Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some facts about purgatory

These early days (indeed, the whole month) of November is a time specifically devoted to praying for the poor souls in purgatory. How sad it is that relatively few Catholics even think of the poor souls! Certainly, this woeful neglect on the part of so many is due largely to the fact that few priests have been preaching about purgatory over the past thirty to forty years.
I do hope that we all are taking advantage of the opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence for the dead each day between the first and eighth of November. The requirements for gaining this special grace (from the handbook of indulgences) are:
1) To visit a cemetery and say any prayer for the deceased (the person does not need to actually be buried in that particular cemetery).
2) To be in the state of grace when the work is accomplished.
3) To go to confession.
4) To pray for the Holy Father (an Our Father and Hail Mary, as well as the Creed or the Glory Be, are the traditional prayers).
5) To receive communion devoutly.
6) To be free from all attachment to sin (even venial sin).
Note: Communion should be received on the day or near the day in which the visit to the cemetery is made. Confession may be made several days before or after (and one confession suffices for multiple indulgences [but communion must be received for each plenary indulgence]).
Finally: Only one plenary indulgence may be gained each day (excepting in the case of the moment of death, when a second may be acquired).
Additionally, the usual requirements being met, a plenary indulgence for the deceased may be gained on November 2nd by visiting a church or oratory and offering an Our Father and the Creed.
Now, let’s consider some facts about purgatory!

