A Crash Course on Purgatory (Or Why You Should Care about Purgatory)

Anabelle Hazard

I’ve been in jail more times than I’d like to count, and certainly more times than I intended.   I’ve forgotten the names and faces of incarcerated clients, but I remember vividly the feeling of walls on every corner of a cell entombing me, the menacing glint of ankle cuffs, the fwoosh of an airtight door sealing the silent screams in my head, and the stench of urine mixing with un-showered detainees. Every visit, I trembled with anxiety because it jolted me aware of a human being trapped by the consequences of a crime, waiting powerlessly for the wheels of justice to turn, and entrusting their freedom to my mercy.  Jail visits made me painfully aware of a Catholic dogma that I once took for granted: purgatory.

I’m hardly the first person to allude to purgatory as prison. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi referred to her mystical experience as a “visit to all the prisons of Divine Justice.” St. Faustina Kowalksa, who also experienced purgatory, called it “the prison of suffering.” The lawyer St. Alphonsus Liguori, in citing St. Bernardine of Sienna named it “the prison of souls.” And in scripture, Matthew 18:32-34, a parable of Jesus originated the first hint: “and in anger, his lord delivered him up to the jailers till he should pay all his debt.”

  What exactly is purgatory?

The Catechism explains purgatory as a state where those who have died in God’s grace and friendship (called members of the Church Suffering) expatiate their sins and undergo purification to achieve holiness necessary to join the perfect inhabitants of heaven (members of the Church Triumphant).  The saints refer to purgatory as a cleansing fire where the soul’s earthly attachments and are purified, sins atoned for and prisoners are released as reformed Jean Valjeans. Purgatory is at once a manifestation of God’s justice and mercy.

Since we Catholics profess that we belong to the “Communion of saints” in the Creed, we should also be cognizant that our privileged association with this community (as the Church Militant- still earning our salvation) invites and enables us to help out the Church militant by our prayers and sacrifices.

Why should we assist in delivering the souls of purgatory?

Because the Catechism and the Bible encourage us to.

The Council of Trent in 1945, decreed:“The Catholic Church, having taught in the Councils and in this Ecumenical Synod, instructed by the Holy Spirit through the Sacred Scriptures and by the ancient tradition of the Fathers, that there is a Purgatory and that the souls retained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful, but above all by the Sacrifice of the altar.”

2 Macabees 12:45 highlighted: “it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.”

If those are not persuasive reasons, we ought to consider devotion to the souls in purgatory a sound investment. One: being sinners, all of us will likely detour through a pit stop at purgatory before we enter heaven, and from eyewitness account of saints and blesseds, we’ll all want to get out of there as soon as possible so we can enter into the beatific vision. The souls we help relieve and release will be aiding us from their vantage point when we serve time. Secondly, if we foster a devotion to the souls in purgatory among our living family and friends, we pass along the mission of mercy to them, and they will, in turn, remember to pray for our relief and swift liberation when we form part of the Church Suffering.

How can we help the souls in purgatory?

We can offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the dead and earn indulgences for our dearly departed.Catechism 1478 states that:

“Through indulgences, the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sins for themselves and also for the souls of Purgatory.”

Indulgences can be partial (part) or plenary (total). Analogously speaking, one is like a parole; the other, a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Indulgences suffered for the dead is an act of charity.

Recently, I finished a novena for the souls in purgatory. The novena consisted of nine days of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, St. Bridget’s prayer, and the Litany for the Poor Souls before the Blessed Sacrament (at Adoration, before the Tabernacle, or even online Adoration when I couldn’t leave the house) and offering up pregnancy back pains. In exchange, I asked for prayers from the souls, banking on St. Pio’s promise: “It is impossible to know the intense gratitude of souls for those who help them. They respond with an immense desire to return the favors received. They pray for their benefactors with constant and intense fervor.”

Without going into specifics, let’s just say at the end of the nine day period, most of my concerns at the beginning of the novena were resolved, and at the whisper of sunrise one morning, I received a distinct signal grace. (Why, no there was no haunting involved.)

Let your prison ministry reverberate into the afterlife. Pray for the poor souls, and they will volunteer their intercession.

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19 thoughts on “A Crash Course on Purgatory (Or Why You Should Care about Purgatory)”

  1. Pingback: RCIA Week 25 (Apr 21) – St Patrick Religious Education

  2. When I converted, I didnt believe in Purgatory and my faith was somewhat fractured and incomplete until I did (not believing in it opened the door to the whole array of cafeteria Catholic ideas) . I can tell you where I was sweeping my kitchen floor when reflections on my life opened my heart to the reality that it is true and in fact MUST be true (if I the other things I know about God are true). My faith blossomed after that day.

    It has been a very strange experience knowing that my spouse was in Purgatory…it became so real and present and urgent to me..and even more of a solace – and somewhat overwhelming in its magnitude.

  3. How does one earn a free gift is a legitimate question. Far better to give helpful answers than to bully and insult people. Those things give a very bad impression of Catholics, and we just don’t need the help these days, they already think we’re a bunch of hypocrites. Remember, as you eat those m&ms, what God says of your righteousness, “it is as filthy rags”.

