Tag Archives: purgatory

Purgatory shows that no man is an island

BVM and PurgatoryIn these last days of November the month of the Holy Souls, I think it is worth thinking about the doctrine of Purgatory. Several years ago Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on hope “Spe Salvi” was published where he wrote some most beautiful lines ever written on purgatory. Here are paragraphs 45-48:

This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss. There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the Western Church they gradually developed into the doctrine of Purgatory. We do not need to examine here the complex historical paths of this development; it is enough to ask what it actually means. With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.

Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

The makes purgatory something to look forward to!

Is Purgatory necessary?

Purgatory is a state, or condition of temporal purification, a purgation, punishment for temporal things in which a soul is purified of the attachment to sin; it is a condition to cleanse sins, and to more perfectly open the heart to love God more; it is a place prepare us to enter into full communio with the Trinity. The Church does not teach that purgatory is a place. The theological presumption is that before death the person is reconciled to God, others and self through the reception of the sacrament of Confession and hopefully the reception of Holy Communion (Viaticum) and the Apostolic Pardon.

Purgatory is only available to the soul found worthy by God; therefore, we say it is by God’s grace that we enter into purgatory. The word “purgatory” comes from the Latin word, “purgare” defined as to make clean, to purify. This communio is also spoken of as the beatific vision, beatitude, heaven.

What’s the purpose of the doctrine of purgatory? We have to made pure by a cleansing that happens in the state of purgatory. Once you leave earth you can’t change the direction of your soul: either heaven or hell. Purgatory is a preparation for heaven, if that is the judgement of God. It is a common error to think that if your soul goes to purgatory that you are eternally damned. Not so. That a soul goes to purgatory one is saved. They are the second happiest souls after the saints.

Souls in purgatory can’t pray for themselves but our prayers and good works help the souls in purgatory in the process of purification so that in God’s time they can enjoy life eternal with God, and they can pray for us.

Sins in this life are a part of a purgatory on earth and before entering into God’s presence those sins need to be forgiven, purged and the soul made pure. Suffering does put us in touch –it is a matrix of holiness– with our dependence on God.

The bible’s teaching on purgatory is based on 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, Matthew 12:32, Luke 21:59, 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15, Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 7: 25, Hebrews 12:11, Revelation 21:27.

The Church refined her teaching several times in history due to greater knowledge revealed by God. The Fathers of the Church and certain other theologians taught the doctrine of purgatory as necessary for salvation and each has a his or her particular nuance on the truth but none contradict the substance. At the Council of Trent, due to the Protestant critique, formally taught:

Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod [Trent] (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap. ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful. (Denzinger, Enchiridon, 983)

While this passages does not spell out the doctrine, it does say that the Church’s teaching is consistent.

Who are Church Fathers referred to in the above paragraph? Among them, they are: Isidore of Seville, Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, Origen, Tertullian, Gregory the Great, Bede the Venerable, Bernard, and Robert Bellarmine; the popes of the 20th and 21st centuries have this teaching.

With the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we have a clear teaching (1030-31):

On 4 August 1999, Pope John Paul II said,

It is necessary to explain that the state of purification is not a prolungation of the earthly condition, almost as if after death one were given another possibility to change one’s destiny. The Church’s teaching in this regard is unequivocal and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council which teaches:  “Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. Heb 9: 27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth’ (Mt 22: 13 and 25: 30)” (Lumen gentium, n. 48).

There is more one can say of the doctrine of purgatory, but I hope these few paragraphs a door is opened.

All Souls Day and Purgatory

November is the month dedicated to praying for the Souls in Purgatory. A venerable and fitting custom of prayer and sacrifice for those of our families and friends who died, and those unknown to us personally. Don’t let these days go by without offering a prayer for the Souls in Purgatory, and visiting the cemetery.

The All Souls Indulgence is noted here.

Today is a fitting day to recall what the Catholic teaching of purgatory is: here, here and here. Plus, “Is Purgatory necessary?” may be helpful.

The end times are indeed near at hand…

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado Jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The end times are indeed near at hand. That is not to say that the “12/12/2012” Mayan prediction of the end of the world is true –it is not– or that the rapture approach is insightful. But if you really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior then an acknowledgement of our living in the end times is the right way to live. The Scripture readings in these final weeks of the liturgical year, but especially this week, prepare the believer to face the fact of the final things, sometimes called the Four Last Things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. We can’t get away from these things. If we could, then there would be no need of a Messiah, of the Cross and Resurrection, the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Church, and a spiritual life; no need for salvation. If there is no probability of hell, then there is no need of salvation.

