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By Susan Tassone

Station Island in Loug Derg, County Donegal, Ireland, is an ancient pilgrimage place called St. Patrick’s Purgatory. Here we really learn about penance -- and helping the souls!

Legend has it that St. Patrick stayed in a cave here, where he had visions of Heaven, hell and purgatory.

And so for over a thousand years (from June 1 to August 15 each year), pilgrims have fasted for three days and walked barefoot repeating Station prayers on the island,  doing a bit of "purgatory" here on earth -- staying up all night, fasting, praying with rare intensity (such that it is difficult for them to fully describe) -- and helping those who have gone before us. 

Exercises are performed in the names of seven saints to be associated with each of the penitential beds or station, including St. Brigid, St. Brendan, St. Catherine, St. Columba, St. Patrick, St. Davog, and St. Molaise.

These beds on Station Island are remains of rings of boulders of monastic cells or oratories where the monks spent time alone to pray.


It is a journey of conversion of the heart and a place to offer suffrages for the souls. Familiar prayers of petition, and thanksgiving, daily Mass, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, renewal of baptismal vows, and Benediction reach God.

Fasting is an integral part of this traditional pilgrimage. A Loug Derg meal is permitted once a day consisting of black tea or coffee, dry bread, toast or oatcakes.

Scripture shows us that prayer and fasting has been practiced since the time of Our Lord and throughout the ages by all the great saints. In the Old Testament people fasted to ask for forgiveness, seek health, and assist the dead. 

Fasting goes beyond the realm of food and into our actions and thoughts. 

We allow God to use fasting to move us forward on our way to holiness. It purifies our hearts in order to open them wide to God and to the spiritual and temporal needs of our neighbors. True fasting is linked with almsgiving and prayer. 

The archangel Raphael deserves credit when he tells us that it is better to give alms than to lay up treasures of gold because that purges away every sin and delivers us from death.

After an all night vigil, toast and tea, and the penance of staying awake, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the celebration of Holy Mass take on a more intense experience. Tea and toast is replaced with the true Bread of Life and Cup of Eternal Salvation.

Since the fifth century, pilgrims have visited Purgatory Island to cleanse their souls and reconcile themselves between God and neighbor. Many of us are unable to visit St. Patrick’s Purgatory but we can create our own Purgatory Island to lend our helping hands in lifting souls out of the purgatorial pit as we have the power and privilege to do so. 

We can offer a Holy Mass, the most efficacious means to help the souls of our families, aunts, uncles, cousins,  in-laws. We can fast, pray the Rosary, spend an hour of Adoration before our Eucharistic King.

August is the month in which the Feast of Our Lady of Knock is celebrated in Ireland. We can unite our prayers with the Knock Novena on August 22. Dedicate a hundred Masses for the souls in purgatory in memory of the priest, Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanaugh, who offered exactly such Masses before Our Lady appeared in Knock on that August day in 1879. 

Let us not let so many days pass and so many occasions slip out of our hands without easing or releasing souls in purgatory, when we can do it with so much ease. St. Patrick and Our Lady (and Father Cavanaugh) would be proud of us! So would the Lord.

[resources: books on the afterlife]

[For Masses visit:  www.spiritualtreasury.org]

[see too: Pope explains importance of saints]

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