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Praying For Souls who are in Hell.

Can souls be released from hell through prayers?

What about the release of poor souls who are in hell? The Catholic Church is the Ark of Salvation, Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the price of every single sin; He gave these words to St Peter:

"Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church;
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will
give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and
whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be
loosed in heaven."[Mt16:18-19]

Does the (fairly) well known evidence that souls in hell were prayed for in the early Church mean that Our Lord's words were understood during these earlier times as meaning that souls could be released from hell;"prayed out of hell" through prayers, penance, indulgences, sacrifices, masses, novena's, devotions, etc? Certainly there is a Catholic tradition that souls can be saved from hell and the day most associated with their release is a Saturday. Our Lord descended to hell on a Saturday (Easter Saturday). Saturday is also the day most closely associated with the honouring of the Blessed Virgin, our Mother.
In the early Church it seems that it was understood that souls were "plucked out of the fire" by God in answer to our prayers. The second century apocalypse of St. Peter (we do not know for sure by whom it was written) but it was well known throughout the early Church, it includes these words of Our Lord:

"Then I will give to my called and My elect whomsoever they
request of Me out of punishment. And will give them a
beautiful baptism in salvation from the Ascherousian lake,
which said to be in the Elysian field, a share in the
righteousness with My saints."

On this understanding a soul can indeed be released from hell, can be plucked out of the fires and, therefore, they need our help desperately. Once a person dies, if they are not in heaven, they can no longer pray, with merit, for themselves, or for anybody else for that matter; they rely on others. The abandonment of poor souls in hell is tragic and appalling.
The Catholic Church has taught Eternal (forever) punishment from the earliest times, however, many in the Church in those earlier centuries believed in hell as a place of temporary punishment. And, it would seem, there was an acknowledgment from within the Church that this not only existed but that it was widespread. Augustine of Hippo, who believed in Eternal (forever) punishment writes in this context as follows:

"There are very many who, though not denying
the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless
torments "( Enchiria. ad,Laurent.c.29)

And Saint Basil the Great (Doctor of the Church) and one of the founding Fathers of monasticism, believed in the release of souls from hell and Universal Salvation, he wrote the following :

"The mass of men (Christians) say that there is
to be an end to those who are punished."

These examples reveal that there was indeed a widespread consciousness and belief in the Early Church that hell is not a place of forever punishment and that this belief was, in a very real sense not only acknowledged by the Church but recognized and accommodated.
And it must surely be right that if there is any chance at all that a soul(s) in hell might be saved then we have a duty to pray for them, always remembering that it is the divine dispensation that we have to ask, we have to pray. If we look to some prayers from the very early Church we find, for example, that St Basil the Great wrote the following with, it would seem clear, both understanding and confidence and as though he knows that he is right to pray in this way and that such prayers are answered!:

Third Kneeling Prayer at Pentecost:

"O Christ our God...(who) on this all perfect and saving Feast, art
graciously pleased to account propitiatory prayers for those who
are imprisoned in hades, promising unto us who are held in
bondage great hope of release from the vileness that doth hinder
us and did hinder them ...send down Thy consolation...and
establish their souls in the mansions of the Just; and graciously
vouchsafe unto them peace and pardon; for not the dead shall
praise thee, O Lord, neither shall they who are in hell make bold
to offer unto thee confession. But we who are living will bless
them, and will pray, and offer unto thee propitiatory prayers and
sacrifices for their souls."

Clearly St Basil is saying this prayer in front of others and very much as though all who heard it were familiar with what is being said and in agreement with it.
As with the second century apocalypse of St Peter, this reflects an understanding and approach in the early Church that these souls can be helped through our prayers. And an ancient and very moving homily of the Catholic Church for Easter Saturday, quoted in the Catechism, is as follows:

"He who is their God and the Son of Eve...'I am your God, who for
your sake have become your Son....I order you, O Sleeper, to
awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the
dead, for I am the life of the dead." [Catechism 635]

Our Lord said: "Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy." [Mt5:7] We must also keep in mind that there is no limit to Our Lord's goodness and compassion, and that :"Equal to His majesty is the Mercy that He shows"[Ecclesiasticus 2:18 (23).]
The issue of praying for souls who are in hell is certainly an emotive subject especially when one considers all the implications, as indeed all must do sooner or later (when realization occurs) and very much when one thinks of, very especially, our immediate family; our very especial loved ones, and for all relatives and friends and indeed for all who have died.

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