Is purgatory in the Bible?
While the word “purgatory” never appears in the Bible, the concept is present both implicitly and explicitly. Implicitly, the idea of praying for the dead – as when Job prays for his sons and daughters, or in Maccabees, or when St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to pray for the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15) – necessitates belief in purgatory. If the dead are in hell, our prayers could do no good; if they are in heaven, then they have no need of prayer. Therefore, there must be some third place (neither in heaven nor in hell) where the souls of the dead can benefit from our prayers.
The concept of purgatory is also explicitly presented in the Bible. Consider when Jesus says that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this life or in the next (cf. Matthew 12:31) – thus, it is clear that some sins can be forgiven in the next life (we mean the punishment of sin, not the guilt of sin). Likewise, St. Paul states that some who have died will be purified as by fire: If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15)
Must I believe in purgatory in order to be saved?
Yes, purgatory has been taught by the Catholic Church as de fide. To deny the existence of purgatory is to deny the authority of Christ Jesus who has revealed this doctrine to us through the Church. Hence, belief in purgatory is as necessary for salvation as the other truths of the Faith.
What is purgatory?
Purgatory is that purification which they must undergo who have died in God’s grace and friendship, but are still imperfect. Purgatory is “this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (CCC 1031) Purgatory is a great and most generous gift from the Lord.
How is purgatory different from hell?
Purgatory is essentially different from hell insofar as the souls there still possess grace. The souls in purgatory have faith, hope and love. Their punishment and suffering is of a purifying nature and prepares them for heaven. Moreover, purgatory is only a temporary purgation and all the souls in purgatory will eventually gain entrance to heaven.
Hell, on the other hand, is eternal. The sufferings of hell do not purify but only torture and punish. The souls in hell have no grace, neither have they any (true) faith, hope or love. The souls in hell will never attain to salvation.
How is purgatory different from heaven?
Purgatory is a sort of ante-chamber to heaven, a preparatory purgation for heaven. The souls in purgatory suffer intensely and are not yet perfectly happy. The souls in purgatory still have hope (rather than the fulfillment of hope in heaven), since they are not yet perfectly possessed by God. Likewise they still have faith, since they do not yet see God.
Do the souls in purgatory become holier?
Essentially, the souls in purgatory cannot grow in holiness. They cannot merit more grace or glory. Neither can they grow in charity. Rather, purgatory is a cleansing which purifies the holiness that they already possess.
Do the souls in purgatory want to get out?
This is a difficult question. On the one hand, they certainly desire heaven (this desire is cause of their chief pain, since they are not yet where they want to be). On the other hand, they would not want to move ahead without being purified. Hence, they love the sufferings insofar as they are purified by them. None are angry or upset about being in purgatory, but they do very much desire the assistance of our prayers so as to swiftly attain to the joy of heaven.
Are there any young children in purgatory?
No, there are most certainly no children who died before the age of reason in purgatory. Purgatory is a punishment for actual sin (either direct sins or sins of omission). Hence, since a child cannot sin until it has attained to the use of reason, it is not possible for any children to be in purgatory.
If the child has been baptized, it most certainly goes directly to heaven. If the child has not been baptized, it either goes to limbo (which is a state of perfect natural happiness, on the fringe of hell) or to heaven.
In any case, young children who die before gaining the use of reason are very happy, indeed they are perfectly happy. They are either supernaturally happy in heaven, or naturally happy in limbo – but they certainly do not suffer any subjective pains (as do the souls in hell and in purgatory).
Will purgatory go on forever?
No. Purgatory will be completed at the time of the final judgment. All the souls in purgatory at that time will be purified instantaneously and will be caught up with the saints in glory.
Is there really fire in purgatory?
Yes. There is real, physical fire in purgatory. This is the best and safest opinion which is nearly unanimous among the Latin theologians (especially the Fathers and Doctors), also it enjoys the favor of several prominent Eastern Doctors (including St. Basil the Great). Additionally, the mystics of the Church speak of physical fires.
It is in this sense only that purgatory can be called a “place”.
How can I help the souls in purgatory?
You can help the poor souls by praying for them, offering up works of mercy, gaining indulgences for them, mortifying yourself in their behalf, and completing other spiritual works for their sake. [Be sure that no prayer will go to waste; since, if the soul is not in purgatory (for one reason or another), Our Blessed Mother will certainly make good use of the graces for another]
Most especially, we consider the importance of praying for the holy souls when at Mass (especially during the Eucharistic prayer), and having Masses offered for the deceased.
Can the souls in purgatory help me?
This is a very complicated question. Generally we would say, no. The main point of purgatory is that the souls cannot help themselves or anyone else, but are in a passive state of purification. They are powerless, hence they rely greatly upon our prayers.
However, it is possible that God may (in exceptional circumstances) allow those in purgatory to pray for or assist in some manner those who are on earth and who implore their aid. Still, this does not seem to be the norm – however, there are most certainly cases in the lives of the saints (e.g. St. Pio) where this did occur.
How can I suffer less in purgatory and get to heaven quickly?
The time is now! Once we die, there is no way to suffer less in purgatory. However, until death, there is much we can do to help ourselves (by God’s grace).
The primary way to avoid excessive time in purgatory is to become holier now. The chief reason why souls go to purgatory is because they are not yet in perfect union with God. Therefore, we must strive to attain to perfect union (which is gained especially through prayer and the dark night of the soul).
Additionally, accepting any and all sufferings (and even adding sufferings through mortifications and fasts) will help to atone for the punishment of sin on earth rather than in purgatory. In this regard, it is good to recall the importance of indulgences and especially the plenary indulgence at the moment of death gained through the “Apostolic Pardon” which is given by the priest through a special blessing when death is imminent, but can even be gained without a priest in some circumstances [more on this in a future article].

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.


Anonymous said...

If the saints are in heaven already, and the damned are already in hell; and all in purgatory will be going to heaven ... then what use is the Final Judgement?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

In the future, please use some pseudonym at least (as requested).

Reagrding your question:
It is a matter of faith that the saints are already in heaven and the damned already in hell ... they are no longer waiting.

The purpose of the Final Judgment is to make all things clear, to "reveal to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life" (CCC 1039).

The particular judgment immediately after death reveals how your actions affected you own salvation. The final judgment reveals how your actions affected the salvation of others.

Hope it is clear now. +

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Kudos. That was a splendid presentation and I particularly loved your reference to Limbo.

Unless one assists at The Immemorial Mass offered by the FSSP or The SSPX, one has almost no chance of hearing this Doctrine, say nothing of hearing it expressed so clearly.

I just got back form going to my local Parish trying to gain a Plenary Indulgence for my Dad and that action actualised the sometimes difficult-to-grasp part of the Creed, The Communion of Saints.

