This is a question that I have been asked recently. I always assumed that the answer was “yes;” but, after doing some research in the Catholic Encyclopedia I see that the question has been open to opinion, or least it used to be before the sixteenth century. There is no definitive teaching of the Church, however, on the subject; even the ordinary magisterium, which is infallible as to what has been held by the faithful throughout the centuries, does not provide a unanimous affirmative. What is unanimous, and scriptural, and defined (Trent), is that our prayers on earth alleviate the Church suffering, and, most especially, the holy sacrifice of the Mass. How is that? By reducing their suffering and shortening the time of their purgation. What greater motive could we have to show our love for our departed family and friends? And, lest we forget the Savior’s command, what greater charity could we have than offering prayers for our departed enemies, or those who hurt us in some way during our life?
St. Thomas (II-II.83.11) denies that the souls in purgatory pray for the living, and states they are not in a position to pray for us, rather we must make intercession for them.
Saint Robert Bellarmine (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv,) disagreed with Saint Thomas citing his arguments as unconvincing. Bellarmine taught that precisely because they are secure in their salvation, and permanently united to God, that they have a greater love for Him than the wayfarers, although he did not concede that they are aware of our particular circumstances. The Tridentine doctor, Francisco Suárez (De poenit., disp. xlvii, s. 2, n. 9), Bellarmine’s contemporary and fellow Jesuit, asserts more. He argues thus: “that the souls in purgatory are holy, are dear to God, love us with a true love and are mindful of our wants; that they know in a general way our necessities and our dangers, and how great is our need of divine help and divine grace”.
Saint Alphonsus in his work the “Great Means of Salvation”, chap. I, III, 2, after quoting many renowned theologians as favourable to his opinion, concludes: “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 makes our prayers known to them”. He also cites the authority of Saint Catherine of Bologna, a fifteenth century Poor Clare mystic, saying that “whenever she desired any favour [she] had recourse to the souls in purgatory, and was immediately heard”.
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