Hell is for Real, aka The Fatima Prayer

There is a best selling book titled Heaven is for Real about a young child’s glimpse of Heaven.  You may have heard of it since it was also made into a movie.  But have you heard about the much darker prequel, Hell is for Real?  Okay, it’s not really a prequel and it doesn’t go by that title.  I’m talking about the first secret of Fatima when in 1917 Mary showed three Portuguese children a glimpse of Hell.  Since November is dedicated to praying for souls, I want to focus on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and how the Fatima Prayer in the rosary is a great tool for praying for souls in need.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Madonna of Car...
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – The Madonna of Carmel and the Souls of the Purgatory – WGA22270 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, what is the Fatima Prayer?

While not part of the original tradition of the Rosary or in the original text of the vulgate, many Roman Catholics choose to add it after the Glory Be to the Father after the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to have requested its use during her apparition at Fátima, a miracle deemed “worthy of belief” by the Church. The following text of the prayer appears first in Latin and then in English.

Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, libera nos ab igne inferiori, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent. Amen.
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.

Wikipedia

And now a flashback to my childhood.  In my grade school I remember we had “rosary afternoons” in May where we broke up into small groups to pray the rosary.  The groups were led by an eighth grader who explained how the rosary worked and led a group of seven other students, one from each grade 1st through 7th, through five decades.  When I think back to those childhood rosary days I now recall one prayer being noticeably absent — the Fatima Prayer.

I think my early experience with the rosary was typical for a lot of kids.  Someone thought it was best to shield us from the “scary prayer” that mentions the fires of Hell.  I don’t believe this was done out of a disbelief of the reality of Hell, but more out of a concern of not opening that door of fear or questions from the inquisitive youth.  I’m sure the school didn’t want to receive calls from angry parents about how their kid came home and said everyone is going to Hell or asked if Uncle Barney, who never went to church, was in Hell.

But the avoidance of talking about the afterlife, particularly Purgatory and Hell, didn’t end with the omission of the Fatima Prayer from my grade school’s rosary education.  To this day, it’s a topic that most priests don’t touch with a ten foot pole.  When was the last time you heard a homily about the eternal consequences of sin or the need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Over the decades, talking about sin and its consequences was unofficially deemed offensive speech.  A priest cannot teach about sinful behavior without being labeled intolerant, self righteous, and uncompassionate.  That is truly unfortunate because pretending that sin and Hell don’t exist does not make them any less real.  Instead of explaining these scary aspects of reality and providing people with the knowledge, prayers, and the will to confront them, we sweep them under the rug.  Instead of urging people to pray and help those “souls in most need of Thy mercy” we, as a Church in general, let people just dive into the fire because we’re afraid of offending someone.

Praying the rosary is a great way of meditating on the afterlife and praying for souls.  Because talking about sin and Hell may be a taboo topic we have to put extra emphasis on them in our rosary intentions.  After you pray each decade, that Fatima Prayer is that little reminder of Heaven, Hell, and even Purgatory (more on this in a bit).  It encompasses asking for the intercession of the saints in Heaven, praying for at risk souls on earth, and those souls in Purgatory.  Unfortunately, I too often race through the Fatima prayer.  I treat it more like a placeholder while I think about my intentions for the upcoming decade.  But slow down because there’s some heavy stuff in this prayer.

  • O my Jesus” — God sent his only son for our benefit.  He wants us to have a personal relationship with him.  You don’t say, “O Jesus.”  That “my” is in there for a reason.
  • Forgive us our sins” — We all sin and are in need of reconciliation.  There is nothing wrong acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and we screw up at times.  We are asking for Jesus’ mercy for all peoples’ sins, hence the word “our” and not “my.”
  • Save us from the fires of Hell” — Again, we are asking Jesus for his mercy on all souls.  The fact that this phrase comes after “forgive us our sins” highlights that connection between sin and Hell.  We implicitly acknowledge that sin is the cause of going to Hell.
  • Lead all souls to Heaven” — This is where we want to go!  Everything we do in life should be aimed towards one day living in God’s glory in Heaven.
  • Especially those in most need of Thy mercy” — There are many people on that edge of eternal damnation.  But there is still hope for them.  They need our prayers and the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit.

Where does Purgatory factor into the Fatima Prayer?  There is a bit of a mistranslation of this prayer from Portuguese into English according to Br. Alexis Bugnolo:

I would point out that this English translation is not exactly correct; because the Portuguese does not say “souls”, but “little souls”, a term of endearment among Portuguese Catholics for the souls in Purgatory, equivalent to our phrase “poor souls”. The the context of the phrase refers to the deliverance of all souls from purgatory into heaven; and thus never signified universal salvation.

Remember, souls in Purgatory rely on your prayers to get into Heaven.  Imagine knowing that you are saved and you’re so close to entering God’s kingdom but there is nothing you can do unless people on earth pray for you.  That frustration alone must be part of the purification process in Purgatory for your sins.  But now you have a reason to remember those souls in Purgatory every time you pray the Fatima Prayer.  Time to pray it forward because hopefully someday we all may be in a position where we will need those prayers.

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Bath Time! — Mary’s Rosary Promise #9

I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.

Ah Purgatory!  After the high regard Catholics have for Mary, nothing seems more contentious than the existence and need for Purgatory.  It brings up debates between Catholics and protestants and questions like, “Where is Purgatory mentioned in the bible?”  Aside from the theological arguments whether Purgatory exists, there is just a general fear of it.  I think many people don’t really care all that much about the theological underpinnings of Purgatory.  Rather, many wish that it didn’t exist because they think it’s some sort of “Hell Lite.”

