St Alphonsus de Liguori (1696 - 1787)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
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
3. Invocation 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
This is not derogatory to the honour due to God, but it is doubling it; for it is
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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]
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."