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Developing a Greater Awareness of Purgatory

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1 Developing a Greater Awareness of Purgatory on Wed Jul 10, 2013 8:28 pm


As we begin to enhance our understanding of the doctrine of Purgatory , we might find it infinitely beneficial to do so with the goal of growing in our charity for the holy souls at the same time. Lord knows they could use it .

Modern television series have been painting the most distorted , twisted picture of the life of the world to come imaginable and some have even gone so far as to call several of these concepts “Purgatory”. Yet they don’t resemble Purgatory in any way whatsoever, and I believe they are a disservice to the holy souls in Purgatory in that they do nothing to remind us of how the real holy souls in Purgatory actually suffer and how they are in need of our prayers.

Of course, on occasion we Catholics don’t even need any of TV’s crooked crutches – we are quite adept at forming our own distorted view of Purgatory without Hollywood’s help.  ouch 

I remember around 10 years ago, one of our parishioners approached me after Mass one day to tell me :” You know, I’m learning so much in Father ‘s weekly bible study group . He told us Purgatory doesn’t exist the way we perceive it,”   to which I immediately replied, “That’s strange . . . I don’t ever recall telling Father, or anyone else, exactly how I perceive Purgatory.” hmmm

But it's a great question to start with: How do we perceive Purgatory ?

 According to Father John Hardon S.J.’s definition of Purgatory (which is provided a little further on) , there would also be a personalized dimension to our purgation which is proportionate to our own individual sinfulness. So there are some things about Purgatory which can change , some which are constant, and some which we will still need to learn about during our lifetime.

A sad thing occurs  with increasing frequency today  at Catholic funerals : People come to mourn, but they don’t always come with the intention of praying ; neither for the repose of the soul of the deceased , nor of praying with the deceased. Sometimes families and friends and acquaintances forget all about that part . . . but it’s an integral part. It expresses our common union (communion) with the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant – our faith in Christ’s Mystical Body, and our belief in the life of the world to come . A Christian death should always be seen as the exception to the maxim,  “ Out of sight, out of mind.”

1688 The liturgy of the Word during funerals demands very careful preparation because the assembly present for the funeral may include some faithful who rarely attend the liturgy, and friends of the deceased who are not Christians. The homily in particular must "avoid the literary genre of funeral eulogy" and illumine the mystery of Christian death in the light of the risen Christ.
1689 The Eucharistic Sacrifice. When the celebration takes place in church the Eucharist is the heart of the Paschal reality of Christian death. In the Eucharist, the Church expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the death and resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom. It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him.
1690 A farewell to the deceased is his final "commendation to God" by the Church. It is "the last farewell by which the Christian community greets one of its members before his body is brought to its tomb." The Byzantine tradition expresses this by the kiss of farewell to the deceased:
By this final greeting "we sing for his departure from this life and separation from us, but also because there is a communion and a reunion. For even dead, we are not at all separated from one another, because we all run the same course and we will find one another again in the same place. We shall never be separated, for we live for Christ, and now we are united with Christ as we go toward him . . . we shall all be together in Christ."


Though we may encounter various definitions of what Purgatory is according to the terminology used, our concept of Purgatory’s purpose  , or of what Purgatory is about, should always have prayer for the holy souls as its primary objective.  A nice simple way to look at it, based on Father John Hardon’s definition, is that we are able to intercede for the holy souls, and they can intercede for us:

Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon, S.J.


The place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified after death and before they can enter heaven. They may be purified of the guilt of their venial sins, as in this life, by an act of contrition deriving from charity and performed with the help of grace. This sorrow does not, however, affect the punishment for sins, because in the next world there is no longer any possibility of merit. The souls are certainly purified by atoning for the temporal punishments due to sin by their willing acceptance of suffering imposed by God. The sufferings in purgatory are not the same for all, but proportioned to each person's degree of sinfulness. Moreover, these sufferings can be lessened in duration and intensity through the prayers and good works of the faithful on earth. Nor are the pains incompatible with great peace and joy, since the poor souls deeply love God and are sure they will reach heaven. As members of the Church Suffering, the souls in purgatory can intercede for the persons on earth, who are therefore encouraged to invoke their aid. Purgatory will not continue after the general judgment, but its duration for any particular soul continues until it is free from all guilt and punishment. Immediately on purification the soul is assumed into heaven. (Etym. Latin purgatio, cleansing, purifying.)


The Catechism of the Catholic Church also provides some valuable insight into why Purgatory is necessary:

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
    As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." 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:
    Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.


    " . . . you should know that there is present with you the angel whom God has appointed for each man . . . This angel, who is sleepless and cannot be deceived, is always present with you; he sees all things and is not hindered by darkness. You should know, too, that with him is God " . . .   - St. Anthony the Great   

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