An explanation of Purgatory -Part 1 of 2

-Part one of a two part series.
By: Jim Dunning

(This article was originally published in "Irelands Own" magazine on November 14, 2008. The webmaster would like to gratefully thank the author for his kind permission in reprinting it here.)

“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” -2 Machabees 12:46

Many of us will remember hearing this exhortation when we were still young children learning our Catechism. We may have given it little thought since then, though we are reminded of it occasionally when relatives or friends die and we attend their funerals. We will regularly join with the priest and congregation at other times in reciting such prayers as ‘Eternal rest grant unto them , O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace, Amen.’ Something of a formula perhaps, too easily pronounced and too quickly forgotten.

A mistake many of us unwittingly make is to assume that our deceased loved ones must already be in Heaven. There is good reason to believe that many of the souls in Purgatory remain there long after we have ceased praying for them. They are not able to communicate with us, nor we with them, though records do exist of certain saints who have been privileged to make contact with departed souls still awaiting entry to Heaven. While all such souls have the joy of knowing they will ultimately achieve eternal happiness , they undergo considerable suffering while awaiting their release. Our prayers and sacrifices can help to lessen their pain and speed them on their way.

How do we know this? As mentioned above, contact with souls in Purgatory has been made by certain privileged saints who have provided accounts of their experiences. Accounts which we have every reason to believe. The Diary of Saint Faustina, a Polish nun who died at the age of 33 in 1938, and was canonised in the year 2000, contains remarkable reports of visits made by her to souls in Purgatory and of conversations she was privileged to have with them. When she asked what their suffering mainly consisted of, they told her that their greatest torment took the form of an earnest longing for God. At the same time she heard an interior voice saying “My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it.”

The concept of justice, as it applies to souls in Purgatory, is an important one. It seems that even though our sins have been forgiven, justice demands that we cannot enter Heaven until we have fully paid our debts. Saint Faustina stressed that the penance we are given when we go to confession is inadequate. She urged us to make a daily offering of our sufferings and trials on behalf of the poor souls in Purgatory and for our own souls in order to shorten our stay there.

In addition, people can make provision in their wills for Masses to be said for their souls after their death. Such bequests have the added advantage that they help to support certain religious communities which partly depend on funds made available in this way. Clearly one cannot rely entirely on these means as this would suggest that the rich have a great advantage over those less able to afford such contributions.

You will sometimes hear it said that the word ‘Purgatory’ is not to be found in Holy Scripture, and it is true that the word itself did not come into common use until the Middle Ages, but the doctrine whereby souls are detained prior to their entry into Heaven is proved by references to the dead in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Councils of Florence and of Trent and by Tradition.

An example of prayers being offered for the dead in the Old Testament is contained in the Book of Machabees, quoted above in the first paragraph. It was written long before the coming of Christ. We learn from it that Judas Machabeus, commander of the Jewish army, lost a large number of his soldiers in a successful battle against the Syrians. When these soldiers came to be buried, heathen charms were discovered under their tunics. It worried Judas to think that some of his soldiers had been unfaithful to the one true God. In an effort to beg pardon of God for their sins, he collected 12,000 drachms of silver and sent them to the temple in Jerusalem to have sacrifices offered for the dead soldiers, expressing the generally-held belief that ‘it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins’.

In the New Testament a declaration made by St. Paul in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3: 14-15) is generally taken to refer to what we now think of as Purgatory. It reads: ‘If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.’

Although souls are essentially spirits, theologians speak of Purgatory as a physical space in which the souls of those who have died in God’s grace but are still imperfectly purified, are kept until they have made good the harm done to their souls by sin. They are unable to go to Heaven immediately after death since nothing that is defiled can enter there. They cannot be in Hell either, for there is no redemption for souls unfortunate enough to have been consigned there after deliberately turning their backs on God. It follows that there must be a place or state in which souls have to wait while undergoing the purification necessary for their acceptance in Heaven.

If the temptation is to arrange for prayers and masses to be said only for our own souls, it should be remembered that we are constantly being urged and encouraged to pray for the Holy Souls in general. Pope John Paul II stated: ‘Giving the Holy Souls in Purgatory an indulgence is the highest act of supernatural charity.’ St. Thomas Aquinas said: ‘Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead because they employ all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.’ Our Lady of Medjugorje, in her message of 21st July, 1982, lamented: ‘There is a large number of souls who have been in Purgatory for a long time because no one prays for them.’

St. Gertrude, when dying, was worried that she had given up all her good works to the souls in Purgatory, keeping none of the benefits for herself. Our Lord assured her in a vision that she would go straight to Heaven. Although none of us would presume to be so deserving, it seems reasonable to suppose that our generosity will be rewarded. St. Catherine of Bologna declared: ‘I received many and great favours from the saints, but still greater favours from the Holy Souls.’ It is claimed that Holy Souls, once released, never cease to pray for those who have helped them.

If the particular souls we are praying for are already in Heaven, there is no doubt that our prayers will be applied to benefit other souls. It has been said that there is no ungrateful soul in Heaven. A comforting thought.

