Does God Allow Souls in Purgatory to Visit the Living?

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November is the month of All Souls. It is a yearly reminder of our obligation to pray for the souls who, as our doctrine teaches, are in a process of post-death purification.

The souls in Purgatory have repented of their sins but haven’t yet atoned for them.  And that is where we come in. As the saints pray for us, so we should be praying for the souls who have gone before us. This vast communion of saints that stretches from earth to heaven and from heaven back to earth is what we call the Mystical Body of Christ – the Church.

Both Doctrine and Common Sense

Pope Benedict XVI once said in an interview that if there were no doctrine of Purgatory we would have to invent it, and he is right. All human beings are sinners, and we are deeply conscious that sin taints us at the very deepest levels of our souls. Purification of soul requires a spiritual cleanser that only God can provide.  Only in rare cases of extreme holiness and suffering is a person totally purified of sin in this world before death. That is both our doctrine and a common sense understanding of human nature.

There are many biblical bases for our belief that Purgatory exists, and it is not my purpose here to attempt to prove this doctrine.  Belief in Purgatory is firmly established in the Christian Tradition. What we do need is a periodic reminder that someday we ourselves will be in that place of post-death purification.  We will need someone to pray for us! The feast of All Souls is a day in our liturgical year when we recall the need. But the souls in Purgatory always need our prayers.

Sometimes They Ask

Sometimes, as a tangible sign of this, God even allows the souls in Purgatory to ask the living for prayers in a very direct way. Many people receive visits and signs from “beyond” indicating that someone needs prayers. This is not a matter of doctrine as such, but seems to be rooted in the common faith experience of the Church. It is completely consistent with our belief in God’s Mercy.  And experiences like these always require careful discernment. Here is one fascinating story.

Several years ago, my nephew attended a boarding school where one of the teachers died of a heart attack during the summer break. My nephew respected the teacher who had been kind to him in significant ways. One night in his dorm room, while all the other students were asleep, my nephew heard footsteps.  He suddenly sensed the “presence” of someone in the room with him. It was definitely a man, and my nephew was a little frightened because no adults should have been there at that time of night.

With a sense of alarm, he pulled his covers over his head.  The presence came closer to the bed and said something to him that only the deceased teacher would have said. He even recognized the voice as his departed teacher’s voice.

No other student heard the voice or woke up. The presence made no physical contact, said nothing else, and then left. When my nephew uncovered his head, he saw what looked like the back of someone who resembled the deceased teacher walking out of the room. He breathed a sigh of relief and went back to sleep. He was, however, deeply affected by the experience and later asked me what it meant.

God’s Permission

I told him that sometimes souls in Purgatory – those who have no one to pray for them – are permitted by God to let someone on earth know that they need prayers. This is so that they may finish their purification and enter the Kingdom of Heaven with the assistance of some other part of the Church. In that vein, I immediately had a Mass offered for the teacher’s soul.  I also commended the man to the generous love of the Virgin Mary, who cares for all who are undergoing the difficult trial of purification. If this was truly someone in Purgatory who had no one to pray for him, my nephew and I would come to his aid. This, after all, is what we mean by the communion of saints.

My nephew never had another “vision” of his teacher.  Neither of us received any overt sign or confirmation of our prayers, but these were not necessary. Prayer is an act of faith. We knew that the man was now in the hands of Our Lady. With that confidence, it was sure that he was no longer alone in his suffering.

Important Distinctions

I must expand on what I said to my nephew.  God does sometimes permit souls in Purgatory to appear in this world to ask for prayers.  But this is not the normal course of things.

We do have plenty of evidence that these visits happen.  Padre Pio, for instance, used to receive visits from souls in Purgatory on a regular basis.  But we should never expect this to happen to us, and under no circumstances should we want the dead to appear to us.

Souls undergoing purification in another world have work to do.  We should not desire to intervene in that work unless God wills it for some reason known only to Him and the individual soul.

A Caution

Furthermore, we must never deliberately attempt to contact the dead, a trend that seems to be growing more common in an age that has abandoned the sanity of traditional Christian faith. The Catholic Catechism puts this practice in the category of “divination” and states categorically that:

All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. (CCC, 2116)

While the person who attempts to contact a deceased loved one may believe he or she is doing it innocently, the practice is nothing less than “conjuring” the dead.  This is one of the most spiritually dangerous things we can do because it opens us up to the power of demons.

Let’s also not be too quick to endorse what happened to my nephew as a visit from a soul in Purgatory without examining it more closely. How do we know he wasn’t being visited and deceived by a demon? My nephew was frightened, and I think most people would find a visit from the dead a perplexing thing, to say the least! But demons also reach out to people, so we need to carefully discern such experiences.

