“Ask a Priest: What Kind of Sacrifices Can We Offer Up for Souls?”

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Q: My questions involve sacrifice and suffering. Our Lady of Fatima said that many souls go to hell because they have no one to make sacrifices and to pray for them. What sort of sacrifices can people make that prevent people from going to hell? Wasn’t Jesus’ suffering enough to prevent people from going to hell? I know that many saints are “victim souls.” But I don’t understand why victim souls are necessary if Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient. Thank you. — Cary

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: To help souls avoid perdition we can pray and sacrifice for them and even have Masses offered for that intention.

Sacrifices can range from fasting to bodily asceticism (cold showers, physical work) to offering up pain (such as cancer patients could). Even the day-to-day inconveniences we face can be offered up for souls.

Jesus’ suffering and death redeemed us from our sins. This means he paid a price we could never pay on our own.

Yet, this doesn’t mean our salvation is automatic. That is obvious from the many warnings that Jesus gives about the possibility of souls being lost (see Matthew 25, for instance). Salvation is a gift of God, but he won’t force it on us. He wants our cooperation.

Hell is the outcome for someone who doesn’t cooperate and who rejects God and dies unrepentant. Part of the agony of hell is a soul’s realizing that it freely chose to reject God and now deals with that consequence for all eternity.

As for victim souls: While not a dogmatic concept, it is a term that appears in Catholic spirituality.

A victim soul is someone thought to be chosen by God to suffer more than most people in this world, and who embraces the suffering in union with the Savior and after the example of Christ’s own passion and death. A victim soul is motivated by a great love of God and the desire to make reparation for the sins of mankind.

But why is there a need for anyone to undertake redemptive suffering?

One way to think of it is this: Christ lives on, not just in heaven and in the Eucharist, but also in his mystical body, the Church. We as Catholics are part of this mystical body. We prolong, so to speak, Christ’s presence in the world, and thus we can share in his redemptive mission to suffer for others.

Hence, St. Paul could write, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

The footnote in the New American Bible on this verse says:

What is lacking: although variously interpreted, this phrase does not imply that Christ’s atoning death on the cross was defective. It may refer to the apocalyptic concept of a quota of ‘messianic woes’ to be endured before the end comes; cf. Mk 13:8, 19–20, 24 and the note on Mt 23:29–32. Others suggest that Paul’s mystical unity with Christ allowed him to call his own sufferings the afflictions of Christ.”

In any case, part of our dignity as Christians is our ability to share in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of others. The traditional phrase “offer it up” refers to our uniting our sufferings to Christ’s and in that way giving him a green light to send saving grace into the world through us.

To go deeper into the important topic, you might want to watch the conferences from “A Mother’s Tears: A Retreat Guide on Our Lady of Sorrows.”

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