We need to frame Purgatory in the proper context — it is a level of existence between our earthly life and a heavenly one where we become purified and worthy of Heaven.  We cast off the last layers of our earthly selves — the sin, the shortcomings, the weakness to temptation, the pressure and anxieties, and everything else that prevents us from fully embracing God‘s love.  No matter how good any of us are, with the exception of the saints, most of us die tied down to worldly things in some way or another.  Purgatory is like that final, cleansing bath that washes away that worldly “grime” we accumulated throughout our lives.

Bath time
Splashy, splashy!  Time to get clean for God’s kingdom.

If we truly understood the majesty and beauty of what awaits us in Heaven, we would not only understand why we need Purgatory, but actually want to go to it.  I think that when we die and we get the full sense of who God is, we would not even consider entering His kingdom any other way but in a state of perfection.  Would you want to attend a wedding in your work clothes?  Would you walk through someone’s immaculately clean home in muddy shoes?  There are social situations in this life where we feel embarrassed if we arrive in a state not appropriate for the event.  Similarly, I think when we get a taste of just how awesome God is at our final judgement, we won’t give a stay in Purgatory a second thought.  The notion of entering His kingdom with any worldly blemishes will seem embarrassingly laughable.

This shows The Virgin and The Child being pres...

But just because we understand the need for Purgatory doesn’t make it any easier to endure.  But the suffering isn’t the type of suffering we encounter in Hell.  Rather, we suffer because we know just how close we are to the infinite joy and peace of Heaven.  We are like children on Christmas Eve that can’t wait for Christmas morning and open the presents under the tree.  Every minute is just agony as time just seems to slow to a stop and it seems like Christmas day will never come.  Likewise, every moment in Purgatory probably seems unbearable with the knowledge that we are so close to completing a long journey.  We want Mary to act as our advocate so our time waiting in Purgatory will be brief.

Like many of her other promises, I think Mary reveals more of a result of praying the rosary than something that she actively applies.  Those who are devoted to the rosary are less likely to commit sins which require a longer stay in Purgatory to clean.  Those who pray the rosary already have a better understanding of just how great Heaven must be and try extra hard to live in a way where they will most quickly arrive in Heaven after their death.  As I said in early articles, it’s not solely the act of praying the rosary itself that leads us to Heaven, but the wisdom and will to live in God’s grace that it helps implant in our souls.  Mary is here to help those who want her help and ask for it through rosary prayer.

Ask for Mary’s help to quickly pass through Purgatory.  Pick up a rosary and pray it today!

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Remembering Souls in November

Created with images found in Wikipedia. All of...We just celebrated two important, yet often overlooked, religious feast days.  On November 1st we celebrated “All Saints Day” and on November 2nd we celebrated “All Souls Day.”  If you went to Mass on one or both days then good for you (FYI, All Saints Day was a Holy Day of Obligation for all those able to attend).  If you did not attend Mass or just forgot about these feast days then here’s a quick recap on how they relate to the rosary.

All Saints Day, as the name implies, is a time when we remember the saints of the Catholic Church.  We look to the saints as examples of how to live God’s will.  They made sacrifices in this life knowing that there was much more to their existence than what they could experience on Earth.  They made that giant leap of faith that God called them to do more than just live for the earthly pleasures of this world.  When we pray the rosary, we should remember the saints when we pray the First Glorious Mystery and recall Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus showed us through His resurrection that there is so much more to our existence than what we see in this world.  And while we may know and profess this when we pray, being able to have the courage to actively live for Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven is what truly makes someone a saint.  And just as Jesus rose from the dead to redeem all humanity, we should remember that He calls everyone to be a saint.  It doesn’t matter whether you go to Mass every day or have not been in a church for years.  We all have the ability to receive forgiveness and resolve to do God’s will.  Remember, the first saints denied they even knew Jesus (Saint Peter) and abandoned Him at His Crucifixion (the apostles).  But through the gift of the Holy Spirit, they found the strength to ultimately live as true disciples of Christ.  If they could become saints, then any one of us can be one as well.

Another image of souls being purified by flame...On All Souls Day we remember all those who have died.  I think All Souls Day is one of the most important, yet least celebrated, feast days in the Church (unless you live in a country that actively celebrates “The Day of the Dead”).  We remember those who have left this world and who now exist in either Purgatory or Heaven.  It is especially important to pray for those in Purgatory because they rely on our prayers for their final purification.  Think about how frustrating it must be to exist in Purgatory.  You are so close to the eternal joy and happiness of Heaven and yet you’re not quite there.  And there is nothing you can do to get into Heaven yourself.  You are completely reliant on others’ prayers and God’s mercy.  And you know what?  Not to scare you, but most of us will probably find ourselves in this state of existence one day.

So pray for those in Purgatory.  Encourage others to pray for those in Purgatory.  Because the more people who actively pray for souls in Purgatory now will mean that there will be more people praying for you and those you love when you enter that last step before entering Heaven.  I encourage you to make praying for the souls in Purgatory part of praying the rosary.  One of my concluding prayers is “Saint Gertrude’s Prayer.”  The Lord told St. Gertrude that He would release 1,000 souls from Purgatory each time it is offered in sincerity.  Personally, I find it staggering how many souls must be in Purgatory if this 30 second, twelfth century prayer release so many.  So many souls are counting on your prayers and you, one day, will be counting on others in order for you to make that final leap into God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Saint Gertrude’s Prayer

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

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