As I prayed I experienced a profound and vivid memory of my Dad and I wept a bit and I asked Dad to pray for me when he gets to Heaven.

Thanks be to God I was born into a Catholic Family and Thank you, Father, for this excellent presentation.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
Indeed, it is so sad that few priests are preaching about purgatory these days ... not to mention the importance of indulgences!

Well, we need to keep these priests in prayer, that they may return to faith and persevere in it!
(in this regard, I entrust myself to your prayers and the prayers of all readers as well)

Peace to you, and prayers for your father (I will remember him on my evening visit to the cemetery). +

James Joseph said...

I can see Purgatory as a sort of Betrothal period.

In this life the bridegroom is seeking the one who demonstrates the qualities He wishes his potential spouse to have; above all a clear intent toward faithfulness to the marriage covenant. When the bridegroom finds the one whom loves Him they become beloved to each other.

Death brings forward a period of betrothal, where just as the Church asks of earthly men and women to refrain from each other lest the marriage bond begin in error and sin, the beloved of the Bridegroom must go through time greatly desiring Him. The wait is painful insomuch as the day is yet to arrive. It is likewise hopeful because of the promise of joy.

Heaven, of course, is punctuated by the eternal Wedding Banquet.

What a good thought I just had!

Denise said...

My 9 year old son did this all 8 days last year and was serving at a funeral Mass and he saw a Holy Soul from Purgatory surrounded by flames in front of the altar and then a light rise up from there and ascend. It was wonderful to know that God was so gracious as to take someone from such a deep cleansing in Purgatory.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


Indeed, we can scarcely imagine the power of the prayers of a child!
Thanks for sharing! +

H. Hobbit said...

I so appreciate the clarity of this article. As a protestant (who looks more and more to the Church with longing eyes) it is helpful to have things spelled out. I would prefer that Purgatory not be part of the equation, but since it is, I need help in understanding it.

I wrote down something you said in the comment box- "The particular judgement immediately after death reveals how your actions affected your own salvation. The Final judgement reveals how your actions affected the salvation of others." I put it on my bulletin board above my desk. I would do well to think about that every day from now on........I'd never heard it put that way-- and it humbles me no end.

Please keep writing, and again, I thank you for your clarity.

Veronica said...

We never hear a peep in our parish about purgatory. One time our priest mentioned it, but never again. I am certain that some of the more, shall we say, "ardent" parishioners got offended at the mere suggestion that any one of their deceased relatives was less than a saint!

Here's my purgatory question: For a while now, I have been asking my friends in heaven to pray me out of purgatory ASAP, since I doubt that I will have anyone here to pray for the repose of my poor soul. Are the saints in heaven able to help the souls in purgatory by their prayers? If not, I will have to work all the harder to avoid the place.


Kuba said...

A quick question regarding the Final Judgement.

Will those already in Hell be released from it to be reunited with their risen bodies and take part in the Judgement Day?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The souls in hell will not be released, but they will most certainly receive their bodies back ... this will greatly increase their torments.
They will be utterly confounded by the final judgment.

Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It seems to me that the saints in heaven can indeed assist the poor souls by their prayers.
However, we have an advantage in one respect (and an important role to play) -- the saints in heaven can no longer merit, nor can they gain indulgences ... thus, to merit and to gain indulgences for the souls in purgatory is our duty!

Peace to you, and thanks for the great question! +

Marco da Vinha said...

The Portuguese have, or at least used to have, a great devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. All over the countryside you can still find small shrines dedicated to them, with references to the prayers to be said for them.
I occasionally see candles in some of these shrines, though I can't vouch for the orthodoxy of their use any more.

Marko Ivančičević said...

If I understood correctly, (venial) sin has a twofold effect and twofold consequence in relation to Purgatory and our salvation.
1)Effect - Offends God

Consequence - An atonement is needed(attained ultimately in Purgatory)

2)Effect - Detaches us from God and corrupts our soul(making it more inclined towards some particular sin), decreases in it holiness it possesses.

