When I was a student at Mundelein Seminary I often would drive by Marytown. Undoubtedly, right around November, you could be sure their sign would indicate an upcoming event with Susan Tassone. Regrettably, I never attended any of her talks or met her personally, but I was familiar with her work. When I was a youth I encountered the work of an Eastern European woman named Maria Simma who received visits from the Holy Souls. Akin to my fascination with Marian apparitions, such an idea captivated me, and I became convinced of the need to pray for the poor souls. Since that encounter, I have always remembered them, especially during November.
With November being the month dedicated to the Holy Souls, I reached out to Susan Tassone through a mutual friend, asking her if she would be willing to participate in an interview to raise awareness about the Holy Souls. She graciously accepted my invitation. Susan Tassone is recognized as one of the leading scholars on Purgatory and has published more on the topic than anyone with both informational and devotional texts. Her books are highly sought after and are best sellers both with her publisher and various stores, including EWTN’s Religious Catalogue.
In Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, Susan relates the origins of her devotions to the Holy Souls. In 1983, Susan was involved in an accident, which left her leg permanently damaged (or so she thought). It just so happened that fifty years earlier, to the day, one of Susan’s relatives also was involved in an accident, but she was not so lucky; she did not survive. Susan realized she survived because she had a mission. Ten years after her life-changing accident, Susan experienced a miraculous healing during a Marian pilgrimage, and after that pilgrimage, her mission was revealed: to become a zealot for the Holy Souls. One simple book, Read it or Rue it, changed her life, as she encountered the plight of the Holy Souls. She learned that the holy souls would repay devotees 10,000 times overs. Immediately she was hooked! Her mission began with collecting money in order to have Masses said for the holy souls. At the time of the aforementioned book’s publication, over 2 million dollars had been collected for the Mass intentions. In addition to her mission of collecting Mass intentions for the Holy Souls, Susan has authored (at least) eight books on the subject of Purgatory, and has done countless interviews among various mediums. Today, I’m happy to share my interview with such a wonderful, faith-filled, and devoted servant of the Holy Souls.
Fr. Looney: What is the consensus in our Catholic tradition about Purgatory?
Susan Tassone: I learned that there are three key points everyone agrees on:
First, the fire described by the saints is a positive fire, a burning love of God. It can be called a GOD FIRE. It is not the physical fire as we know it; rather Purgatory is an inner burning, a spiritual fervor for the love of God. The soul in Purgatory saw God in all His glory and now they are unable to be with Him so they burn “interiorly” for God. It is God’s burning love—His longing for souls that create their longing for Him!
Second, a concept everyone agrees to is that the holy souls need our prayers, especially in this priority: Mass, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration. There are indulgences that are attached to these devotions that we can apply to the suffering souls. I call them the four Pillars of Devotion.
Third, when someone has died we feel grief and sorrow. We want to do something. I have published the most powerful ways to assist the holy souls that include collection of prayers, devotions, meditations, writings, scripture, etc., that are the perfect means to show our love for the holy souls. The souls are most concerned about our salvation, especially their families. They become powerful intercessors for us throughout life. The Catechism tells us as much in paragraph 958. The more we pray for them, the more powerful their intercession is for us. Never stop praying for the holy souls!
Fr. Looney: Should we be afraid of Purgatory?
Susan Tassone: Some view purgatory as a “punishment.” It is not. Purgatory is NOT a scary place. God loves us more than anybody else and more than anybody can! It is His Love that cleanses and purifies us to be able to stand before His presence. God is a God of unspeakable purity. Because of our sin and selfishness, we need purification and healing. It is the heavenly beauty of God that ravishes these souls and they will not go before Him with the least stain. Purgatory is a place of great restoration: a place where our imperfections and faults are purified to reflect the radiant image of God. This is a loving purgatory, a healing purgatory. A beautiful sign of God’s love. It is the masterpiece of His mercy. Given all of this, we should be full of gratitude for this merciful doctrine.
Fr. Looney: Why do we need to pray for the Holy Souls?
Susan Tassone: God’s justice demands expiation of their sins and places in our hands the means of assisting them. Jesus told St. Faustina: “They are making retribution to my justice. It is in your power to bring relief…My mercy does not want this but justice demands it… “(Diary 20, 1226).
God gives us the power and privilege to relieve and release them from purgatory through Masses, Rosaries, Stations of the Cross, Adoration and offering up our pains, joys and sufferings for them. Once the soul leaves the body the time of merit is up. They can do nothing for their deliverance. They can’t receive the sacraments or gain indulgences. They depend entirely on our charity. We are their deliverers. Heaven encourages them and we deliver them. In the process, once released, we gain new intercessors for the rest of our life.
