Glenn and I were rummaging through items at a yard sale in New England recently when I ran across this Purgatorian Society certificate dated 1932. Someone actually bought this from the Catholic church during the hard days of the great depression with the full belief that membership in this society would benefit him personally as well as be of help to those “poor departed” souls in purgatory. Membership grants this certificate’s owner the right to participate in “the priceless and countless benefits of Eight High Masses offered daily in Redemptorist Churches, for the spiritual and temporal welfare of its members.” As benefactors of the Redemptorist Order, all members of the Purgatorian Society are privileged to share in the prayers and all other good works performed by the Order throughout the World.” This particular certificate was “Given at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help” in Roxbury, Massachusetts, under the “direction of the Redemptorist Fathers”, on July 15th, 1932. It was duly signed by the “Reverend Father Rector” and contained these words at the bottom: “May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Eighty-three years after it’s first issuance, I gave two dollars for this at a yard sale. The proprietor at this yard sale was a woman who was ninety-three years old. She would have been ten years old at the time of its issuance, so it more likely belonged to a parent or grandparent. It belonged to someone who believed that in the purchase of membership in this society, the answers to prayers of “Fathers” during eight masses each day would serve to benefit personally the owner of this certificate. The owner likely also believed that these prayers would aid in behalf of loved ones who had died and were being punished in Purgatory. The prayers of this “order” would help to shorten the time that loved ones who had died were being tormented for their sins. In all of the research that I’ve done about these societies, those suffering in Purgatory are usually referred to as the “poor departed souls.”
Several things come quickly to mind as I think about the ownership of such a certificate:
- The owner is deceased now and knows the reality of the permanence of the conditions of “poor departed souls”. He would gladly give the price of tens of thousands of such certificates–yes, all that he ever had–if he could have just one chance to submit to the simple plan of the New Testament in order to be saved.
- The owner of the membership was content to rely on the prayers of lost men, when he could have, if he had chosen to be righteous, availed much as he, himself, talked to the Father in heaven (James 5:16).
- The owner of the certificate put His trust in the wrong “Father” when he purchased the document (Matthew 23:9).
- The certificate, once prized, has never actually been worth even the yard sale price. The frame (from a very old frame shop in Boston), that we threw away so that we could more easily ship it home, was the only thing of ANY value. In fact, the doctrine on the parchment was believed at great and eternal expense by the owner.
- When people in the Catholic faith, the Pentecostal faith, the Mormon faith, the Jehovah’s Witness faith– yes, any well meaning people of any faith–decide that there is more divine revelation than what we have in the Bible, there is no end to the fanciful doctrines of assurance that can be designed and believed. The authority principle (i.e from whence we derive authority for religious beliefs and practices) is a principle about which we must settle our minds in order to please God. If we decide that the New Testament is our authority for worship and practice, as it claims to be (II Timothy 3:16,17), there can be no room for men to devise alternate plans of spiritual benefit and societies to benefit “poor departed souls”. But if we do not accept it as the final authority from God, the door swings wide open for any human society, belief system, authority, and practice. Purgatory and any system of payment for “poor departed souls” is the product of a belief in continuing revelation. But then, so is the papacy, the acceptance of modern-day prophets and/or apostles, and actions based on what God “is laying on my heart” separate from the Word.
Someone, somewhere in Massachusetts took great comfort when he passed through his chamber at night upon retiring and saw the certificate guaranteeing him and his departed loved ones the benefits of eight masses each day by the Order of the Redemptorist Fathers. One night, he likely pillowed his head, never to rise again on this earth. But he still exists on the other side of time and He has tragically learned the truth about the piece of paper that I shipped home from New England.
Would you like to talk about the New Testament’s simple plan for assurance–for knowing we are saved–as we face death? I would love to talk about that with you. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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