A Glimpse Behind the Thin Veil

by Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC

I love reading accounts of mystical experiences saints have had with souls in Purgatory, stories that offer a glimpse behind the thin veil that separates this life from the next life.

One such account dates back to the 14th century and concerns a dynamic duo of saints, the mother-daughter team of St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Catherine of Sweden.

In his book Purgatory: Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints, published in 1926, Fr. F.X. Schouppe, SJ, tells of a mystical encounter with a soul from Purgatory.

Having followed her mother's path of dedicating her life to the pursuit of Christian perfection through prayer, pilgrimage, and works of mercy, Catherine had accompanied Bridget on a trip to Rome. One day she was praying in St. Peter's Basilica when a woman appeared before her. Dressed in a white robe and black mantle, the woman asked Catherine for prayers for a particular soul who had recently died.

"It is one of your countrywomen who needs your assistance," the woman said.

"Her name?" asked Catherine.

"It is the Princess Gida of Sweden, the wife of your brother Charles," the woman responded.

Father Schouppe writes:

Catherine then begged the stranger to accompany her to her mother Bridget, to impart to her the sad tidings. "I am charged with a message for you alone," said the stranger, "and I am not allowed to make any other visits, for I must depart immediately. You have no reason to doubt the truth of this fact; in a few days another messenger will arrive from Sweden, bringing the gold crown of Princess Gida. She has bequeathed it to you by testament, in order to secure the assistance of your prayers; but extend to her from this very moment your charitable aid, for she stands in most urgent need of your suffrages."

As the story goes, the woman then departed. Stunned, Catherine made a beeline to find her mother to tell her what had just occurred.

Father Schouppe writes that St. Bridget simply smiled at her daughter and said matter-of-factly:

It was your sister-in-law Gida herself that appeared to you. Our Lord has been pleased to reveal this to me. The dear departed died in the most consoling sentiments of piety; that is why she attained the favor of appearing to you asking your prayers. She has still to expiate the numerous faults of her youth. Let us both do all in our power to give her relief. The gold crown which she sends you imposes this obligation upon you.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, the gold crown arrived in Rome. Catherine saw to it that it be sold and the proceeds be put towards Masses and good works for the repose of the soul of Princess Gida.

For St. Bridget herself, this experience was only one of several mystical encounters she had with regard to Purgatory. The book Charity for the Suffering Souls: An Explanation of the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory by Rev. John A. Nageleisen tells of how St. Bridget encountered a suffering soul in Purgatory and described the soul as like "gold being purified in a crucible." Father Nageleisen writes that Bridget then heard the voice of an angel say:

Blessed be the mortal that hastens to the relief of the suffering souls. The justice of God demands that they either be purified in the flames of purgatory or that they be released therefrom by the good deeds of their friends.

You may wonder: Why does God give us these glimpses of Purgatory? I'd say for three reasons. First, He wants to continually remind us of the reality that our actions on earth carry consequences in eternity. Those who die in friendship with God but who have not completely detached from sin or atoned for wrongs they've done require purification in Purgatory before entering Heaven.

Second, He wants to remind us that the souls in Purgatory need our help because they cannot pray for themselves. In Purgatory, where Divine Justice purifies souls, the pain of waiting can be appeased by suffrages — that is, the prayers and sacrifices of the living.

And third, He wants us to see that these souls don't exist in some faraway realm. They are close. Many saints have had such mystical experiences with the souls in Purgatory. Saint Faustina did. The Founder of the Marian Fathers, St. Stanislaus Papczynski, did.

As we continue our mission to respond to the call from eternity from the souls in Purgatory, let us be ever mindful that these souls are not strangers. They are our brethren. They are close. They need us.