Let’s consider five dimensions of my nephew’s experience as points of discernment to understand it better.

1. The presence

My nephew intuitively knew that the presence in his room that night was a man. It’s useless to ask how he knew this because it was a personal intuition that went along with the experience. But a key point of discernment is that demons don’t have gender, while humans retain the characteristics of gender when we die because it is part of our unique individual identity.

The presence was disturbing to my nephew either because it was demonic or because it was “unsettled” in a spiritual sense. A lonely soul in Purgatory with no one to pray for him would qualify as unsettled. In either case, there was no sense of peace in the experience. This means it was not God or a holy angel or a saint that confronted him that night.

2. The setting and recipient

Demons are not bound by space and time.  They can appear anywhere on the earth at will. Humans returning from the dead, however, would only likely return to places they had inhabited while alive. The “wandering souls” of legend are just that, legend. There is no testimony in any Christian tradition, as far as I know, that indicates human souls wander the earth to expiate their sins or ask for prayers.

Souls who are allowed by God to come back from the dead always seem to do so in the places they lived. If their purpose is to ask for prayers, why would they come to someone who does not pray? Hence, the teacher “chose” a student who he knew would likely make a faith-based interpretation of the experience.

3. The voice and lack of deception

Although demons can very easily imitate any human being’s voice as a form of deception, the personal recognition of his teacher’s voice was necessary. The teacher had to make himself known in a personal way so that the recipient would pray for him, specifically.

Another critical point of discernment here is that the voice did not ask my nephew to do anything or prolong its visit beyond their brief encounter. Demons always try to lure human beings into ongoing contact with them in order to further deceive them. Remember Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden? Here, there was no solicitation, no extended conversation, and no deception of any kind.

4. The lack of malice

Following on the last point, there was also no sense of malice in the experience, even though it was frightening by its very nature. The presence didn’t threaten anything or fill my nephew with fear that he would be harmed. Demons, who are purely evil, sometimes communicate a distinct sense of menace by their very presence, although that threat may become apparent only after some reflection. The sense of malice is a feeling that usually endures far past the experience. My nephew never felt that, even in the aftermath of the visit.

5. Freedom and faith

As noted, only a believer would interpret an experience of this type in the light of faith and come to a conclusion that the mysterious visitor in the dorm room that night was from Purgatory, not from Hell. The visitor did not make a grand announcement that he was “Mr. So-and-so, your former teacher, suffering in Purgatory, needing prayer.” Perhaps God limits souls from asking for prayers in such an explicit way (although Padre Pio’s visitors seemed to be very forthcoming with information about their state – they were Italians after all).

With faith, we see “indistinctly, as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12) says St. Paul, and that was what happened here. My nephew’s freedom to discern or ignore, to intercede for or neglect his teacher’s need remained intact.

Prayers for those in Purgatory

It is the same with our faith. November, the month of All Souls, reminds us of our obligation to pray for the dead.;  It is not just a pious act on one day of the year but every day.

I once heard a bishop say that he always prayed for the soul who was “deepest in Purgatory.” What a tremendous act of faith and charity! We believe that all souls need prayer upon death and also that there are a few souls so abandoned that they have no one to pray for them. Some of them may even wake us up to their need through visits from the Beyond.s

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39 thoughts on “Does God Allow Souls in Purgatory to Visit the Living?”

  1. MJJ- All-Trigger! Warning!!!! Sexist comment follows!!!!!!!!!!!

    You go girl! You found it from Nov 4, great.

    Robert-nota bene.

    Guy, Texas

  2. To Guy in Texas:
    Saw your latest comment.
    My wife resists having a conversation with me regarding my concerns about the doctrines of the Catholic Church. I have been delving into eschatology studies for several years now. When the readings at mass include the Book of Revelation, I am frequently disappointed that the priest won’t touch the topic with a ten foot pole!
    What I gather from the Bible and daily news reports, it becomes more evident to me that we are in the “end times”. The immediate concern for me is the 6th Trumpet War revealed in Revelation 9, which will emanate from the area of the Euphrates River.
    And the Catholic Church doesn’t bring it up.

    1. MJJ-Hate to add to your burdens, but could it be that some days ago a comment of mine here was called ‘spam’ too?

      On the other hand, I have no problem, none, whenever a comment of mine is deleted. My wife deletes them all the time.

      Thaks MJJ for all you do.

      guy, Texas

  3. Robert,
    I’ve been getting them all. This has been one of the best debates/commentaries on CatholicStand. You guys are great. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. Has been a wonderful discourse.

