“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know” — ‘Even so, sir.’”
— C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
“Indeed, the most terrible thing for the soul is the inner tear produced by a love that, because of these still not completely annihilated impediments, sees his perfect possession of God delayed…
Purgatory is a crescendo of love and pain that leads to heaven, the perfect happiness. The souls in purgatory do experience great joy, similar to that of the Heavens, and also experience an immense pain, similar to that of Hell; and one does not remove the other.”
— St. Catherine of Genoa1
“My sister, if you desire God’s justice, you will have God’s justice. The soul receives exactly what she looks for from God… You do a great injury to God in believing you’re going to go to Purgatory. When we love, we can’t go there.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux2
Purgatory, as the name suggests, is a state of purgation, a purification of the soul.3 From the earliest days of the Catholic Church, Christians prayed for the dead – we know this from inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome.4 There is no need to pray for those in Heaven, and there is no point in praying for those in Hell. The belief in a state of purification after death comes from the Jewish tradition: 2 Maccabees 12:46 says: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”5
Sometimes people have the misconception that Purgatory is equidistant between Heaven and Hell. Hell is the state of eternal separation from God, the source of all life and love. Those in Purgatory are united to Christ, as the Church Suffering – that’s why they are the Holy Souls. They are infinitely closer to Heaven and the Church Triumphant than those in Hell could ever be; they rejoice, for they have been saved. Their pain is like the pain of being almost with the person you love more than anything in the world; it is the pain of deep longing for perfect bliss.6
Souls in Purgatory rely on our loving prayers to enter into the presence of God. The Museum of Purgatory in Rome houses artifacts of purgatorial visitors pleading for the intercession of the Church Militant;7 the booklet Read Me or Rue It by Fr Paul O’Sullivan records similar visitations.
“Halloween” is short for “All Hallows’ Eve”, the night before All Saints Day. It was an old English custom that people would beg from door to door for a “soul cake” and in return, pray for the family’s dearly departed – the origin of today’s “Trick or Treat” (and possibly donuts). Today, faithful Catholics continue the beautiful tradition of a novena for the souls in Purgatory, praying in cemeteries during the month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls. By this, we may gain indulgences for them. We also cultivate the habit of praying the short Eternal Rest prayer each time we pass a cemetery.8
One may even perform the Heroic Act of Charity and dedicate everything to the Holy Souls.
In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” (CCC 1475)
In a vision, St. Gertrude the Great was told by Our Lord that reciting the following prayer with love and devotion will release 1,000 souls from Purgatory:
“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said throughout the world today,
for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the Universal Church,
those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”
“Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux
God is purifying us throughout our lives by the crosses He gives us,9 the crosses which divest us of self-love, attachment to worldly goods, or sin – the crosses which open us to receive His salvific grace, the gift of Himself. Of course, it is very difficult to die in a state of perfection unless you are martyred, but as the saying goes: if you aim for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. Don’t aim for Purgatory – aim for Heaven!10 For Heaven is perfect union with God.
Purgatory, of course, is not someplace any of us are supposed to end up. God calls each of us to purify our lives of every sin while we are still alive here on earth. Indeed, we are called not only to purify our lives of every sin, but to purify the universe of every consequence of every sin we may have committed.
— Steve Kellmeyer, “Nailing Christ to the Cross: Explaining Purgatory and Indulgences“
Purgatory was rejected by our Reformers, as undermining the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement; for it was taken to be the serving of a sentence by which the guilt of Christians was in some way worked off.
Such an objection has no force against the teaching, that we have a pain to pass through, in being reconciled to truth and love. And we may as well call this pain purgatorial, having no other name to call it. It seems strange, indeed, that so practical and pressing a truth as that of purgatory should be dismissed… Nor is it that ultimate fire is scriptural, while remedial fire is not. Remedial fire was taught plainly enough by St. Paul to his Corinthians.
— Austin Farrer, Saving Belief (1964)
Purgatory is not… some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God [i.e., capable of full unity with Christ and God] and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. …What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (1988)
All Souls Day is unique among our liturgical feasts, because while all others celebrate members of the Church Triumphant, this one day of the year is dedicated to the members of the Church Suffering. It is also known as Soulmas, just as we have Christmas, Marymas, Roodmas, Michaelmas, Childermas, Candlemas, Hallowmas… it just wouldn’t be a feast without the Mass, the Heavenly Banquet where we receive the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation. Remember to have Masses offered for your dearly departed! There is no greater gift on Earth or in Heaven, for this is God’s gift of Himself, His supreme act of love gathering us all into one family and one Body. Each and every Mass is a foretaste of Heaven, a cosmic outpouring of the purifying fire of Love.
Christ revealed to St. Gertrude that a single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death. After your death, you cannot change the conduct of your life on which your particular judgment is based (Matthew 25). You can only submit to the cleansing power of God’s love, the application of Christ’s sacrifice to your soul. That is why the dead depend on us for prayers — for we as the living members of Christ’s body have been entrusted with the solemn duty of caring for our brothers, in life and in death; we have been granted the grace to participate in bringing God’s kingdom to birth throughout all Creation, visible and invisible. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.
Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.
— St. Thomas Aquinas
When we do ourselves up in costumes and tromp through the streets on Halloween, we are marching in a kind of Veterans’ Day Parade in honor of the sinners who went before us, not yet into glory but into the painful, therapeutic shadow it casts outside its doors.
— John Zmirak, “My High Holy Day“, CatholiCity
We have loved them in life, let us not forget them in death.
— St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)
1 Daniel Esparza, “3 Little-known details about Purgatory”, Aleteia; cf. Fr. Stefan, “Heaven is Hotter than Hell: A Reflection on Purgatory”, Let the Fire Fall.
5 cf. Andres Ortiz, “Where is Purgatory in the Bible?”, About Catholics; Tim Staples, “Is Purgatory in the Bible?”, Catholic Answers; John Salza, “Purgatory”, Scripture Catholic; John Martignoni, “4 Biblical Principles That Show the Reality of Purgatory”, National Catholic Register; “Purgatory”, Catholic Bible 101; S. Bonney, “Abridging the Bible – Masoretic or Septuagint?”
6 Sam Guzman, “The Forgotten Church: 5 Reasons to Pray for the Souls in Purgatory”, Catholic Exchange.
9 Gary Ludlam, “The Devil, Purgatory, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Embracing the Cross”, Little Way of the Family.