Fr. Looney: Some people balk at the idea of Purgatory. Some people do not believe it exists. As a Church, we often shy away from the topic. What’s behind this?
Susan Tassone: In the immediate decades after Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the topic of Purgatory was less frequently taught in religious classes (including in some seminaries) or addressed in homilies because it was deemed “pre-Vatican II” rather than Church Doctrine. (In a similar way, Marian devotion was considered antiquated if not nearly obsolete.) A result was a generation of youth learning little or nothing about faith, grace, sin, hell and purgatory. Later, as teachers or parents, they lacked the knowledge or understanding to talk about purgatory with their own students or children. Thankfully, there’s been a huge turn around in recent years, and purgatory is one of the most often asked-about topics among the faithful.
Fr. Looney: As a priest I do funeral planning with people. Many times the bereaved will state they know their loved one is in Heaven already (dismissing Purgatory implicitly). Sometimes at funeral Masses the preacher canonizes the deceased. How do you address this problem?
Susan Tassone: Some priests I talk to say we need to speak the truth and not deny or hide the notion of Purgatory from people. We must remember God is the judge, not us. We do not know if the soul was perfectly lined up with God’s will at death. Only God knows that. We should not stop offering Masses or prayers too soon for our loved ones who have died. Who do you miss the most in life? Who helped you spiritually? Have Masses offered for them and do not forget to pray for their souls
Fr. Looney: To add to what Susan says, sometimes I’ve had people tell me they do not need to have Masses said for their loved ones because they believe they are in Heaven. I typically respond telling the person that having a Mass said is a way for us to have communion with our loved one since our earthly liturgy is a participation in the heavenly liturgy. If this convinces the person, then the deceased benefits from another Mass!
Fr. Looney: Speaking of Mass intentions, what happens to our Mass intention if the deceased is already in Heaven and no longer detained in Purgatory?
Susan Tassone: No prayer is ever wasted with God. If deceased persons are prayed for by offering the Eucharist or by any prayer and have no further need of purification, the prayer is not unavailing. The deceased in heaven received two extraordinary graces: an increase in their intimacy of God’s love and an increase in their own intercessory power. St. Thomas Aquinas called this “accidental glory.” The lesson here is never stop praying for your dead. God is never outdone in generosity!
Fr. Looney: Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Fatima. During the apparitions, the children asked about a young person who recently died. Mary told the children, that the person would be in purgatory until the end of time. What are we to make of this, because after all, it was a young person?
Susan Tassone: Sister Lucia asked Our Lady about their friend, Amelia, who had been between the ages of eighteen and twenty. Amelia died in circumstances involving immoral behavior. Only God knows why a soul would be in purgatory until the end of the world. To be in purgatory, she had to have been very sorry for her sins. However, when she died, she did not have sufficient time to make satisfaction for the temporal punishment due to her sins. This is a powerful reminder to practice virtue, frequent the sacraments, pray, do penance and make reparation now, while we are alive, so as to avoid purgatory.
Fr. Looney: During the month of May many people will increase their Marian piety; during June they pray to the Sacred Heart; in October they pray the rosary frequently. How can we honor and pray for the Holy Souls during the month of November?
- Masses, Masses, Masses. It is the most powerful means to help relieve and release the holy Souls. Have a Mass offered, or Gregorian Masses through the Pious Union of St. Joseph (www.pusj.org) I encourage people to put Gregorian Masses in your Wills! They are 30 consecutive Masses for one deceased soul. They were popularized by Pope St. Gregory the Great. A soul was released from Purgatory after St. Gregory had 30 Masses offered for him.
Does this guarantee that if we have 30 Masses a soul will be released from Purgatory. There is no guarantee but the Church points to the efficacy of the Mass!
- Alongside the Mass is the Rosary! Why? Because of the indulgences attached to it. It is most powerful Marian Prayer next to the Mass. I have a Rosary for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. It has every scripture passage and reference related to Purgatory.
- The Stations of the Cross is another important devotion for the holy souls. Sacred Scripture and our faith in the Communion of Saints encourage us to remember our dead.
What better way to pray for them than by meditating on the final hours of Jesus. It a beautiful guide for this important devotion. I have authored a Way of the Cross for the Holy Souls in Purgatory which has sold over 85,000 copies. I like to think of it as 85,000 souls released from Purgatory.
- Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory: 365 Reflections can also be a powerful aid of prayer to assist the Holy Souls.
Fr. Looney: To your list, I would add visiting cemeteries during the month of November, but most especially during the first eight days. There is a plenary indulgence attached to this devotional practice, obtainable only for the poor souls in purgatory. I’d also recommend St. Gertrude the Great’s prayer to release souls from purgatory.