    1. I don’t see two messages that I sent earlier today.
      One was exceptionally long. When it didn’t appear, I followed it up with a shorter version.

  4. Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell.
    Yes, we pray for the dead but the all merciful God does not allow souls to wonder the earth, bereft of a place to inhabit after death. This smacks of “ghosts” and easily falls into occultism. Nowhere, in the Tradition of the Church is this mentioned or condoned. Pray for the dead, forget “visitations”from them

    1. You’re right. The dead are not wandering the earth. They are resting in their graves, awaiting the resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20:
      Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while. 4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
      7 When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. 9 They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
      11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

  5. Here’s a prayer for souls attributed to St. Gertrude:

    “Eternal Father,
    I offer You 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,
    for those in my own home,
    and in my family. Amen.”

  6. To Christopher:

    Revelation 22 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

    The River of Life
    22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

    6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

    7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

    Epilogue and Benediction
    8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”

    10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

    12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

    14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

    16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

    17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who is thirsty come.
    Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
    18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

    20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

    Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

    21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

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  8. St. Padre Pio. Often asked those penitents he saw to pray for those souls in purgatory. He often knew who was there too!!
    When he had a penitent in front of him. He would end it with something like pray for you cousin Johnny. He’s still in purgatory. He often could look on the other side! He would shock them. He didn’t even know this person in front of him, nor the person in purgatory. But often prayed for them! He said many souls would come to ask,him to include them in the Holy Mass so that they could go home to paradise!!
    He also,said more souls visited him than regular ppl alive!
    So you think GOD can’t have a Purgatory???
    Cmon!!
    You’ll believe it when you see it!
    I’m praying for all of yall who don’t believe!
    Love yall!

  9. May I suggest to the author to read Padre Pio’s encounter with a soul from purgatory to ask the saint to pray for him. Padre Pio replied that instead of prayer, he is going to offer a mass for that poor soul in purgatory.

  10. There are several biblical references to a purgation in the next life, which can be found and explained at Catholic.com. However, the one that strikes me is from 1John 3:

    Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

    We shall only see God when we are perfectly pure. That’s a prerequisite to heaven. I’ve yet to meet anyone in this world who is perfected. So, at some point between this life and entrance to our heavenly home, there must be an act, or a moment, or an experience of perfecting. What it consists of, how “long” it takes. . . we’ll find out then.

    God bless.

    1. Dan,
      You’re right. No one on earth has been perfected. The only one who knew no sin was Jesus of Nazareth.
      So it would seem, according to your interpretation, everyone must go to Purgatory, where purification takes place. It apparently can be speeded up by prayers and indulgences from the living.
      However, Daniel was told in Chapter 12 to take his rest and he would rise for his reward at the end of days.
      Jesus told his closest followers that he would come back for them.
      Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that a change will take place at the last trumpet, which is the 7th Trumpet described in the Book of Revelation.
      Job 14 says; “But when a man dies, all vigor leaves him; when man expires, where then is he? As when the waters of a lake fail, or a stream grows dry and parches, So men lie down and rise not again. Till the heavens are no more, they shall not awake, nor be roused out of their sleep.”

  11. Timothy McDonnell

    To echo Padre Pio on those who don’t believe in hell (or in this case Purgatory) – they’ll believe in it when they get there. My sense is that those Catholics who deny the existence of Purgatory, or engage in ‘gotcha’ questions, actually do believe in its existence, but really are striving for that “definitive” proof to satisfy their curiosity about the subject, so they do this back-and-forth exercise to the level of exhaustion. Purgatory exists, and be thankful that it does, because if it were just Heaven and hell, we’d all be in a load of trouble. I’m quite happy and joyful that Purgatory exists.

  12. As a Catholic I wonder why an answer from 500 years ago negate the fact that God and Jesus don’t support your statements about praying for the dead, or Purgatory?

  13. To Christopher, who somehow evades the “reply” button;

    Your Scriptural citation is incomplete. It should include 2 Maccabees 12: 39-42. Take note of verse 40.
    This Scripture is the sole reference in the entire Bible to anyone praying for the dead.
    God did not tell us to do it. Jesus did not tell us to do it. Yet, the RCC has somehow justified it. And collected monies for it.

    1. To Robert, who somehow forgets that we are Catholics, not Protestants. Recall that I said the article’s purpose was not to be an apologetic for Purgatory. However, I will offer this response. As much as you think you’ve achieved another “gotcha” moment against the Catholic Church with your sola-scriptura logic, your challenge to the Catholic teaching on Purgatory is not new. In fact, it is has been made – AND ANSWERED – for the past five hundred years and it’s a little boring trying to respond with unique answers when all the challenger has to do is a little research (your responsibility, not ours). I would return the challenge to you: please go to http://www.catholic.com and do a simple search for the word Purgatory. All the answers to the “gotcha” questions are there.

