A doctrine of hope: purgatory and the holy souls
My late brother, a Catholic priest, was born on November 2, and my mother used to refer to him as her “poor soul,” as he was born on the feast of All Souls. I envy him that he was born on such an important feast. As a priest, he loved All Souls Day because...it is the one day in the Church year when priests can wear black! But that doesn’t mean it is a sad day.
I have come to share his love of this feast day of the Church, as it reminds us of one of the most beautiful teachings of our faith, the doctrine of purgatory.
Now, a lot of people don’t like to talk about purgatory, and I have encountered some Catholics who think the Church stopped teaching this doctrine, or that it is an antiquated belief held only by little old ladies. I, for one, am grateful that God in His mercy provides an opportunity to achieve the perfection that may be lacking in a holy soul at the time of death.
The analogy I like to use with people who have difficulty with the concept of purgatory is to ask them to name a famous person they greatly admire or would like to meet. Now imagine that you are working in the garden, filthy with dirt, grime, and perspiration, and the said person arrives at your doorstep wanting to have dinner with you. “I can’t meet them like this, I have to clean up,” you might say. Well, purgatory gives us the opportunity to ‘clean up’ so that we can meet Jesus in perfect splendor.
What is purgatory?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes purgatory this way:
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. (CCC1030).
“…the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Hmmm. This reminds me of a quote from the Confessions of St. Augustine: “Heaven is not heaven except to the holy.” I had never thought about that before. An unholy soul would not be happy among the perfect, any more than a mischievous child on the playground would want to associate with the well-behaved kids.
Praying for the holy souls
The Catechism goes on to talk about praying for the holy souls in purgatory:
|An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory, Ludovico Carracci, 1610|
The souls in purgatory are often referred to as ‘holy.’ They are holy because they have been deemed worthy of salvation. But despite true contrition and forgiveness in confession, atonement for the damage done by our sins is needed. The best example I can give, which you may have heard, is of the feather pillow. Imagine that your unkind word or sinful act is like a feather pillow that has been opened in the wind; while you may be truly sorry for what you have said or done, and have been forgiven, you can never know where your words were repeated, how your actions have affected countless others, and what damage you may have done, any more than you can retrieve all the feathers that were released when the pillow was opened. If we go into eternity with this woundedness, blessed are we who can be healed in purgatory! The prayers and good deeds of our loved ones when joined to the sacrifice of Jesus and offered on our behalf, are the “medicine” we need for this healing.
As the communion of saints that we are, the doctrine of purgatory gives us hope that we can assist one another on our path to salvation, not only during our earthly life, but by praying for those who have died and are enduring their final purification before sharing in that ‘beatific vision.’
Blessed James Alberione wrote the following prayer for the holy souls in purgatory, which also includes an intercession to help us in using the media for evangelization in our world. His prayer is as follows:
Jesus, Divine Master,
I thank you for having come down from heaven
to free us from so many evils
by your teachings, holiness and death.
I plead with you on behalf of the souls who are in Purgatory
on account of the press, films, radio and television.
I am confident that these souls, once freed from their suffering
and admitted into eternal glory,
will intercede with you on behalf of the modern world,
so that the many means you have granted us
for elevating this earthly life
may also be used as means of apostolate
and life everlasting.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
As I shared in the beginning of this post, my brother is no longer with us. He died suddenly 15 years ago, and I pray that he is sharing in that beatific vision. He so believed in praying and offering sacrifices for the holy souls in purgatory. The prayer cards distributed at his funeral offered this quote from St. Thomas More, which beautifully conveys the unity that we share with the holy souls in purgatory and the hope that it gives us:
“Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.”
Bernadette Boguski has been a Pauline Cooperator for over 20 years. She is a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Parma, OH, where she serves as a Eucharistic Minister, cantor, and member of the music ministry. Bernadette holds a degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and currently serves as the development director for Womankind, a nonprofit agency providing free prenatal care and support services for pregnant women in need.