Detail of a miniature of Dante and Virgil with Pope Adrian V, Hugh Capet and Statius in Purgatory. CNS photo/Priamo della Quercia, British Library via The Public Domain Review

Squeaking into Purgatory means Heaven must wait

  • November 3, 2022

As November is the month of Holy Souls, containing both the feasts of All Saints and All Souls — let’s continuously pray for all our beloved deceased. Why? Because there’s this thing called Purgatory, and you really don’t want to go there. Aim higher. 

In fact, Jesus once confided to a visionary that He was sad that so many people are satisfied to barely squeak into Purgatory, and don’t have a burning desire to go directly to Heaven to be with Him as soon as possible (we will definitely have that burning desire in Purgatory, if you catch my drift). Let’s review. 

What Jesus Christ revealed and initiated while on Earth — now known as “the Catholic Faith” — has not changed and never will. When we die, our soul separates from our body and goes immediately to Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. Our body will decompose (or be cremated) but will be resurrected at the end of the world to be reunited with our souls and share in our glory or ignominy. In order for our souls to go directly to Heaven when we die, we must be perfect in love, because nothing imperfect, impure or sinful can enter Heaven. 

Thankfully, there is Purgatory where the soul that is saved, but is not quite ready for Heaven, goes to be purified: “passing through fire” 1 Corinthians 3:14. Some people think of Purgatory as “below,” next to Hell, but it’s really the green room of Heaven. However, the pains of Purgatory can be similar to the pains of Hell!  

In eternity, there is no “time,” and to God, “a thousand years are as a day.” People spend different lengths of time (for want of a better word) in Purgatory, however, and can be released by our prayers and sacrifices for them. The best prayer, of course, is a Mass or Mass enrollment on their behalf. The way it works in the Communion of Saints is that the souls in Purgatory can no longer help themselves — but they can help us by interceding for us in return. 

Hell is for those who didn’t love God or neighbour on Earth. These individuals aren’t suddenly going to want to do that in eternity. Hell exists because a gift can be refused. God will never force anyone to be with Him for all eternity. God is merciful and intimately understands the extenuating circumstances of each person’s life and knows everyone’s heart. God dearly loves each of His children and gives each of us every possible chance to be saved, even communicating with the soul at the very moment of death for that purpose, but He absolutely respects our free will. 

I have a big beef with Catholic funerals today that wind up canonizing the person we are supposed to be praying for. It’s fine and dandy to mention their good qualities and happy memories of their lives, but we are doing our loved ones a great disservice to pretend they all went directly to Heaven and are no longer in need of our prayers. We simply don’t know, and therefore Holy Mother Church directs us to pray unceasingly for them. Don’t you dare canonize me when I croak or I’ll come back to haunt you (with God’s permission, of course)! 

What if someone did go directly to Heaven — are our prayers wasted, then? Nope! No sincere prayer ever goes to waste. God might use our prayers for someone else in need, a completely forgotten soul in Purgatory, or our prayers might be able to be used by our loved one in Heaven for someone they are praying for, etc. There is a great spiritual recycling of holy prayers, thoughts and intentions in God’s economy! 

Dad’s side of the family enthusiastically organizes small group pilgrimages to various cemeteries. My elderly cousin, Peggy Anne, often leads impromptu prayer sessions in front of our relatives’ headstones. She greatly dislikes the wording of the standard prayer, “…and may the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace,” and overrides it by loudly proclaiming: “…and may the souls of ALL THE DEPARTED rest in peace,” as her head swivels around the graveyard, eyeing all the other resting places. 

“It is a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.” 2 Maccabees 12:46 

(Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA.  Twitter: @srhelenaburns) 

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