The subject of the Four Last Things was taken up by Pope John Paul II in the Wednesday Audiences in July and August of 1999. Look them up, they are worth a good review. By way of summary, let me draw attention to a few things the Pontiff said:
  • heaven “is not an abstraction nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity;
  • When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God, which is the goal of human existence”;
  • the hell some will enjoy is not the result of God willing the death of the person but the result of the person not desiring the love and mercy God has offered, that he has freely given;
  • the Pope spoke of the danger of rigidly holding a literal interpretation of the Scriptural images of hell: for John Paul, and therefore us, “the inextinguishable fire” and “burning oven” in the biblical narrative points the hearer to “indicate the complete frustration and vacuity of a life without God”;
  • we know that hell exists; we don’t know the population of hell; Cf. Cardinal Avery Dulles’ famous First Things article, “The Population of Hell”; John Paul says that hell is not something that we can know but that real damnation “remains a possibility”;
  • On purgatory the Pope said, is the state of being “before we enter into God’s kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory”;
  • Purgatory is “the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but are not completely imbued with that love”; 
  • even though Christ holds His hand in friendship, that is, in love, the extension of our hand “does not exclude they duty to present ourselves pure and whole before God.”
  • Read the Catechism at paragraph 1861.
Perhaps tying all this together can be seen in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians where he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory” (3:2-4) And in the collect for this week’s Mass: “Stir up the will of your faithful, we pray, O Lord, that, striving more eagerly to bring your divine work to fruitful completion, they may receive in greater measure the healing remedies your kindness bestows.”
What ought be my approach to the four last things today, and in the years to come? Well, if I truly believe that Jesus is real, then the nihilistic approach is not a winning one. If I believe what Jesus exhorted us to consider as genuine, “Do not be afraid” then fear (sinful activity) can’t rule my life. If I believe that God is always present, then I ought to receive the sacraments of Confession and frequently receive the medicine of Immortality –the Holy Eucharist– reminding myself that Jesus told us that he’d be with us to the end of the world. His presence is neither magic nor fiction, but a real presence that no other warm body can ever give. These are the things that our spiritual life needs to be fed with, these are the treasures given by the all-loving, all-powerful God.
One of the monks at New Skete Monastery (in New York) said the following at the Divine Liturgy:

So how can we honestly and proactively approach today’s feast, and this holiday season in a way that will get us past the public façade of wise-guy banter and beyond the disconnect between hard realities and sincere beliefs and honest ideals? How might we bravely allow our deeper humanity to shine forth in the midst of some extreme assaults on such things as tenderness, hope, and compassion?

Today’s readings, along with monastic wisdom and psychological insight suggest the following: Daily if not hourly slow down the frantic pace of our media interaction, verbosity, and endless tasks: daily if not hourly return to the temple of our own person and the holy and fertile ground of our interior life. Daily if not continually express appreciation for whatever someone does that makes my life richer today: Daily or at least once in a while do something simple but concrete and different, for the express purpose of nurturing the human spirit, within yourself, for someone else, and for the future.

In these days in the post Christ the King observance and before Advent, let’s pray for the grace to know ourselves more deeply so as to accept more fully “divine work” in our lives with the gift of discernment showing us the way to the Father.

Souls in Purgatory and our obligation


Thumbnail image for St Gregory delivers the soul of monk GB Crespi.jpgThe month of November is the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. I was thinking after a funeral celebrated earlier today for a friend, Jack, who died last Saturday, about my on-going responsibility for the souls in purgatory. This after being reminded that I am called, as are all the baptized, to be an echo of the encounter with Christ in this world, but also in eternal life. What I do here and now has a direct consequence in the later in the promised Destiny with the Savior.

Is it a matter of saying the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and the Glory Be with the Eternal Rest prayers around the time of a person’s death, or only on the anniversary of death of a loved one or friend? Somehow I doubt it.

The law of charity that I think Christians are called to live with certainty makes a claim on us to pray for the dead and dedicate some portion of prayer, fasting and almsgiving for the Church Suffering (the Holy Souls) so that one day they become part of the Church Triumphant. Being Friends in the Lord (disciples of Christ) can’t be indifferent to those who have died. We believe that the bonds of love don’t unravel with the death of the body. We promise the dying that we won’t forget them. If this is true, then why do we so often forget to have a Mass offered for their intentions, or say a rosary for our loved ones, or absent ourselves from visiting the cemetery? Mass, the rosary and a visit are concrete acts of love that have a real consequence for real people we knew and loved in this life.

Consider the image of posted above is a example of spiritual works effecting the soul of another. Here the Baroque Master Giovanni Battista Crespi, “Il Cerano” (1573-1632) paints in 1617 Saint Gregory the Great “delivering the soul of a monk.” The deliverance is the result of the monk and pope Gregory offering Mass for the soul of a monk. The depths of mercy and love are mined by the devotion of the Mass for another.

As faithful Christians we state, in faith, that we will be reunited with those we knew and loved in this life with those who have gone before us. So, because of love, we reach out with the hand of prayer and charitable acts giving help to those being purged of the last vestiges sin will soon be fully capable of being with God in the Beatific Vision (heaven).

What does the Church teach about Purgatory?

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Paragraph 1030: All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Paragraph 1031: The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of cleansing fire. As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age but certain others in the age to come.

Paragraph 1472 excerpted: This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin.

For more on purgatory you can read here.

In a newsletter I periodically read, the entry for today said,

The Holy Souls in Purgatory. Purgatory has been described, as a “cleansing fire” that burns away the dross of sins on our souls. Saint Paul wrote those of being saved “yet so as through fire” and whether or not the soul endures a literal fire, its purification does involve suffering. The time each soul spends there, and the severity of the pains it experiences, varies. However, our prayers for these souls can help alleviate their sufferings and help them reach heaven more quickly. Although they can no longer pray for themselves, they can and do pray for us as well out of gratitude! In addition we can help them by having masses said for the departed and by engaging in works of cha
rity and sacrifice on their behalf.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
coat of arms



Humanities Blog Directory