Today (November 2nd) is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. That’s its official title. It is more commonly called All Souls’ Day. Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints honoring all those who are now saints dwelling in the heavenly kingdom with God. In my blog article yesterday, I spoke about the Communion of Saints in three parts, the saints in Heaven, those in purgatory, and those of us who continue to dwell in this life on Earth.
Some people think that Purgatory has gone by the wayside and that we no longer believe in Purgatory. We do not talk about Purgatory much. Some take that to mean we have given up our belief in Purgatory. We haven’t.
Why don’t we talk about Purgatory? In society at large there seems be a theology that just assumes that since God is a merciful and loving God so everyone will get into Heaven. One might then think if it is easy to get into Heaven, then we really don’ t need Purgatory.
Others might not like to talk about Purgatory because they see it as punishment. One of the images of Purgatory is that of a cleansing fire. When we think of fire, we tend to think of Hell and the punishing fires that burn there. Purgatory is not punishment. Purgatory exists to make us worthy to enter into the Heavenly kingdom. In Purgatory we are not separated from God as those in Hell.
God wants us all to be in Heaven but we must accept the gift God offers. To accept the gift offered, we must live according to the teachings of Jesus. Yet, the fact remains that we are not perfect. We make mistakes and we sin. Of course, God is eager to forgive us and the price for our sins was paid by Jesus as he hung upon the Cross for us. If we genuinely seek the Lord’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives us.
So, when we die, our sins have already been forgiven. But while our sins have already been given forgiven, they are part of our past and thus part of who we are. To be able to enter into Heaven, we need to be “cleansed” of the effect our sins have had on us. Purgatory does that for us.
So, Purgatory is a good thing. If you make it to Purgatory, then you will make it to Heaven. So, we pray for those in Purgatory. This is the reason that we have Masses said for the dead. Protestant theology says that there is no benefit in praying for the dead. They will be judged by who they are at the time of their death. Catholic theology would agree that our prayers do not get people out of Hell. We pray for the dead in the hope that they will be welcomed to the heavenly kingdom but first that they may be quickly ‘complete their time’ in Purgatory and enter the Heavenly Kingdom (Praying for the dead is actually found in the Bible in 2 Maccabees 12: 38-46).
And so on this All Souls’ Day and always we pray for the dead that have gone before us.