wrote "We believe an old apple-woman when she says she ate an apple;
but when she says she saw a ghost, we say 'But she's only an old
apple-woman.'" Well, many, many people have claimed to see ghosts.
Belief in such a thing is practically universal, evident in cultures
ancient and new.
problem with many modern Catholics -- especially those who've converted
to the Church from Protestantism -- wanting to eradicate some of the
Church's "juicier," earthier, more "medieval-sounding" teachings --
teachings that this writer thinks make Catholicism a much richer and
more achingly beautiful way of seeing the world than the sterile ways
of Protestantism allow. What the Church actually teaches about
astrology, for ex., is something that most modern Catholics, especially
converts from Protestantism, don't know about at all,
but that doesn't stop them from talking about the subject as if they're
experts, proclaiming that all forms of astrology are evil. I've
actually seen a self-professed Catholic on a non-traditionalist
Catholic discussion forum say about cursed objects, and this is a
direct quote, "Catholicism does not believe this sort of stuff is real.
It is superstition and is to be shunned for that reason." With what authority this person speaks!
Oh my! Those who haven't studied these things should be quiet about
them and keep their ignorance to themselves! They are endangering souls!
And the same
thing holds true when it comes to the topic of ghosts.
There are assertions such as, "There's no such thing as ghosts; they're
all demons!" or "How can there be ghosts? There are Heaven, Hell, or
you're dead, and that's it!"
Yes, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory most
certainly exist, but that doesn't mean at all that ghosts don't, and
the Church teaches that ghostly appartitions are perfectly possible.
A ghost even makes an appearance in Sacred Scripture, so try arguing
with that! In I Kings 28 (I Samuel
28 in Bibles with Masoretic numbering)
we read about Saul and the Witch of Endor:
Now Samuel was
dead, and all Israel mourned for him, and buried him in Ramatha his
city. And Saul had put away all the magicians and soothsayers out of
the land. And the Philistines were gathered together, and came
and camped in Sunam: and Saul also gathered together all Israel, and
came to Gelboe. And Saul saw the army of the Plilistines, and was
afraid, and his heart was very much dismayed.
And he consulted the Lord, and he answered him not, neither by dreams,
nor by priests, nor by prophets. And Saul said to his servants: Seek me
a woman that hath a divining spirit, and I will go to her, and inquire
by her. And his servants said to him: There is a woman that hath a
divining spirit at Endor.
Then he disguised himself: and put on other clothes, and he went, and
two men with him, and they came to the woman by night, and he said to
her: Divine to me by thy divining spirit, and bring me up him whom I
shall tell thee.
And the woman said to him: Behold thou knowest all that Saul hath done,
and how he hath rooted out the magicians and soothsayers from the land:
why then dost thou lay a snare for my life, to cause me to be put to
And Saul swore unto her by the Lord, saying: As the Lord liveth there
shall no evil happen to thee for this thing.
And the woman said to him: Whom shall I bring up to thee?
And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice, and
said to Saul: Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
And the king said to her: Fear not: what hast thou seen?
And the woman said to Saul: I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
And he said to her: What form is he of? And she said: An old man cometh
up, and he is covered with a mantle.
And Saul understood that it was Samuel, and he bowed himself with his
face to the ground, and adored.
And Samuel said to Saul: Why hast thou disturbed my rest, that I should
be brought up?
The notes for
these verses given in the Douay Bible teach that it's "the more common
opinion of the holy fathers, and interpreters, that the soul of Samuel
appeared indeed: and not, as some have imagined, an evil spirit in his
shape. Not that the power of her magic could bring him thither, but
that God was pleased for the punishment of Saul, that Samuel himself
should denounce unto him the evils that were falling upon him."
In other words, the Fathers of the Church believed that God allowed the
ghost of Samuel to appear to Saul for His own good reasons.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in a supplement to his Summa Theologica quotes St.
Since the devil
and the demons wander throughout the whole world, and are everywhere
present with wondrous speed, why should the martyrs, after shedding
their blood be imprisoned and unable to go forth?"
-- and follows
that quote with:
Hence we may
infer that not only the good sometimes leave their abode, but also the
wicked, since their damnation does not exceed that of the demons who
wander about everywhere.
souls of the saints or of the damned are sometimes actually present
where they appear, we are not to believe that this is always so: for
sometimes these apparitions occur to persons whether asleep or awake by
the activity of good or wicked angels in order to instruct or deceive
the living. Thus sometimes even the living appear to others and tell
them many things in their sleep; and yet it is clear that they are not
present, as Augustine proves from many instances (De Cura pro Mort. xi,
Pope St. Gregory
the Great had much to say about ghosts. In Book IV of his "Dialogues,"
he recounts a very comforting story. Responding to his interlocutor,
Peter, who asked, "What man is he, though never so holy, that, cometh
to leave this mortal life, hath not just cause to fear the unspeakable
sentence of damnation? for although he knoweth what he hath done, yet
ignorant he is not, how straightly his works shall be examined and
judged," he says:
It is even so,
Peter, as you say. And yet sometime the only fear of death doth purge
the souls of just men from their smaller sins, as you and I have often
heard of a certain holy man that was very much afraid when he came to
die: and yet, after he was dead, appeared to his disciples in a white
stole, reporting to them in what excellent manner he was received, when
he departed out of this world.
Why might ghosts
appear? First we have to consider that it's possible that some of what
we see as "ghosts" are the
result of naturally occurring phenomena our scientists haven't been
able to explain yet, some sort of "imprint"
that plays back like a recording somehow, in places thought to be
haunted, especially when emotionally
intense situations are involved, such as violent crimes, war, suicide,
etc. If such things are so, then those sort of phenomena wouldn't
entail true ghosts at all, with ghosts being the spirits of the
which have, and will always have, the three powers of the soul --
intellect, will, and memory. There would be no intelligence behind any
such sort of "imprint."
But as we've seen from the above, God might allow true ghosts to appear
to punish or to console. And He may let purgatorial souls -- the souls
of those who need to be purified before they enter into Heaven --
appear so that we'll be warned, or reminded to pray for them. In
Rome, there is a tiny museum dedicated to the evidence of such souls
returning to earth. The Piccolo
Museo Del Purgatorio
("Little Purgatory Museum"), located in the parish church of the Sacred
Heart, consists of a glass case filled with, among other things, the
following objects 1
finger-prints on the prayer book of Maria Zaganti of
the Parish of St. Andrew in Poggio Berni (Rimini), left by the deceased
Palmira Rastelli, the parish priest’s sister, on 5 March 1871. Palmira
Rastelli, who had died on 28 December 1870, asked her brother, Don
Sante Rastelli, by means or her friend, for some Holy Masses.
- 2. The
apparition, in 1875, of Luisa Le Sénèchal (born at
Chanvrières; died on 7 May1873), to her husband Luigi Le Sénèchal, in
their house at Ducey (Manche-France), asking him to pray for her and
leaving as a sign the print of five fingers on his night-cap. According
to the document authenticating the apparition, the burn on the
night-cap had been by the deceased lady so that the husband could give
a concrete proof to their daughter of the request to celebrate Masses.
- A photocopy (the
original is kept at Winnemberg near
Warendorf in Westfalia, Germany), of a burn mark made on the apron of
Sister M. Herendorps, a lay sister of the Benedictine Monastery of
Winnemberg, on Saturday 13 October 1696 by the hand of the deceased Sr.
Mary Care Schoelers, a choir sister of the same order, a victim of the
plague of 1637. The lower part of the photocopy shows the impression of
two hands made by the same Sister on a strip of linen.
- A photo of the
mark made by the deceased Mrs. Leleux, on
the sleeve of her son Joseph’s shirt, when she appeared to him on the
night of 21 June 1789 at Wodecq (Belgium). The son related that for a
period of eleven consecutive nights, he had heard noises which almost
made him sick with fear, at the end of which his mother appeared to him
on 21 June 1789. Reminding him of his duty or having Masses said in
compliance with the terms of a legacy left him by his father, she
reproached him for his way of life and begged him to change his
behaviour and to work for the Church. Then she put her hand on the
sleeve of his shirt, leaving on it a very clear impression. Joseph
Leleux was converted and founded a congregation of pious laity. He died
in the odour of sanctity on 19 April 1825.
- A finger print
left by the pious Sister Mary of St. Luigi
Gonzaga, when she appeared to Sister Margareth of the Sacred Heart, on
the night between 5 and 6 June 1894. As recorded in the annals of the
monastery of St. Clare of the Child Jesus in Bastia (Perugia), Sr. Mary
suffered from tuberculosis, high temperature, coughs and asthma, and
was so depressed that she wished greatly to die so as not to endure
such suffering. Being a very fervent soul, however, she resigned
herself to God’s will. She died a holy death a few days later, on the
morning of 5 June 1894. That same night she appeared dressed as a Poor
Clare nun in a hazy atmosphere, but Sister Margareth could recognize
her. To Sister Margareth’s surprise, the deceased nun said that she was
in Purgatory to expiate for her lack of patience in accepting God’s
will. She asked for prayers and as a proof of her apparition she placed
her forefinger on the pillow and promised to return. In fact, she
appeared again to the same nun on June 20 and 25 to thank and give
spiritual advice to the Community before she went up to Heaven.
- Marks left on a
small wooden table and on the sleeve and
chemise of the Venerable Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor
Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi. The four marks were
left by the deceased Fr. Panzini, former Abbot Olivetano of Mantua, on
the 1st November 1731. The first mark is on the left hand impressed on
the table which Mother Isabella used for her work (it is very clear and
bears the sign of a cross cut deeply into the wood); the second is of
the same left hand made now on a sheet of paper; the third is of the
right hand and was made on the sleeve of the Abbess’s tunic; the fourth
is the same made on the tunic, but which passed through the tunic and
left an imprint on the sleeve of the chemise, stained with blood. The
account of this event was given by Fr. Isidoro Gazata of the Blessed
Crucifix, the confessor of the Abbess. He ordered her to cut off from
her tunic and chemise the parts where the marks were made and to give
them to him to keep.
- Mark left on the
copy of "The Imitation of Christ"
belonging to Margherite Demmerlé of Ellinghen Parish (diocese of Metz)
by her mother-in-law who appeared to in 1815, thirty years after her
death in 1785. The deceased lady appeared dressed as a pilgrim in the
traditional costume of her country; she was coming down the stairs of
the barn sighing and looking at her daughter-in-law, almost as if
begging for something. Margherite, on the advice of the parish priest,
spoke to her and received the following answer: "I am your
mother-in-law who died in child-birth thirty years ago. Go on a
pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariental, and have two Masses
said for me there." After the pilgrimage she appeared again to
Margherite to tell her that she had been released from Purgatory. When
her daughter-in-law, on the advice of the parish priest, asked her for
a sign, she put her hand on the book and left a burn mark. After that
she appeared no more.
- Fiery finger
prints by the deceased Joseph Schitz when he
touched with his right hand the (German) prayer book of his brother
George on 21 December 1838 at Sarralbe (Lorraine). The deceased man
asked for prayer in expiation of his lack of piety during his life on
- Photocopy of a
ten lire Italian banknote. Between 18
August and 9 November 1919 a total of thirty such notes were left at
the Monastery of St. Leonardo in Montefalco by a deceased priest who
asked for Masses to be said. (The original of this note has been
returned to the Monastery of St. Leonardo where it is still kept).
To wit, the
Church teaches that God may well allow a departed human soul pay a
to the living. Some of these spirits may be Saints -- i.e., those in
Heaven, canonized or not. Some may be purgatorial spirits. And some may
be damned. She teaches, too, however, that demons can and do
mimic departed human
spirits, and that it's sinful to initiate contact with the departed.
So, yes, if you see what appears to be a ghost, it may well be a ghost. But if you encounter
what seems to be a ghost, you should err on the side of caution and
assume it's a demon. If it speaks, demand that it tell you Who Christ
is and reveal to you that it submits to Him. If it does do this, then you can pay it
heed; it if doesn't, it's demonic, shouldn't be spoken to or listened
to, should be paid no heed whatsoever other than to drive it away
through the use of prayer and sacramentals, as described on the
"Spiritual Warfare" page of this sub-section.
retrieved from http://catholicism.org/ad-rem-no-90.html on March 20,
Move on to:
Oppression, and Possession