Some friars who lived in San Giovanni Rotondo with Padre Pio once heard a mysterious sound coming from the friary. It sounded, one of the friars said, like “voices singing in beautiful harmony.” No one could find the source.
Padre Pio was deep in prayer at the time, and someone approached him to ask if he knew where the singing was coming from. Roused as if from a deep sleep, he answered, “Why are you all so surprised? They are the voices of the angels, who are taking souls from purgatory into paradise.”
This story and others, told in the book Padre Pio: The True Story by C. Bernard Ruffin, illustrate Padre Pio’s supernatural sensitivity to the angelic world and the souls in purgatory.
Padre Pio was able not only to hear but to see souls from the other world. At times, he was given the gift of knowing the eternal condition of those who had died. It is said that the widow of a man who died by suicide once inquired about the state of her husband’s soul, and Padre Pio replied, “He’s saved. Between the bridge and the river he repented.”
His supernatural gifts did not come easily. They marked a life of intense suffering, including Padre Pio’s bearing the wounds of the stigmata for 50 years.
In his suffering, Padre Pio had a special devotion to the souls in purgatory. Early in his priesthood, he wrote to his spiritual director, “For some time I have felt the need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim for poor sinners and for souls in purgatory. This desire has grown continuously in my heart, until now it has become a powerful passion. I made this offering to the Lord, imploring Him to lay on me the punishments that are prepared for sinners and for souls in purgatory, even multiplying them upon me a hundredfold as long as He converts and saves sinners and quickly releases the souls in purgatory.”
Padre Pio said that suffering increasingly and without comfort was “all his joy” because it made the pains of Jesus lighter.
“I Need a Holy Mass”
In 1922, Padre Pio told a bishop and several friars the story of a soul who had visited him from purgatory.
On a snowy winter evening, Padre Pio was sitting by the fireplace in the friary, praying, when an old man sat down beside him. Padre Pio could not imagine how he could have entered the friary at this time of night.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Padre asked.
The man said his name was Pietro Di Mauro, and that he had died in this friary on September 18, 1908, when it was a poorhouse. He had fallen asleep with a lighted cigar, which set the mattress on fire, and he died, suffocated and burned.
“I am still in purgatory,” the old man said. “I need a holy Mass in order to be freed. God permitted that I come and ask you for help.”
“Rest assured that tomorrow I will celebrate Mass for your liberation,” Padre Pio answered, and then walked him to the door, which had been closed and locked.
Padre Pio offered Mass for the old man as promised. A few days later, he went with another friar to the town hall and looked at records from 1908. There they found that on September 18 of that year, a man named Pietro Di Mauro had indeed died of burns and asphyxiation in the place which at that time was a poorhouse and now was the friary.
Last week, I happened to open a newspaper from back in September. We don’t get the local paper, but a relative had given us a stack of old ones to use for craft projects. For some reason, the obituary section in one of the papers caught my eye. I began to read the first column. Suddenly I realized in astonishment that I was reading about someone I knew. A woman with whom I’ve been acquainted for years had passed away in September, and I hadn’t heard about it until now.
It seemed clear that the Holy Spirit had gone to great lengths to show me this woman’s obituary. What were the chances that I would stumble upon it a month after it was published in a paper that I don’t even get?
For a moment, I wondered why, and then it hit me: Maybe God directed me to this dear woman’s obituary because she needed a Mass said for her. I went to MyMassRequest.org and requested a Mass to be said for the peaceful repose of her soul. Then I thanked God for showing me her obituary so that I could assist her with my prayers.
The Holy Souls are Powerful Intercessors
The holy souls need our prayers –and at the same time, they can be powerful intercessors for us. The Catechism (958) says that “our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” When we pray for them, it makes them able to pray for us.
One of my favorite places to think and pray is in an old cemetery in my neighborhood. I have spent so much time there that the souls feel like old friends. When I look at their tombstones and pray for them, I also ask them to pray for me. Their intercession has been a tremendous blessing in my life.
This reciprocity has been understood since the early days of the Church. St. Odilo, who lived at the turn of the first millennium and was the first to establish All Souls Day, composed this prayer, in which he not only prays for the souls in purgatory but also asks for their intercession:
O holy souls, I promise never to forget you, and to pray to the Most High for your release. I beseech you to respond to this offering which I make to you. Obtain for us peace of heart, assist us in all our actions, console and defend us in our dangers, that we may one day all rejoice together in paradise. O God the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, give to the souls of your departed servants the remission of their sins, that they may obtain the joys of heaven. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Plenary Indulgence in November
Each November, the Church, in Her goodness, offers a gift for the faithful to give to the souls in purgatory. From November 1-8, the faithful can gain a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory by visiting a cemetery and praying there for the dead.
In order to obtain the indulgence, a Catholic in the state of grace must have the intention to obtain it and fulfill the following conditions:
- (a) visit a cemetery and pray there for the dead, even if only mentally
- (b) make a sacramental confession (a single confession, within about 20 days before or after, will suffice for all the indulgences a person obtains within that time period)
- (c) receive Holy Communion
- (d) recite at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the Holy Father
- (e) be free from attachment to all sin, including venial
One plenary indulgence may be obtained each day. The indulgence becomes partial if the conditions are partially fulfilled.
A note about the last condition: Sometimes people wonder whether it is possible for them to be completely detached from venial sin. I believe the answer to this is found in Mark 10, when Jesus tells his disciples how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God, and they wonder who then can be saved.
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God,” Jesus tells them. “All things are possible for God.”
Even if it would be impossible for us to be completely detached from sin, it is not impossible for God. As Matthew 7 reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given you;” for our Father in heaven gives “good things to those who ask him.” Let’s ask Him, then, for the grace to be detached from all sin. My friend Suzie suggests adding this little prayer to the prayers for the indulgence: Dear Holy Spirit, if I am not detached from all sin, please make me detached now, so that I may gain this plenary indulgence that my Mother, the Church, offers to me, Her child.
God is on our side. He wants us to be able to obtain this indulgence as an act of charity for the souls in purgatory, and He will help us fulfill the conditions if we only ask.
Churchyard Prayer of St. John XXIII
Hail, all you faithful souls whose bodies rest here and elsewhere in dust; may Our Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed you and us with His most precious Blood, vouchsafe to release you from your pains to unite you to the hosts of the angels; and there do you be mindful of us and suppliantly pray for us that we may join your company and be crowned along with you in heaven. Amen.