Devotion for the Dying  [and the Holy Souls in Purgatory]


By Ven. Mother Mary Potter


Chapter 5

"For eighteen hundred years, Catholic devotions lave come forth in magnificent procession from the Incarnation, as from an inward world of spiritual beauty. There is no sign of their ending. Each new devotion seems to make more devotions possible; they multiply by the very outpouring of them. Each devotion becomes the head of a family of devotions. It seizes upon some Saint or upon some religious congregation and perpetuates itself and multiplies itself and is a fresh visible adornment to the Church."

We put before our readers a devotion which, like other devotions, is not new; it is as ancient is the Church itself; it is simply in these days receiving a new impetus, probably because such devotion was never more needed than now. The devotion to the dying, which this little work is written to advocate, is fearfully needed at the present. I say fearfully needed because it is terrible to see souls unnumbered, souls, members of God's holy Church, dropping out of time into eternity-----and what eternity? To all appearance a hopeless eternity of woe.

  We should do what good we can to those around us-----instruct, convert, admonish-----there are still so many we cannot reach except by prayer; let us then pray, and let us pray for those who have the greatest need, the dying of today, those for whom tomorrow will be too late. Think seriously of the fearful peril souls all over the world are in at this very moment; think of the souls for whom Jesus died, who are now on their deathbeds, who might be giving glory to God by making their deaths bear some resemblance to Jesus' death, who might, however bad their lives have been, be brought to repentance at the last, as was the Good Thief, if Mary's children were praying as she did on Calvary for that dying sinner. Can we think of that horrible "forever without God" and not make some effort to save souls from that terrible fate? Let us but throw ourselves heart and soul into this work of saving souls. Oh, do let us put ourselves on one side; do let us forget our unspeakably worthless selves, our selfish cares and worries; let us launch out in the calm bark of our dear Mother's heart upon the tempestuous ocean of this life, and we shall be peaceful and secure; and let us bring others to this safe place of refuge.

   Mary has been compared to the Ark of Noah, and it is a happy comparison; we enter that ark and are safe in the midst of a universal storm which is drowning a whole world of immortal souls and hurling them into eternal destruction. And yet the comparison is not just, in that only a certain number were allowed entrance into the  Ark of Noah; whereas there is no limit to the number who may seek safety from the dangers  of the temptations which are now spreading more and more thickly all over the world-----by appealing to Mary, by taking refuge under the mantle of her maternal protection, by throwing themselves into her arms and uniting their hearts to her dear Motherly heart that beats so truly, so constantly, so lovingly. In that heart they will receive strength to live so as to save their own souls, and not alone their own, but the souls also of many others; and in doing this their lives will shine brightly before God; they will be beautiful in His sight and in the sight of His holy Angels. Oh, do let us lead noble lives, lives of love for God and men, and we shall endear ourselves to God while we do an undying work of love for our neighbors; and we shall show ourselves to be true children of Mary, to whom she has revealed the dearest wish of her heart, the salvation of the dying.

   Father Faber tells us how Mary loves us to pray for the dying. He writes:

   "Devotion for those in their last agony is a Mary-like devotion, and most acceptable to her Immaculate Heart. There is not a moment of day or night in which that dread pomp of dying is not going on. There are persons, like ourselves, or better than ourselves, and whose friends have with reason loved them more than ever ours have loved us, and who are now straitened in their agony, and whose eternal sight of God is trembling anxiously on the balance. Can any appeal to our charity be more piteously eloquent than this?

   "When we think of all that Mary has done for each of these souls, those who are ceaselessly, momentarily, fixing their eternity in death-----when we call to mind the long train of graces which she has brought to everyone of them, and consequently the yearning of her maternal heart for their final perseverance and everlasting salvation-----we may form some idea of the gratefulness of this devotion to her. The deathbed is one of her peculiar spheres. She seems to exercise quite a particular jurisdiction over it. It is there that she so visibly cooperates with Jesus in the redemption of mankind. But she seeks for us to cooperate with her also. She would fain draw our hearts with hers, our prayers to hers. Is she not the one mother of us all? Are not the dying our brothers and our sisters in the sweet motherhood of Mary? The family is concerned. We must not coldly absent ourselves. We must assist in spirit at every death that is died the whole world over, deaths of heretics and heathens as well as Christians. For they, too, are our brothers and sisters: they have souls; they have eternities at stake; Mary has an interest in them. And their eternity is in more than double danger. How much more must they need prayers who have no Sacraments? How much darker must their closing scene be where the full light of faith shines not? How much more earnest must be the prayers, when not ordinary grace, but a miracle of grace, must be impetrated for them? Alas! they will have none of our other gifts; at least, and affectionately, despite on their own, they shall have our prayers.

   "We must remember also that we, too, have to die. We shall one day lie in the same strait, and need unspeakably the same charitable prayers. The measure which we mete to others shall be measured to us again. This is the Divine rule of retribution. Nothing will prepare a smoother deathbed for ourselves than a life-long daily devotion to those who are daily dying."

   Father Faber likewise cites a remarkable revelation; I give it in his words:

   "Once after Communion on that day [Our Lady of Angels] she [St. Marie Denise] felt a strong interior movement, as if Our Lord was taking her soul out of her body, and leading her to the shore of Purgatory. There He pointed out to her the Soul of a powerful prince who had been killed in a duel, but to whom God had given the grace to make an act of contrition before he breathed his last; and she was ordered to pray for him especially. She was so overcome by this vision that the superioress perceived that something extraordinary had happened to her. She related the vision, and added, 'Yes, my dear Mother! I have seen that Soul in Purgatory. O my Mother,' she continued, weeping, 'how good is God in His justice!' How has this prince followed the spirit of the world and the lights of the flesh-----how little anxiety has he had for his soul, and how little devotion in the use of the Sacraments!

