What in the world is Purgatory? Who goes there? People often ask me these questions (both adults and children). None of our Protestant friends believe in it. What does the Catholic Church teach about it?
The Church’s teaching on Purgatory is both straightforward and open to Mystery. It is the “state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of Heaven” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 210).
A couple questions are left open from this definition. First, theologians debate what a “state” is. Does that mean that it is not a place? Where are the souls in Purgatory? Secondly, what exactly does the purification entail? We know it is a state/place of suffering and longing, because the soul is not in Heaven yet. But does that mean a type of painful suffering, including flames of fire, as many have traditionally believed? Or more of a purification of desires? Or the suffering of longing for God and his love but not being there yet? These questions are too large to go into detail in this blog post.
|Purgatory by Annibale Carracci|
What we know clearly from this definition is that souls in Purgatory are ‘in a good place’ insofar as they are in God’s friendship; they are just not ready to be with God yet. They will be in Heaven one day. Because they know they will be in Heaven, they journey with hope.
We in the Church who are still here on Earth “are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers” for them, “especially the Eucharistic sacrifice.”
There is a great tradition and devotion here at St. Gregory’s regarding Mass intentions. You should see the lines of people in the rectory office and even out the door when the Mass book opens each year! When the office opened that day, there were four or five people waiting on line at the front door! People want Masses for specific dates and intentions, and I am so pleased that there is such a fervor here for Mass intentions, as there are in many parishes.
In addition to prayer and Mass intentions, we also help souls in Purgatory by “almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance” (Compendium, number 211). “Almsgiving” refers to material or financial assistance given to persons in need or a cause, when prompted by Christian charity. We believe that we can help persons journey through Purgatory more quickly with our prayers.
I saw that a recent DVD referred to Purgatory as the “forgotten Church.” On All Souls Day, and as we prepare for the Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis, may we always remember our brothers and sisters in Purgatory, those who are friends of God and have the hope of being with Him in Paradise one day.