May 26, 2015
Not so very long ago, maybe 40-50 years, this question about purgatory would never have been raised.
Everybody knew that
every Catholic believed there was a purgatory. Since the ‘60s and ‘70s, purgatory has not been a very popular belief, viewed more as backwards, uneducated, and mid-evil. I am happy to report that the subject of purgatory seems to be popping up on a regular basis on EWTN, Real Presence Radio, in bookstores and was even raised at our own Lenten parish mission with evangelist Steve Ray.
Gerard J.M. Van Den Aardweg, author of "Hungry Souls" explains that the teaching of the Catholic Church on purgatory has never changed. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1030) teaches that the souls of people who had faith and love of God and for neighbor but died in an imperfect moral and spiritual state could still be perfected after death in purgatory. Though they are "assured of their eternal salvation," they still need to "undergo purification" that makes possible "the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." These souls cannot earn any merits in purgatory, but suffer passively there. Still, the prayers and works of the living can bring them merit and benefit. From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. (CCC, n. 1032)
Saint Pope John Paul II explained the necessity of purgatory for those who (at death) find themselves in a condition of being open to God, but still imperfectly, the journey towards full beatitude requires a purification, which the faith of the Church illustrates in the doctrine of purgatory. We are called to be perfect like the heavenly Father during our earthly life...sound and flawless before God the Father “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thess 3:12)
Purification means atonement for our sins and their effects on the soul. It is not a painless, automatic process of "growing" the soul, of attaining full "self-realization" through the acquisition of more insight after death, as is the theory of some spiritualists. It is not a series of reincarnations as believed by some New Age disciples. Purgatory, penance, expiation, God's holy justice have dangerously been set aside in today's culture. However, the truth remains that man has to be "sound and flawless before God the Father" when, after death, he appears before Him to render an account of his life. Only holy souls have direct access to the beatific vision where "nothing unclean shall enter." Therefore every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. The place for correction is purgatory. In the final analysis, “purgatory is the mercy of Christ working through his Mystical Body, the Church."
Now, what can we do here on earth? Most of us pray for the souls of our lost loved ones, or offer Masses in their memory, and they are eternally grateful for our assistance. Think of the suffering souls who have no one on earth to pray for them. Many of us have heard or used the phrase “offer it up for the souls in purgatory.” This can be a wonderful way for us to remember, pray and offer up our difficulties for them. Next time you bless yourself with Holy Water when entering church, offer this blessing for needy souls in purgatory. There are many fascinating revelations on purgatory and visits from purgatory that mystic Saints have received; such as St. Padre Pio, St. Faustina, St. Margaret Mary of Alocque, St. Catherina of Genoa, just to mention a few.
“I see that this God of love hurls upon the souls certain burning rays so penetrating that they could consume soul and body if such were God’s will.” (St. Catherine of Genoa)
Reflection: Make an offering of actions today. “Eternal Father, by virtue of your generosity and love, I ask that you accept all my actions, and that you multiply their value in favor of every soul in purgatory. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen."