Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Chesterton 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.

But t
here's a 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 Purgatory after 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 death?

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. Jerome --

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.

He warns, though, that:

Although the 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, xii).

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 departed, human spirits 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

  1. Three 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. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 earth.
  9. 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 visit 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. It 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.


Information retrieved from on March 20, 2016

Move on to:

Obsession, Oppression, and Possession
Spiritual Warfare

Back to Being Catholic