  4. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” John 2:2

    Being the propitiation (atonement) for our sins is the work of Christ and Him alone. His blood shed on Calvary is the true life given freely to all who believe on His name. His blood can not be duplicated by our works or deeds of good will or time in purgatory. Purgatory is the judgment of the righteous before a Holy God. Our works will be tried be for Him and tested with fire. This purging fire is to prove or temper our deeds to witness there value they are to God our Father. Are our works gold and silver to Him or are they wood, hay and stubble? Obviously the later will not survive the trial. Thus the suffering, grief and regret of eternally lost gifts we could have brought to our Father.

    Our salvation is not a field to be lent to farmers and toiled to the satisfaction of the master of the field. Nor is it ever to be grasped by sinful hands like ours. The price is way to high for any even the most Holy of us. The blood of Christ alone is worthy to buy us. We are His field and the fruit of it is our deed done before Him by the power of His Holy Spirit. We can never make any boast as to add to our salvation. But only as the 24 elders throwing their crowns of salvation before the throne of God at the glassy sea saying

    “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
    Our opportunities to do good, walk holy act in reverence before God exist solely because of Him. That is why we were created.

  5. Great insight, but one of the conditions for gaining a PLENARY indulgence is that you have to have NO ATTACHMENT TO SIN. A tall task for any human being….very well may be a “get out of jail free” card, but only for those who are open to receiving the grace from God to be completely holy.

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  7. Wow, the self righteous sarcasm here is so thick one can cut it with a knife. I’m sure Laurence is just running for the nearest Catholic Church so he can sign up. Laurence asked a sincere respectful question of Ms. Hazard the author of the article. The respectful Christian thing to do would have been to allow her to answer. I had to read the answer supplied by Jeff McLeod 3 times and I still have absolutely no idea what he was talking about and I’m a devout Catholic Christian! How in the world would Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sit back, eat M&M’s and watch Dancing with the stars??? What an absolutely absurd analogy! And, no one has to earn a privilege to comment here. The privilege came as an invitation from Ms. Hazard. Too bad her invitation was ambushed in such a way as to make people feel unwelcome. I’m sure when she gets here again she will be as disappointed and embarrassed in and by the behavior of certain Catholic posters as I am.

  8. Laurence Charles Ringo

    Here’s a question I have, Ms.Hazard: How does one”earn” a free gift? How much would you have to pay for it, and how would you know you had paid enough? I await your reply.

    1. I’m the student sitting in the front row waving my hand madly, “ooh! pick me, sir!”

      How did the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob “earn” the land they were given as a gift? Or did they just get to sit back eating M&M’s watching Dancing With the Stars like many self-described Christians who presume themselves to be saved?

      Let’s say you receive an inheritance of 40 acres in someone’s will.

      How do you take possession of that land if it was never yours to begin with?

      I suggest one begins by stepping up and acting like a grown up, tending to it, making it useful, serving others with it. The truth is, you never really possessed the land at all. But you acted the way a grateful person is supposed to act.

      I’ve told my wife, if I ever seem to give up, eating M&M’s and watching Dancing With the Stars, presumptuous of my salvation, I say, honey, call the exorcist. True story!

    2. If any moderator is keeping score on Laurence and his personal smears, please add my complaint to the list. I have no patience for someone who is welcomed here as a guest and fails to EARN THAT PRIVILEGE.

      Get it Laurence?

      We are Catholics. We believe a MAN earns what he is given as a free gift.

    3. Jeff, I will never eat M and M’s again without thinking of the gratitude that I “owe” Our Lord for giving me my inheritance and the gift of our shared Catholic faith. Thanks for a striking visual.

    4. Mr. RIngo, I seem to remember you’re a Chistian brother who is confused about
      Catholicism. Since I’m too time-pressed to indulge in a dialogue in the combox, I’ll presume you’re curious to know why we need to “earn” heaven when we were freely saved by Jesus Christ. I’ll point you to an excellent article on the common protests and answers about purgatory here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/purgatory
      The reconciliation of Rev 21:27 “Nothing unclean shall enter heaven” and the free redemption on the cross may be helpful to you. If I don’t get back to the
      combox before Thanksgiving, have a blessed one.

    5. Laurence,. I would hate to be in your version of heaven.

      You believe people in Heaven that were addicts, liars, cheaters ,attached to sin and were still saved by Gods Grace ( Free grace) somehow are completely Holy now and no longer have an attachment to SIN. Really! Or most likely you believe they are covered in “Cloak of righteousness ” but they are really not changed under the cloak in heaven. Wow..
      I would rather be in Place where people are not wearing a “jesus” costume but by gods grace and his mercy are really changed and their wills are fully conformed to Christ through a process of purifying….

      Heb 12:22-23, Just men made perfect as through Fire !!!

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  10. I love signal graces, especially from our brothers and sisters who have moved on from Purgatory. I truly believe they are our biggest supporters on the journey towards Heaven.

    I have no doubt they pray so hard for those who have prayed for them that there is simply no way God would allow their prayers to go unanswered.


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  12. Daily I pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and hope they will be with God when I arrive there. I also add “for the most forgotten soul” and for “all forgotten souls” – hoping they will return the favor. I think many who say there is no purgatory are really saying that they hope it does not exist; but I now see sin as me choosing to act out of alignment with God’s will and that I will need to get fully “reoriented” to Him, fully choose Him, before I can be with Him. It is like the old me needs to be disintegrated and then reassembled in purity, before I can say “Beam me up, Lord.” Guy McClung, San Antonio

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