The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory – Fr H.J. Coleridge SJ, 1889

“It is a great difference whether God is deprived of His glory by their complete deliverance even a little later.”

It’s easy to put things off – especially when it involves arranging Masses, arranging November envelopes, and so on.

And while a moment’s delay for us seems to be a matter of indifference, it can make all the difference to the departed souls, God’s glory, and our very ability to do anything for them at all. For we do not the hour of own departure from this life!

So at the end of this month, let’s reflect one last time on Purgatory with Fr Coleridge, on the value of promptitude in arranging for the relief of the Holy Souls.


The Prisoners of the King
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Thoughts on the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory
Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ

Burns and Oates, London
pp 67-75
UK readers
Internet Archive
Image from Wiki Commons, Public Domain

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On Purgatory

One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
Our Lord will come and purge the Temples of our Souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory

Image: Wiki Commons CC

Promptitude in Assisting the Holy Souls
The cures wrought on the evening of the Sabbath

The miracles wrought in the deliverance of the demoniac in the synagogue, and in the healing of the mother of St. Peter s wife, do not exhaust the gracious works of mercy which made this first Sabbath of our Lord s preaching at Capharnaum so memorable in the Gospel history.

The Evangelists tell us that, in the short evening of that day, after the sunset, “they brought all to Him that were diseased, and that were possessed with devils: and all the city was gathered together at the door.” St. Luke, speaking of the sick, says that “He, laying His hands on every one of them, healed them.” As to the demoniacs, St. Matthew says that “He cast out the spirits with His word;” and St. Luke and St. Mark add that, when the devils cried out, “Thou art the Son of God, He rebuked them, and would not suffer them to speak.”

The promptitude o the people of Capharnaum

These miracles have one characteristic circumstance, which each of the Evangelists mentions, and which will be sufficient for our present consideration.

In each narrative we are told that these poor sufferers were brought to our Lord as soon as it was evening, after the sun had set. The reason for this, in the minds of the people of Capharnaum, was that the rest of the Sabbath lasted from sunset to sunset, and that they were consequently free to do so much of work in the way of charity as was required for the bringing of the sick, some of whom no doubt had to be carried on beds or pallets to the door of the house in which our Lord was, as soon as the sun had set.

The twilight in those countries is usually very short, and there was, therefore, very little time for the transport of the sick from one part of the city to another, and for the leisurely healing of them by our Lord, as He laid His hands on each one singly.

But the charitable zeal of the good people of Capharnaum would not wait for the morning, and it may have been that this wonderful exercise of our Lord’s mercy was carried on when, but for that, the whole city would have been wrapped in sleep, under the bright light of the summer moon, and it must have lasted far into the night ere the last poor sufferers had been relieved.

And it was well for them that their friends had been so eager, and even so impatient to procure their speedy cure. For we are told by the Evangelists that very early indeed on the following morning our Lord rose and went out of the city into a desert place to pray. He was pursued by Simon Peter and the other disciples, who entreated Him to return, as every one was seeking Him. But He bade them come with Him on the journey which He at once began, to go through the other cities and villages of Galilee preaching, and it does not seem that He even went back for a moment into Capharnaum.

As it appears, the sufferers would have been unrelieved but for the eagerness and promptitude of their friends, who would not delay a moment in bringing them to our Lord, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour and the great throng at the door – so great that St. Mark, speaking from the recollection of St. Peter, an eye-witness, says that “all the city” was collected there.

It was probably a warm summer night in June, and it cost them but little to wait patiently for their turn in that immense crowd, and when in the morning they learnt that the wonderful Teacher and Healer was already far on His way to other places, they must have thanked with all their hearts the quick charity which had taken them at once to His feet.

The value of promptitude

These people of Capharnaum, therefore, are in this narrative set before us as examples of promptitude in acts of mercy and charity, and we cannot be surprised if our Lord, in His joy at their faith and eagerness, poured out for them a very large measure of His bounty.

The language of the Evangelists would almost justify us in saying that He left no one unhealed who could be brought to Him, and that a very large number of the sick and the demoniacs that were there to be found were brought to Him.

It was the beginning of the great display of miracles by which His public preaching throughout the country of Galilee was heralded, and it is often the way of God to give at the beginning of His merciful dispensations more freely and largely than afterwards, in return for the fresh ready faith with which those dispensations are welcomed. However the facts of the case may have been, it is certain that the conduct of the people of Capharnaum, which was met by our Lord with so rich and magnificent a series of miracles, may be taken as a typical instance of that very beautiful virtue of promptitude which is so dear to God.

Like other graces, it has a natural representative and image in the natural quickness in which some persons excel others so much – a quality not always virtuous, but which enables those who possess it to do so much more in the business and conflict of life than others who are by nature slower. The promptitude which is a grace of God, and which may be said in some measure to reflect His own rapid way of working great effects and changes in a moment, is accompanied with the most perfect calm and tranquillity, which also are qualities which characterise the most mighty and the most instantaneous works of God.

