November is the month of All Souls. It is a time when we Catholics remember and pray for those who have died. The Church sets aside this month especially for prayer on behalf of the souls of those in Purgatory. By offering prayers and Masses for the faithful departed and holy souls in purgatory, we can help them on their journey to heaven.
It seems that many Catholics have a misunderstanding of Purgatory. What do I mean? Well, for example, I heard about someone who once complained about a funeral homily in which the priest mentioned the importance of praying for the deceased in case they were in Purgatory and in need of prayers. Some family and friends took offense at this suggestion. This was because, they believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that their loved one is in Heaven and therefore the priest should not have mentioned Purgatory.
It seems to me that this kind of thinking stems from the belief that Purgatory is really a “bad” place and therefore only “bad” people go there; and if my deceased loved one was a “good” person, then he or she cannot be in Purgatory but rather must be in Heaven. But here’s the truth: Purgatory is not a “bad” place for “bad” people.
Purgatory is a grace, and it is not bad if our deceased loved ones are there. What do we believe about Purgatory? It’s always best to turn to The Catechism for our answer. The Catechism teaches that: “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. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030-1031).
In the morning, when you turn the light on, don’t your eyes hurt a bit? It takes a while for them to adjust. They’re not ready for the light because they’ve been in darkness for hours. God is perfect, pure and holy light. Most of us will not be completely ready to gaze upon him; Purgatory is like the adjustment period in the morning. Eventually our eyes are adjusted to the light, not because the light has changed but because our eyes have.
Purgatory is not eternal, and souls that are in Purgatory will absolutely be in Heaven when they are completely purified. As the Catechism states, they are “assured of their eternal salvation.” Scripture tells us, however, that nothing unholy can enter God’s eternal kingdom (Rev 21:27). It is rare that a person dies in a perfect state of holiness, perfectly purified from all sin and all attachment to sin. Therefore, Purgatory is that place of final purification where the soul is prepared to enter into eternal happiness with the Lord.
The reason we have Masses said for the deceased is so that we can assist them with our prayers if they are in need of purification. Believe me, when I die, I don’t want anyone assuming that I’ve gone straight to Heaven and therefore not in need of prayer. On the contrary, I want Masses to be offered for my soul. I want rosaries and chaplets and a whole bunch of prayers and sacrifices being offered for me! There’s a very good chance that I’ll be the last one out of Purgatory, the one who will shut the lights, fold the chairs, and give a final sweep. So please, if I die before you, offer Masses for my poor soul!
Don’t be offended, then, if you’re asked to pray for your deceased loved ones because they might be in Purgatory. They are on their way to Heaven, but we must assist them with our prayers. Purgatory is not a bad place for bad people; it’s the place where we are made clean to enter the Eternal Banquet.
Image: Adobe Stock. By bramgino.
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Fr. Michael Najim was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Providence in 2001. He currently serves as the pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly, RI.