I recently re-discovered a small prayer book I acquired, entirely by accident, 17 years ago. It was given to me by an elderly woman in Idaho. I had taken a job with a friend’s family business installing well pumps during our last summer before college, and we were doing some work at her home. As it turned out, she was a Catholic, and more than a little talkative. After conversation about various and sundry things, she shoved a pair of small, leatherbound “Purgatorian Manuals” — in mint condition despite their considerable age — into our hands. We accepted politely, not really knowing what they were or what to do with them. She was full of conspiracy theories and unusual theological opinions, so I think it was fair to say that or skepticism was fairly high about whatever value the little books might possess.
Curiosity eventually got the better of me, and I thumbed through the book. I discovered that it in fact contained some very good prayers, and for some time thereafter I habitually brought it with me to Mass for the communion prayers alone. But there were other prayers as well. Prayers I didn’t understand what to do with. Prayers to be said during Mass – at the Confiteor (what’s that?) or when the priest kisses the altar (he does?) or goes to the Epistle side of the altar (there’s an Epistle side?) or at the Introit, the Orate Fratres, etc.
Written as it was in 1946, the booklet was set up to follow the structure and form of the Church’s ancient liturgy, now most commonly known as the “Extraordinary Form.” At the point in my life when I came into possession of the book, however — I was almost 20 years old at the time — I had no familiarity with the Traditonal Latin Mass.
As the years wore on, I began to forget about the Purgatorian Manual. I found new prayers I liked better for various reasons (including but not limited to personal laziness) and I started to neglect bringing it with me. Before long, it wound up in a box somewhere with other things I didn’t use but couldn’t bring myself to throw away. After I got married and had a home of my own, it made its way into a nice little dust-collecting spot on one of my many shelves of religious books.
Only this year, for some reason, did I take notice of it again.
The book is literally pocket-sized, and looks like this (after nearly two decades of wear and tear):
On a recent visit to the adoration chapel, I brought it with me. Full of indulgenced prayers, I found new treasures in it I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate as a younger man, particularly since I was, at the time, so ignorant of traditional Catholic spirituality.
One of the things that really struck me about the book on my most recent perusal was the membership information pertaining to the Purgatorian Society that was responsible for publishing it. This was contained in the last few pages:
Purgatorian Society In Honor of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Established in the Church of the Immaculate Conception 389 East 150th Street New York 55, N.Y.
To afford to all the means of securing the benefit of daily Masses for themselves or their friends, living and deceased; especially to relieve the souls in Purgatory.
1. Fifty Cents is the annual contribution. This contribution may be paid as often as one wishes to do so; and when the offerings have reached the sum of ten dollars, the membership becomes perpetual and continues after death. The offering for perpetual membership may be paid at once.
2. Living as well as deceased persons may be enrolled at any time during the year; and absent persons may be enrolled by mail. The year begins with the day of enrollment.
Annual Membership …………..$ .50
Perpetual Membership ………. 10.00
Family Membership ………….. 25.00
(Family includes parents and children only)
3. When contributions are renewed, he certificate of membership should be presented, in order to find the name in the roll-book and receipt the payment.
4. The members should seek to assist the souls in Purgatory by their prayers and good works, especially by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and they should strive to promote this charitable devotion in others.
Seems sensible enough. Where it gets good is the advantages to members:
1. Every day eleven High Masses are offered for the living and deceased members.
2. The members share in the prayers offered by the Redemptorist Father for their benefactors, especially in the Solemn Requiem celebrate annually in November.
3. When a member dies, a special Mass will be offered for his or her soul upon the return of the certificate.
4. The Rosary will be recited every Saturday evening in the Church of the Immaculate Conception for the deceased members of the Purgatorian Society.
Every well instructed Catholic knows that the Sacrifice of the Mass is of infinite value. Members of this Society enjoy the inestimable grace of having the Holy Sacrifice offered for them every day. They have also the consoling assurance that after death this will be continued for the repose of their souls. Charitable persons will also find in this Society an excellent opportunity of having the Holy Sacrifice offered every day for their friends, living or dead.
Kindly explain to others the great benefits of the Purgatorian Society.
Never let a day pass by without saying some prayer or performing some penance for the dear souls in Purgatory. When you are dying they will not forget you, and when you are suffering in Purgatory, they will not cease to pray for you until you are released, and united with them in Heaven. Remember the most abandoned souls, who have neither friend nor relative to pray for them.
inestimable grace indeed! ELEVEN HIGH MASSES A DAY?! Where in the world, literally, are eleven High Masses said today? Is there a single place? Or, if not, are eleven High Masses said per day even at multiple chapels for a single cause?
How about a guaranteed Mass said upon death? Or a rosary said in perpetuity for the repose of your soul every Saturday night in front of the Blessed Sacrament?
I decided to give the Church of the Immaculate Conception a call today. Yes, the parish (located in the Bronx) is still open. Yes, there are still Redemptorist Fathers there. But the receptionist had never heard of the Purgatorian Society. She said she’d take my number and have Father call me back.
What happened to these devotions after the Second Vatican Council? Here and there, I’ve heard stories about what was: societies, sodalities, and guilds. About the 40 hours devotion. About various aspects of the life of faith that brought the people into the parishes — outside of their Sunday obligation — to pray, to worship God, and to serve their neighbors.
I ask these questions because I honestly don’t know the answers: where did these practices go? Are they completely extinct? Do they still happen in certain far-flung corners of the Catholic world? What would it do for the faithful if these things were brought back? What would we need to make that happen? How would it change what we believe or how we practice? Have we lost our grasp of the concept that prayer — particularly dedicated, communal prayer — is efficacious? What impact did these practices have on vocations? On family life?
I, for one, would happily make a donation to join a revived Purgatorian Society. Masses said every day for both the living and deceased members? Where do I sign up?
If you know the answers to any of the questions I’ve raised, please leave them in the comments, or if you feel more comfortable, contact me privately using our contact form. I’m not asking these things rhetorically. Together, perhaps we can figure out how we can start reviving amazing devotions like this.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.