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Our Lady of Purgatory

The Purgatory of Improper Words

In a monastery of the Order of Cîteaux, called Holy Savior, two young girls from wealthy homes made profession and vowed their virginity to God. One was named Gertrude, the other Margaret. They were placed in the choir, one next to the other. The first, Gertrude, although very virtuous, had the unfortunate defect of chattering, and often broke the silence, a fault in which she dragged her companion; this drew a severe punishment after her death. An illness took her away in the prime of her life. She had been buried, according to custom, at the back of the church. Now, one evening, when the nuns were gathered to sing the office, she appeared before the altar, made the customary genuflection and went to sit beside Margaret. The good sister, at this sight, is seized with fear, becomes pale, trembling, ready to collapse. They hurried around her, they asked about her illness, they gave her a thousand treatments. Then, without saying a word, she prostrated herself at the feet of the abbess, asked for her blessing and began to tell what had happened to her. The deceased, she added, immediately after the office of Vespers and while the prayer was being recited, had risen, made a great bow to the ground and disappeared.

The prudent superior, fearing that all this was the play of a troubled imagination, or some illusion of the devil, gave her this instruction: “If Gertrude appears to you again, you will say Benediction to her, to which she will reply, according to our custom, Dominas: you will then ask her where she comes from and what she wants.”

The next day, at the same hour, another appearance. Margaret greeted her: “Benediction! Dominas!” replied the ghost. “My dear sister Gertrude, continued the nun, where have you come from at this hour and what do you want? – I have come, she said, to satisfy divine justice in the same place where I sinned with you, when I broke the silence so many times and made you break it for useless things, during the holy ceremonies. The just Lord wants me to pay Him back in the place and in the circumstances where I offended Him. Oh! if you knew how much I suffer! I am surrounded by flames; my tongue especially is consumed by them, without finding the least relief. My beloved sister, take advantage of my example; put a brake on your words; forget that I gave you this scandal and do not drag anyone after me, because a similar torment would be reserved for you.” She disappeared.

Several times again, she returned to ask for the prayers of the nuns, until, delivered by their suffrages, she said a tender farewell to her companion and went, under her eyes, towards the tomb where she had been buried; she lifted the stone and lay down on it for ever.

These different emotions acted so strongly on Margaret, that she fell into a serious illness and was not long in being at the end of her tether. She was even thought to be dead. But it was only a kind of ecstasy, during which it was revealed to her admirable things of the other life. When she came to, she told her astonished sisters about them, and exhorted them to walk more and more in the courageous way of mortification of the senses. For her part, she became fervently faithful to the rule of silence, always bearing in mind the punishment inflicted on Sister Gertrude. She was so careful with her words that one could have applied to her the words of the royal Prophet: I promised myself to watch over myself, so that I would not sin with my tongue, and I put a barrier on my lips.

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