1 Sam. 14: 45] So may we expect, that if any of us ever obtains, by his prayers, the liberation of a Soul from Purgatory, that Soul will say to God: 'Lord, suffer not him who has delivered me from my torments to be lost.'

And if Saul spared Jonathan's life at the request of his people, God will not refuse the salvation of a christian to the prayers of a Soul which is his own spouse. Moreover, St. Augustine says that God will cause those who in this life have most succoured those Holy Souls, when they come to Purgatory themselves, to be most succoured by others. I may here observe that, in practice, one of the best suffrages is to hear Mass for them, and during the Holy Sacrifice to recommend them to God by the merits and Passion of Jesus Christ. The following form may be used: "Eternal Father, I offer Thee this Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, with all the pains which he suffered in his life and death; and by his Passion I recommend to Thee the souls in Purgatory, and especially that of," etc. And it is a very charitable act to recommend, at the same time, the souls of all those who are at the point of death.

4. Is it necessary to invoke the Saints?

Whatever doubt there may be whether or not the Souls in Purgatory can pray for us, and therefore whether or not it is of any use to recommend ourselves to their prayers, there can be no doubt whatever with regard to the Saints. For it is certain that it is most useful to have recourse to the intercession of the Saints canonized by the Church, who are already enjoying the vision of God.

To suppose that the Church can err in canonizing, is a sin, or is heresy, according to St. Bonaventure, Bellarmine, and others; or at least next door to heresy, according to Suarez, Azorius, Gotti, etc.; because the Sovereign Pontiff, according to St. Thomas, is guided by the infallible influence of the Holy Ghost in an especial way when canonizing the Saints. [Quod. 9, a. 16, ad. 1]

But to return to the question just proposed: are we obliged to have recourse to the intercession of the Saints? I do not wish to meddle with the decision of this question; but I cannot omit the exposition of a doctrine of St. Thomas. In several places above quoted, and especially in his book of Sentences, he expressly lays it down as certain that everyone is bound to pray; because [as he asserts] in no other way can the graces necessary for salvation be obtained from God, except by prayer: "Every man is bound to pray, from the fact that he is bound to procure spiritual good for himself, which can only be got from God; so it can only be obtained by asking it of God." [In 4. Sent. d. 15, q. 4, a. 1]

Then, in another place of the same book, he proposes the exact question, "Whether we are bound to pray to the Saints to intercede for us?" [Dist. 45, q. 3, a. 2] And he answers as follows-----in order to catch his real meaning, we will quote the entire passage: "According to Dionysius, the order which God has instituted for his creature requires that things which are remote may be brought to God by means of things which are nearer to him. Hence, as the Saints in Heaven are nearest of all to him, the order of his law requires that we who 'remaining in the body are absent from the Lord,' should be brought to Him by means of the Saints; and this is effected by the Divine goodness pouring forth his gifts through them. And as the path of our return to God should correspond to the path of the good things which proceed from him to us, it follows that, as the benefits of God come down to us by means of the suffrages of the Saints, we ought to be brought to God by the same way, so that a second time we may receive his benefits by the mediation of the Saints. Hence it is that we make them our intercessors with God, and as it were our mediators, when we ask them to pray for us."

Note well the words-----"The order of God's law requires;' and especially note the last words-----"As the benefits of God come down to us by means of the suffrages of the Saints, in the same way we must be brought back to God so that a second time we may receive his benefits by the mediation of the Saints."

So that, according to St. Thomas, the order of the Divine law requires that we mortals should be saved by means of the Saints, in that we receive by their intercession the help necessary for our salvation. He then puts the objection, that it appears superfluous to have recourse to the Saints, since God is infinitely more merciful than they, and more ready to hear us. This he answers by saying: "God has so ordered, not on account of any want of mercy on His part, but to keep the right order which He has universally established, of working by means of second causes. It is not for want of His mercy, but to preserve the aforesaid order in the creation."

In conformity with this doctrine of St. Thomas, the Continuator of Tourneley and Sylvius writes, that although God only is to be prayed to as the Author of grace, yet we are bound to have recourse also to the intercession of the Saints, so as to observe the order which God has established with regard to our salvation, which is, that the inferior should be saved by imploring the aid of the superior, "By the law of nature we are bound to observe the order which God has appointed; but God has appointed that the inferior should obtain salvation by imploring the assistance of his superior." [De relig. p.2. c.2, a.5]