The Reality of Purgatory

Rev. Francis Gallagher

Today few believe in the existence of Purgatory including, since Vatican II, many Catholics. But Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Church remind us that it is for real. It is described as a place or state of suffering inhabited by sinners who are expiating their sins before going to Heaven.

Today many do not understand how much sin offends God. It is of course true that souls in Purgatory have had their mortal sins forgiven. But because these sins are not yet fully expiated they find themselves in Purgatory. Likewise venial sins not yet forgiven merit time spent in Purgatory.

While the Holy Souls imprisoned there do have the joy of knowing they are saved, Purgatory is also a place of suffering. St. Thomas Aquinas compared its fire to that of Hell. It acts in the more sensitive spiritual soul and burns without consuming. St. Augustine said Purgatory is more dreadful than anything we can experience in this life. St. Cyril of Alexandria preferred to suffer all earthly torments until judgement day rather than pass one day in Purgatory. But the greatest sufferings in Purgatory are separation from God and the unsatisfied craving for unity with Him.

So Purgatory is a place to be avoided. We should at least try to make our stay there as short and as bearable as possible. One way we can do this is by praying frequently for the Holy Souls. They will show their gratitude by praying that we escape Purgatory or at least have it mitigated. A story is told of a Polish prince who discovered a poor woman weeping bitterly because she had no money to have Masses said for her late husband (he had been the prince’s steward). Although he had lost his faith the prince was touched by her grief and gave her what she needed. Some time later he was amazed to see the dead man enter his study. He thanked the prince for his generosity but also reminded him of the realities of life after death. The prince fell on his knees and said a fervent Credo. There have been many other occasions when departed souls appeared to the living either to implore their prayers or to thank them for prayers already said.

So we should not let a day pass without praying and sacrificing ourselves for the Holy Souls. We can also have Masses said for them. We should also pray that we may quickly gain Heaven ourselves. There are many (usually short) prayers by which we may gain indulgences which will at least shorten and lessen our Purgatory. Plenary indulgences which completely remove the punishments of Purgatory are not all that difficult to gain. Almsgiving, which means helping the less well off, will also help. So will the wearing of the Brown Scapular. Our Lady has promised to deliver from Purgatory on the Saturday after their death those who faithfully and devoutly wear her Brown Scapular. One can also gain indulgences by making the Heroic Act. All satisfactory works performed during life and all suffrages accrued after death will then be applied to the Holy Souls.

So let us all make special efforts during November to help the Holy Souls. They will soon show us their gratitude. Our Lord and Our Lady will also be grateful for our efforts.

Further Reading

Rev. F. X. Schouppe, Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints (Tan Books, 1983).

Rev. Pau O’ Sullivan, How to avoid Purgatory (Tan Books, 1999).

Rev. Paul O’Sullivan, Read Me or Rue it (Tan Books, 1992).


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