A priest told me what happened to him once in his first parish. After the Midnight Mass on Christmas Day he personally locked the church. With the keys in his pocket he went to his room and had a good sleep. At 7:30 he got up and went back to the church intending to have one hour of prayer all to himself. He opened the side door leading to the sacristy, turned a light on and then turned on a couple of lights for the church.

As he opened the sacristy door and walked into the church, he literally froze. Most of the pews were occupied by strange people dressed in the poorest of clothes and all were in total silence. No one so much as wiggled and nobody cared to look at him. A small group was standing by the Nativity scene contemplating the manger in total silence.

The priest recovered quickly and in a loud voice asked them how did they get in? No one answered. He walked closer to them and asked again who let them in? A woman answered totally unconcerned: "Strange things happen on the night of Christmas" and back to total silence. The priest went to check the main door and found it locked just as he had left it. He was now determined to get the facts and turned his face to the pews; but the pews were empty. The people had vanished.

He kept this puzzle to himself for some time. Unable to hold it any longer,  he told me just what I have told you. Could I help with any plausible explanation? Let me hurry to say that the priest in question is a model of sanity and is as well educated academically as most of the priests I know, if not better. My explanation was and still is as follows:

Those were dead people who were doing their purgatory, or part of it, in the church. It is safe to assume that we atone for our sins where we committed them. Those people were immersed in total silence. Why? Consider the irreverences committed before the Blessed Sacrament; how many people act in church: chatting, giggling, looking around. After Mass some people gather in small groups around the pews and turn the church into a market place with no regard for Christ's Real Presence in the Tabernacle. Why did they vanish? The did not vanish.  They simply became invisible; but they remained tied to their pews unable to utter one single word to atone for their disrespectful chatter in the church while still living.

The Blessed Sacrament is no laughing matter. There is a price tag to all we do or say. In the end it is God who get the last laugh - so to say. Those people had to give the Blessed Sacrament the adoration and respect that Christ deserves. For how long? Only God can answer that. Why did the priest see them? So he could pray for them and for all other poor souls detained in other churches. Why do other priests not see those people?  Well, perhaps they already know in theory  that souls can be detained in churches as well as anywhere else, so they do not need a miracle.

Why were they dressed in such poor clothes? To atone for their vanity while living. People often use clothes not so much to cover their nakedness but as a status symbol to impress others. But God is not impressed by, say, mink coats. Also people walk into a church with hardly any clothes. In the summer months it is not unusual for people - mostly women - to receive Holy Communion in the most indecent clothing. The pastor may or may not put up with it; but God will have His day in court about this. Rags could be an appropriate punishment for these excesses.

A nun in purgatory revealed to another nun in the 1880's "It is not however on All Souls Day that the most souls go to Heaven, it is on Christmas Night. On Christmas Night, thousands of souls leave their place of expiation for Heaven.

In the writings of St. Margaret Mary we find the following exhortation: "In union with the divine Heart of Jesus make a short pilgrimage to Purgatory at night. Offer Him all your activities of the day and ask Him to apply His merits to the suffering souls. At the same time implore them to obtain for you the grace to live and die in the love and friendship of this divine Heart. May he never find in you any resistance to His holy will, nor any wish to thwart His designs in your regard.  Fortunate will you be if you succeed in obtaining deliverance for some of these imprisoned souls, for you will gain as many friends in heaven." O you my Christian friends who read these lines, priests, religious or devout lay-people, help to spread this devotion. It is so simple, and requires so little effort; moreover, you will be rewarded for it.

"On awaking this morning, on the Sunday of the Good Shepherd," wrote St. Margaret Mary two hundred years ago, "two of my suffering friends came to take leave of me; today the Good Shepherd received them into His eternal home. They left with untold joy and happiness. When I asked them to remember me, they replied; "Ingratitude has never entered heaven."

Source: Father Segundo Liorente. S.J.