I come to tell you that they suffer in Purgatory, that they weep, and that they demand with urgent cries the help of your prayers and your good works.
St Jean Vianney
The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Soul’s Day) – 2nd November
Having celebrated the saints in Heaven, the Church today turns her attentions to the Holy Souls in Purgatory – holy because Heaven awaits them but suffering the pain of purification in the crucible of God’s love. It is customary for priests to celebrate three Masses on this day, for the Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary renewed on our altars, has always been the principal means of fulfilling the great commandment of charity towards the dead. The process of purgation can also be assisted through our prayers, penances and good works. Today we are reminded that the love which we have for one another in this world is stronger than death.
Collect for All Souls
Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, and, as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead, is deepened, so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Preces nostras, quæsumus, Domine, benignus exaudi, ut, dum attollitur nostra fides in Filio tuo a mortuis suscitato, in famulorum tuorum præstolanda resurrectione spes quoque nostra firmetur. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum
Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
Prayers for the Dead
Eternal rest grant unto him (her), O Lord.
R. And let perpetual light shine upon him (her). May he (she) rest in peace.
May his (her) soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
May the love of God and the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ bless and console us and gently wipe away every tear from our eyes: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
What happens in Purgatory?
What’s the point of Purgatory?
To enter into communion with the all-holy God in everlasting life we too need to be holy. As St John Paul II explained, “every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church’s teaching on Purgatory”. For those faithful who die in friendship with God but not yet entirely purified, the mercy of God provides a last cleansing of love which enables them to embrace the fullness of Love. This is Purgatory.
Purgatory is a purification of love. Those who undergo this final cleansing after death have indeed died in the love of God, but that love is not yet perfect. More specifically the holiness of these souls may be tarnished by unforgiven venial sins, evil inclinations or temporal punishment due to sin.
What can the holy souls do to get out of Purgatory?
During our earthly lives, we can be purified by means of the sacraments, prayer and good works.
However “death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1021). This means the holy souls in Purgatory can no longer actively “satisfy” for their sins. They can’t do anything to purify themselves – and therefore get out of Purgatory. Purification is done to them rather than by them.
What happens in Purgatory?
The Holy Souls in Purgatory undergo purification suffering of love. The purifying suffering of love is called “satispassion”. Since the Holy Souls can’t be purified by their own efforts, they atone for their sins by undergoing purifying suffering which re-establishes holiness and justice. The Holy Souls joyfully embrace their final preparation for heaven with faith, hope and love.
What kind of suffering happens in Purgatory?
Although the Church hasn’t declared anything about the specific nature of the pains of Purgatory, the greatest suffering is the delay of the beatific vision. In other words the postponement of seeing God face-to-face, which is heaven. The human being, made for eternal life with God suffers immensely on being delayed in this union with the ultimate object of all their desiring.
The holy souls are aware of the immense good of which they are temporarily deprived and conscious of their personal responsibility for this delay. They embrace this temporary and cleansing pain lovingly and in complete conformity with the will of God.
Is Purgatory painful?
Although many Christian thinkers have pondered this over the centuries, the Church doesn’t have definitive teaching on this. Christian scholars, including St Bernard and St Bonaventure, considered the idea of physical suffering (in addition to the suffering of the temporary absence of God), suggesting fire or extreme cold as punishment for our sins.
However, in his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI suggested that the fire of Purgatory could be the gaze of Jesus:
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.
How long is Purgatory?
While the Church doesn’t have an official teaching on the duration of Purgatory, many of the great scholastic theologians, including St Thomas Aquinas, referred to a concept called “aeviternity”. This a measure of time different from our own which is proper to the angels, and might also be applied to the souls in Purgatory. It has a beginning but not an end, since it is characteristic of beings who have been created at a particular moment in time, but are destined for everlasting life. It is a duration marked not by a series of physical changes and events, but by the succession of the soul’s thoughts and affections.
Is Purgatory just a temporary hell?
The portrayal of Purgatory as a kind of temporary hell is very much to be avoided. The Catechism emphasises that “this final purification of the elect…is entirely different from the punishment of the damned”. As St John Paul II put it when speaking about hope for eternal life: “Even if the soul in that passage towards heaven had to undergo purification for the remains of sin in purgatory, it is full of light, of certitude, of joy, because it is sure that it belongs to God forever”.
Purgatory is best seen as the antechamber or waiting-room for heaven, where the souls are truly holy, are in love with God and embrace their final cleansing with profound gratitude as they prepare for communion with the Blessed Trinity. In the words of St Josemaria Escriva: “Purgatory shows God’s great mercy and washes away the defects of those who long to become one with him.”
St Robert Bellarmine expresses the situation of the holy souls metaphorically. The soul in Purgatory is like a person who reaches a city in the dead of night. It can rightly be said that he has finished his journey and arrived, yet the doors remain closed until sunrise.
Is Purgatory a place?
St John Paul II taught, “the term ‘purgatory’ does not indicate a place but a condition of existence”.
How can we help the holy souls move on from Purgatory?
The living, through their prayer, almsgiving, and offering of the Eucharist, can obtain comfort for the souls in Purgatory.
Do the angels and saints in heaven help the holy souls?
In the family of the Church, those who are already safely home are in the best position to help those still on their journey. The saints and angels pray not only for the living faithful but also for those undergoing the final purification before entry to heaven. The holy souls are greatly helped by the intercession of those already in heaven.
The Blessed Virgin is foremost in praying for the holy souls, continuing the maternal care she lavished on them during their earthly lives.
Can the souls in Purgatory pray for us?
The holy souls can and do pray. The loving existence and sufferings of the holy souls constitute a prayer. However, the Church hasn’t definitively taught on whether they can pray for the living, but neither has she told the faithful that they cannot pray to the souls in Purgatory.
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