   "And yet, my dear Mother, I am not so much moved at the lamentable state of suffering in which I have seen his Soul, as I am struck with wonder at the blessed movement of grace which accomplished his salvation. That happy instant seems to me an outflow of the infinity of God's goodness, sweetness, and love. The action in which he died deserved Hell. It was no attention to God on his own part which won from Heaven that precious moment of grace. It was an effect of the Communion of Saints, by the participation which he had in the prayers that were made for him. The Divine Omnipotence lovingly allowed Itself to be turned by some good soul and in that grace acted beyond its wont.

   "Ah, my dear Mother, henceforth we must teach all the world to beg of God, our blessed Lady, and the Saints, that final instant of grace and mercy for the hour of death, and also to pave the way for it by good works, because, though Our Lord may sometimes derogate from His ordinary providence, we must never presume on that privilege in our own case. A million souls have been lost in the very action in which the prince was saved. He had but one instant of life in the free possession of his mind in order to cooperate with the precious moment of grace; that moment inspired him with a real contrition which enabled him to make an act of true final repentance. As the prince had not lost the Faith, he was like a match ready to take fire, so that when the spark of merciful grace touched the Christian center of his soul, the fire of charity was kindled and brought forth a saving act.

   "God made use of the instinct which we naturally have to invoke our First Cause, when we are in urgent peril of losing the life which we hold from Him; and thus He touched the prince and drew him to have recourse to efficacious grace. Divine grace is more active than we can conceive. We cannot wink our eyes as quickly as God can do His work in the soul where He seeks cooperation; and the moment in which the soul makes its act of cooperation with grace is almost as brief as the one in which it receives it; and in this the soul experiences how admirably it has been created in the image and likeness of God.

   "Victorious grace required only a moment to strike down St. Paul and to triumph over his heart. The judgments and conduct of God are abysses which it does not belong to us to fathom; but of one thing I can assure you, that if it had not been for that one blessed moment of grace, the soul of the prince would have descended into the lowest Hell; and since the devil has been a devil, he has perhaps never been more disappointed in his expectation than in losing that prey. For he had known nothing of the interior occupation of his victim in those few seconds which the Divine Goodness accorded him after his mortal wound."  St. Gertrude, complaining one time to Our Lord of the small number of the elect-----if we might judge from those who were leading lives likely to lead to Heaven -----was told by Our Lord that she was mistaken and that the number of the elect was not so small as she imagined. Might He not mean-----Our Dear Lord-----that He in His mercy accords a good death to some whose lives did not warrant His doing so, that He allows Himself to be persuaded, if we may so speak, that He listens to the prayers, the penances, the ardent supplications of His servants, and shows mercy? Do we not read that His favored servant, St. Francis of Assisi, saw the fate of one of his disciples, saw the sentence of damnation that awaited him, and yet, in answer to His loved servant, Our Lord revoked the sentence?

    How terrible if we could see the fate of someone we dearly loved, some soul condemned to everlasting torments, and yet how this would help us to return to the world and pray and suffer for others who we feared might share the same fate. We can do so when those near and dear to us are in danger, and yet if we love Our Dear Lord, all whom He loves would be near and dear to us-----and He loves all, He died for all.

   Look at that chamber of death. A young man has been struck down in the prime of life. The mother is bending over the dead body of her son. Beautiful that body looks to her; beautiful it is, fashioned to the likeness of the "Son of Man."

Fairer now seems that brow to her, dearer those features, than they even were in life. Had she ever loved him as now, even when the mother's love first sprang up in her heart and she clasped her newborn babe in her arms? Bent now over that lifeless corpse in anguish, in bitter sorrow, her heart echoes the cry of King David, "O Absalom, my son Absalom, who will give me that I may die with thee, my son Absalom."

   Poor mother! Poor mother! Good is God to thee; mercifully does He hide from thy sight the soul which lately left that body. Calm and peaceful that body looks to thee, but what if thou couldst see the soul, the unfortunate, accursed soul? Never a mother on earth was shown that fearful sight but one, Mary the Mother of God, the Mother of Christ's Church. To her did Jesus give the souls for whom He died. On the Cross He made her Mother of mankind. Never did an earthly mother love her children as did Mary at the foot of the Cross love the souls Jesus gave to her, and yet her already pierced heart felt them taken from her and condemned to eternal death. Her eye followed them to their everlasting doom. She saw in spirit what Jesus saw, the souls of the lost. Her spirit in its measure felt as His and longed to save those souls. No mortal ever felt as Mary felt what it is to love God.

   She, the Daughter of the Eternal Father, Mother of the Incarnate Word, Spouse of the Holy Ghost -----she above all creatures knew how God was to be desired. Her capacious mind looked into eternity and saw in some measure what that forever and forever would be without God, the good God, the Ever-Blessed Trinity, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. Her loving heart, like to the heart of Jesus, saw her children condemned forever to this fearful loss. Oh, how she longed to save them! In spirit she foresaw that they would be lost, body and soul, in Hell; saw those who had been made like to Jesus, saved by Him, for He was then shedding His Blood to save them; saw those wonderful beings whom the Eternal God had created so great that He, in speaking of their dignity, had said, "I have said you are gods" [Ps. 81: 6]; Mary, who so delighted in being Mother of the children of God, saw those glorious beings now changed into devils.