Consequence - Since nothing impure, corrupt and imperfect can enter into Heaven, the soul must undergo purification from attachment to any sin and thus a purification of particular level of it's own holiness(meaning that the soul does not grow in holiness in the Purgatory but purifies the holiness it attained in her earthly life because the time for increasing holiness is our earthly life - from this the concept of different levels of glory in Heaven could proceed). Altogether we could call the Consequence(no2) "Perfection of the soul".

Those are my thoughts, fr. Ryan. Are they in any way incorrect?
God Bless.

Leo said...

Father, have they ever said what exactly the material flame burns since our material bodies are in the grave. Perhaps it could be our material souls and their material sins?

Anonymous said...

Father you seem to imply that once a child reaches the age of reason, they are no longer children; I really don't believe that this is the point that you are trying to make, are you? In other words: just when does a child quit being a child? From what I have been reading about purgatory from the "mystics", they believe that the poor souls can help us, but they cannot help themselves. Thank you for this article & thankfully here in Fitchburg, Mass. we do have priests that tell us about purgatory. +JMJ+

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your points look good to me.

Their souls would not be burned by the flames, but would suffer by being bound to them ... see my earlier article (which is linked above) for further clarification of this point.

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous, Nov 5
Please use a pseudonym in the future.

Right, they are still "children", but they are not "young children" ... i.e. they have attained to the use of reason and therefore are capable of making significant moral choices. These can be in purgatory.

Also, you are correct that some of the mystics hold that the poor souls can help us ... theologically we have to say that this is by the special permission of God and not by their natural power or in the ordinary way of things (at least that is the consensus of the saints, especially St. Alphonsus).

I'm very happy to hear that you are getting good preaching over there in Massachusetts! +

Anonymous said...

Where does the church claim that Limbo is where unbaptized babies go?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous Nov 5, 1:36pm;
Please use a pseudonym, then I will answer your question.

From now on, I will not be posting any more purely anonymous comments, you must at least use a pseudonym posted at the end of your comment.

[I've already asked twice, plus it is in the comment policy on the left of the screen, and it is in the comment box pop-up when you make a comment]

Josemaria Paulo Jeromino Martin Carvalho-Von Verster said...

I read In Fr Sulivan's Book that The Souls in Purgatory Help Us. Is He Wrong?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, they can help us, by the special permission of God - but this is beyond the ordinary way.

The souls in purgatory would not ordinarily have any (but perhaps the most general) knowledge of the things on earth ... further it is debatable whether they have even the power to pray (of themselves).

St. Thomas says "no".
St. Robert Bellermine seems to say "no".
Suarez says "yes".
St. Alphonsus says, "No, ordinarily; but yes, by the special permission of God".

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Thanks fro your prayers for me Dad. I will keep you in my prayers

Kuba said...

I have come across some (including clergy) who believe that souls in purgatory can sometimes "wander around" or "haunt" to get our attention so we would pray for them. could comment?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, a poor soul could ask for prayers ... and this may at first seem scary ... but this would not be a true "haunting".
Still, the soul can only attempt to get our attention if God gives a special grace/power to do so [i.e. it is not in the norm].

Peace +

Anonymous said...

For a couple of years now, after hearing Susan Tassone (sp?) speak about how the souls in purgatory need our prayers, I have created my own "litany" of the dead. In which I list the names of deceased family, ancestors, friends and aquaintances, asking for God's mercy on their souls and until reading this I assumed they could in turn pray for us and so petitioned the souls. Now I ask God to grant permission for them to pray for us.


Travelling Cat said...

I have read this with great interest and thought about it. One thing bothers me and that is that we should mortify ourselves. I have a concern about people hurting their bodies by cutting and lashing themselves. I do not understand this and it concerns me that someone may become seriously hurt. It is hard to believe that God who loves us would condone this.

Anonymous said...

Dear father,
At the time of final judgement, how do one get the human body back and what is the relevance of it? could you explain what is then vital body with five senses.? If reserruction is with human body, how long will it survive.?

Ginu James

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