Purgatory is defined by the Catholic Church as ‘a state of final purification after death and before entrance into Heaven for those who died in God’s friendship but were only imperfectly purified.’ Mention has been made of the suffering endured by the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Their pain is lessened however by several factors.

The first of these is the certainty they have of their future glory in Heaven; what might be called the light at the end of the tunnel. As St. Paul suggests in his letter to the Romans, this hope must bring the faithful great joy. Then there is their complete willingness to suffer, knowing that they deserve their punishment. Their love of God, perhaps newly found, causes them to rejoice in their suffering. While the souls of the lost are kept in the prison of Hell, those in Purgatory stay there willingly for they understand the just will of God and submit to it.

St. Catherine of Genoa wrote: ‘It seems to me there is no joy comparable to that of the pure souls in Purgatory, except the joy of heavenly beatitude.’ In his writings on Purgatory, Fr. Binet, S.J., states: ‘We have all the reason in the world to believe that God, of His infinite goodness, inspires these Holy Souls in a thousand heavenly lights, and such ravishing thoughts that they cannot but take themselves to be extremely happy.’

All of which is also most comforting. Nevertheless, for those anxious to limit the amount of time spent in Purgatory, even to avoid it altogether, there is always the legitimate prospect of obtaining indulgences.

Click here to go to part 2 of this article, "Receiving Indulgences"

-‘Purgatory and Heaven’ by Fr. J.P. Arendzen, D.D.
-‘Purgatory’ by Fr. Frederick William Faber


Anonymous said...

there is no such thing as purgatory. the bible is clear that the soul will go to heaven or hell.

those early fathers created purgatory for their own greed. they gathered money from the people to this wrong creation of purgatory. it doesn't exist.

when the judgment come, those early fathers who deceived people with this false teaching that there is a purgatory will be the one to receive punishment.

Glenn Dallaire said...

To reply to Anonymous:
Here are 7 of the many proofs of Purgatory in the Scriptures:

Matthew 5: 25-26
"Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny"

1 Peter 3:18-20
"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

1 Peter 4:6
"For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Luke 16:22-26
“Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23″In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.24″And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’25″But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.26′And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.‘

1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15
"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

2 Maccabees 12:43-46
"He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.".

Thus the Bible is quite clear concerning the existence of purgatory.

May God bless you and your loved ones.
Glenn Dallaire

Glenn Dallaire said...

In addition to the scriptural references on purgatory I would also like to relate a theological concept that a devout and pious person once told me. In short, each sin has a two fold consequence--there is the damage that the sin does to us and there is the damage that it does to our relationship to God. When we sin it is like throwing a rock through a window---Jesus sacrifice and death on the Cross repairs the damage done to the window, but we still have to pick up the glass. In other words, Jesus forgives us of our sins, but we have to repair the "damages" which is the consequences of our sins. And this is the Catholic concept of reparation or "penance". Now we can either repair the damage to our souls here on earth, or after we die, but either way we cannot "enter the wedding banquet without the proper robe" so to speak. And purgatory is the means of purging ourselves of the damages to our souls which is the consequence of our sins.
-Glenn Dallaire

Anonymous said...

Glen, you did a wonderful explanation. May God bless your efforts. Let he who have ears hear.......

Anonymous said...

excellent work! beloved readers pls read with an open mind and doubt no more

Anonymous said...

To those who DO NOT WANT to believe in Purgatory, despite its proof, I ask this
to ask themselves:
Is it not terribly prideful for one to believe that he / she is so perfect, so totally free from sin, to be so totally worthy to enter immaculate Heaven immediately after death?
Personally, I could never think of myself as being that worthy.

dave555 said...

Purgatory is real, after I start praying for holy souls of purgatory I have now several good-mornings! Before I really don't know whats going on around me before going to bed not until I realized souls from purgatory visit us randomly begging us to pray for them.

Our Lady of Akita taught us this whenever receiving the Holy Eucharist or visiting the adoration chapel to pray this "Most sacred heart of Jesus truly present in the Holy Eucharist I consecrate my body and soul to be entirely one with your heart being sacrificed at every instant on all the altars of the world and giving praise to the father pleading for the coming of his kingdom. Please receive this humble offering of myself, use me as you will for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls. Most holy mother of God never let me be separated from your divine Son. Please defend and protect me as your special child. Amen"

Too sad many of us don't know how to pray well even I before not until I surrender my heart to Holy Jesus and Blessed Mary they lead me how to pray well - use our intelligence - the gift from God.

dave555 said...

After a couple of days praying prayers for Holy Souls of purgatory I dreamt of seeing this shiny ancient old gold coins laying on a loam soil and no one was picking it. Since it was a gold coins it amaze me to pick them up all and my two hands were almost full & none was bothered picking up those precious coins except me. How I wish all has the same feeling with me praying for the Holy Souls of purgatory like picking those coins. For reference I use '100 requiem' 'Prayer for Holy Wounds of Christ' and 'Suffrage for the Holy Souls'.

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