In some respects God appears to us to be infinitely patient and deliberate in His works, biding His time, as we say, and letting years or centuries pass away until the moment which He has chosen arrives. And then – swiftly, silently, and in a moment – His works are done. We are to imitate His patience and deliberateness, so to speak, by never acting until our path is plain and until we are clear as to His will, and then we are to reflect His swiftness in brooking no further delay, and carrying out at once the good work which we have conceived.

For all that we have to do must be done in time, and time is a thing which we can never command – the moment passes away, the opportunity is lost.

All the good that we can do depends for its performance and for its perfection on the assistance of His grace, and grace is another thing which we can never depend upon at a future moment if we do not use it while we have it. We cannot bid it wait or come again to-morrow. Thus, one of the great beauties in the perfection of the work of the saints is the swiftness and promptitude of their actions, which are guided by Him of Whom a Father says – “Nescit tarda molimina Spiritus Sancti gratia.” This quickness runs through the whole range of their virtues, and con sists in perfect correspondence to Divine grace in the use of the occasions of virtue which present themselves. It has nothing of impetuosity or hurry or fussiness about it.

For just as the good use of the tongue consists as much in silence as in speech, so swiftness and promptitude consist as much in not doing things before their time as in doing them at the right time, and not later. The Preacher counsels us “Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly,”[1] as if we had nothing else to do for the time but that; and our Lord bids us “take no thought for the morrow,” as if to do so were to occupy our minds anxiously on things which have not yet come to our hand, and as to which we are not certain that they ever will come.

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Promptitude in justice, charity and fidelity

Among all the exercises and acts of virtue which are to be done swiftly and at once, after the pattern of God s works, there are some which fall under this head in an especial way, such as works of justice, of charity, and of fidelity.

Thus not to pay wages or debts at the right time, to delay the fulfilment of a promise which we have made, or to put off an act of charity which concerns God, our own souls, or our neighbour’s good, are acts on which the failure of promptitude may have very serious consequences. Thus we find St. James reproaching the rich and threatening them with severe punishment for keeping back the wages of their labourers.[2]

Any debt that we owe to man or God, such as the debt of penance and satisfaction, or of a vow or promise, and the like, comes under that urgent instruction of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, where He bids us “be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.”[3] And we know that when our brethren are in need or in pain, and it is in our power to relieve them, we are bound in all charity not to delay a moment, if possible, to relieve their affliction.

To delay help is at all events to increase their suffering, to add to its duration, and to run the risk of not relieving it at all.

Application to Purgatory

These thoughts very naturally lead us to the application of the lesson here set before us as to our duties in regard of the Holy Souls of Purgatory.

For in the first place, very many of them may be suffering there for a lack of this promptitude in the discharge of obligations, whether of justice or of charity, of which we have spoken. Many an act of devotion, or of charity, or of restitution, or of satisfaction for sin, may have been delayed by them, and death may have found them with that debt undischarged. It is impossible that persons who have not habitually this grace of promptitude and exactness should have nothing to make up in the next world in consequence – and when we remember that death, however much it might have been looked forward to in an ordinary way, is unexpected when it actually comes to the majority of Christians, we may be certain that most men will be found, in this sense, unprepared for it.

But, putting this consideration aside, it is certain that our charity to God, and to the Holy Souls, and to ourselves, binds us, even when there is no obligation of justice, not only to assist them in all the ways in our power, but also to assist them as quickly as possible. The obligation of justice, of course, is still more serious, as binding those who are children or heirs of the departed, those who have received benefits and kindness from them, those whom they have instructed and helped, the priests who have received alms in order that they may say Mass for them, or any who have lived upon the foundations which they have made.

But where the obligation is strictly an obligation of Christian charity, the circumstances of the case of the Holy Souls plead for their help without a moment’s delay. It is a very great difference indeed whether God is deprived or not of His glory by their complete deliverance even a little later or a little sooner.

If it was an immense gain to one of these poor sufferers from disease or demoniacal possession at Capharnaum to have been healed or set free by our Lord on that Sabbath night rather than on the next day, much more is it an incalculable gain to a soul in Purgatory if its detention in that prison be cut short even by an hour or by a minute. It is not the certainty that they will be delivered some time or other that is enough to satisfy the charity of anyone who is at all enlightened as to the pains of sense and of loss which are to be undergone there. We count it very poor charity indeed, in the case of human sickness or affliction of any kind, that is content with the knowledge that, after an indefinite period, that affliction will cease.

And when we remember that our Lord has told us that we shall be dealt with by Him as we have dealt with others, we may be quite certain that, if by His merits and mercy we escape the flames of Hell, it will still be a terrible aggravation to our lot in the fires of Purgatory if we have any slowness or delay in relieving others with which to reproach ourselves.

This series has been published in honour of Mrs B.C. Wright, the recently departed grandmother of one of the editors.

Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord – and may perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Further Reading

From Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ, The Prisoners of the King – Thoughts on the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory. Also available for UK readers and at the Internet Archive

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On Purgatory

One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
Our Lord will come and purge the Temples of our Souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On the End of the World

What are the warnings that the final storm approaches?
The Church in the Last Days – Part I: How will we see her?
The Church in the Last Days – Part II: How will we know her?


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[1] Eccles. ix. 10.

[2] St. James v. 4

[3] St. Matt. v. 25, 26. v. 27.

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