    2. Which is it Robert? Is it God’s inspired word or not? My friend, where in the Bible does it support your suggestion that God contradicts himself? Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

  14. I assume there is a difference between “interpretation of lots” and casting of lots. The casting of lots is often mentioned in the Bible – Joshua had cast lots to determine which land was given to each of the 12 tribes of Israel (Jos 18:10). Also, the 11 disciples cast lots to determine that Matthias would replace Judas.

    Another related item was the Ephod worn by the High Priest. It is mentioned 43 times and was a gem mounted vestment that was used… for divination it seems… mentioned in 1 Sam 23:9 … where somehow God provide answers to David’s questions.

    Anyway, to cast lots in order to determine who goes first at Monopoly must be different than “interpretation of lots”?

  15. Robert, I read Peter D’s words, ” . . . it is not my purpose here to attempt to prove this doctrine,” and was certain that no one would then bring up the centuries old discussion of the existence of purgatory since Luther and Calvin denied it for their new religions in the 16th century.

    But here we are and you wish to turn this dicussion to what Peter D said it was not, despite the facts that Church Fathers from the earliest Church discussed the doctrine and the tradition and the inspired Word-of-God instances re: purgatory.

    Tertullian, an early Father of the Church, said:
    ‘We celebrate the anniversary of the triumph of the martyrs, and, according to the tradition of our fathers, we offer the Holy Sacrifice for the departed on the anniversary of their death.’”
    St. Augustine agreed with Tertullian:
    “It cannot be denied … that the prayers of the Church, the Holy Sacrifice, and alms distributed for the departed, relieve those holy souls, and move God to treat them with more clemency than their sins deserve. It is a universal practice of the Church, a practice which she observes as having received from her forefathers — that is to say, the Holy Apostles.”

    I do note that, in starting their new religions, folks of the deformation like Luther et al decided with their own self-acclaimed scripture-police status, contrary to CHurch authority, tradition and councils, that those Words of God that supported the doctrine of purgatory would NOT be part of their new scriptures.

    When Paul wrote what you quote much of God’s Word was not yet given to men, He had not yet inspired them; so Paul was not talking about “all scripture.”

    Luther, Calvin, et al made millions of ears itch with their heresies.

    BTW, let us accept your “Where in the Bible” overarching principle and then we must conclude that Paul wrote none of what you quote. Paul wrote in Greek. Most of the New Testament of the Bible was inspired by God in Greek and then written down in Greek. Not a single word of the Bible was written in English. That being so, please direct me to the part of the Bible in which God permits or authorizes His words to be translated from His originally inspired words. (If your reply is “Well God must have intended that” or “that is the only thing tha makes sense”, then point me to where the Bible says these things).

    I cannot find any verse that says, e.g.,

    “And, My sons, you may in future translate these words of Mine into any langauge you choose.” or

    “Someday there will come on My earth men who speak a language called ‘english,’ and you may translate My words here into that language.” or

    “I will send you men in future who will be empowered by Me to translate these words of Mine into a language called ‘english,’ but listen only to those I send for many will come saying ‘I am of God,’ but they will be liars. One of My chosen will be a priest called Matrin, and he will not translate into english, but into a much more guttural tongue called ‘german.’ ”

    Guy, Texas

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tertullian

      Seems Tertullian was of Berber origin and lived in Carthage for his entire life. Since Carthage was part of the Roman Empire at that time, isn’t it likely that Tertullian could have been influenced by Roman funerary practices of the time?
      Further, Jesus and his disciples were Jewish and followed the Old Testament scriptures and Jewish customs. No instructions from Him about Purgatory or praying for the dead.
      Aside from your disagreeing with my points, it seems you suggest that Church traditions are more important than the Bible.
      Tertullian was born in 155 AD and had no contact with the Apostles, who walked with Our Lord. Why is his statement more valid than the Gospels and Letters from Paul, which surely existed before he did?

  16. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3 that “All Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching – for reproof, correction, and training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work.”
    Where in the Bible are we told to pray for the dead? Furthermore, where in Scriptures do we find anything about Purgatory?
    Paul further wrote in 2 Timothy 4,
    2 Timothy 4:1-4 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
    4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

    1. Judas prays for the dead in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, “inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.”

    2. Robert: Yawn
      The same old limited Protestant protestations against Purgatory are wearisome.
      Blessings that you discover the fullness of Truth.

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