Some Reflections on Purgatory
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
While there is no Explicit Reference in the Scriptures to Purgatory, there are many
Passages in the Sacred Books on which the Catholic Doctrine on Purgatory is based. Our
purpose here is not to Demonstrate the Existence of Purgatory, but rather to
Examine a few things that Theology can tell us about that Place or State of Purification
that most Humans must Encounter before their Entrance into Heaven.
In general, Protestant Theology is Opposed-to Catholic Theology in regard to the Doctrine of
Purgatory. A Central Tenet of the Reformers was that when the Repentant Sinner
receives God's Justifying Grace, the Debt of
Eternal Punishment is so Totally Blotted-out that no
Debt of Temporal Punishment remains to be Paid, either
in This Life or in the Next. This Teaching was Condemned by the Council of Trent
(1545 - 1563).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to
Purgatory as follows:
"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" (CCC 1030).
The Souls in Purgatory are on the Way to
Heaven. They have Arrived-at a Stage where their
Salvation is sure. They passed-from this Life Loving God, and the
Degree of that Love for each Individual Person is fixed for all
Eternity. It will neither Grow nor Diminish. Yet, while they left this World in
God's Friendship, there can be a Number of Things that can Prevent them from being Admitted-to the Face-to-face
Vision of God. The Obstacles that Delay their Entrance
into Heaven are the following:
Unrepented Venial Sins.
The Temporal Punishment due to Sins
(Mortal or Venial) already
Attachments to Creatures that, through Sin,
have Taken-Root in the Soul.
Unreprented Venial Sins
When One Dies in the State of Grace, but
with Unrepented Venial Sins, it is the Common Opinion of Theologians that those
Sins are Repented and
Forgiven Immediately after Death.
Why is this? With the Separation of the Soul from the
Body, at the Moment of Death, there is
an Immediate and Enormous Change in One's Knowledge, and in the
Manner of Knowing. The Soul no longer Arrives-at
Truth through the Slow Process of Reasoning, but like the
Angels, it Knows all that it Knows Intuitively and
Immediately. Once the Soul is no-longer
Burdened by the many Distractions and Needs of the Body,
its Love is Directed only-to God, Ceaselessly
and with the Full Intensity of its Capacity, in a Way never Experienced on Earth. That Love
Dominates all the Soul's Activities, and One is Aware, as never-before, of
God's Love and Goodness. This brings
Unspeakable Happiness, and an Intense Yearning for the Face-to-face Vision of God.
But at the same-time, the Soul is Held-back because of
Punishment due to Sin and Attachments to
Creatures. This Delay is Most Painful, and the Greater the Degree-of
Love at the Moment of
Death, the more Painful the Agony
in being Held-back, and the Greater the Remorse for having
Offended God. This Intense Longing for
God and Hatred for One's Sins, causes the
Soul to Turn-to God with a Completeness-of-Surrender that is not
Comprehensible to Man here on Earth. In this way the Soul withdraws its Consent-to all
Unrepented Venial Sins, and thus their Guilt
Purgatory, therefore, is a Strange Combination of
Joy and Pain, neither of which Cancels-out the other, because both
Proceed-from a Thirst-for God. Even in this Life, one can Willingly undergo some
Painful Experience for One who is Dearly Loved, and
can be Happy to do so for the Beloved. But in
Purgatory, where the Knowledge of God's Love
and Goodness, and of our own Unworthiness and
Ingratitude are Immeasurably Greater, that Happiness
and that Pain can both increase a Hundredfold.
If, however, the Soul's Turning-to God is
an Act of Charity Sufficient-to Remit all Unrepented Venial
Sins, it is no longer a Meritorious Act, i.e. it does not
Merit an Increase-of Grace. And what is more, as we
shall see, the Soul must still Endure the
Punishment (Suffering) due to those
Temporal Punishment due to Sin
Every Sin merits a Two-fold
the First is Guilt for having
Violated Divine Justice; and
the Second is the Temporal Punishment due
Since Sin consists in Seeking some Pleasure or Satisfaction against
God's Will, Divine Justice demands that
Reparation be made by Undergoing some Pain or
Suffering against our Will. Saint Thomas expresses this as follows:
"That a Guilty Person (a Sinner) be brought back within the Order of Justice, it is necessary that the
Will suffer Privation of what he desires; this is done by being Punished whether by being made to Forego the Good Things which it
would wish to have, or by the Infliction of the Evil Things which it Shrinks from Enduring" (Op.3, c.7, Ed. Rom.).
The Sufferings of Daily Life can serve to Pay the Debt
for Venial Sins Repented during this Life, but for Venial
Sins Unrepented at the Moment of Death, that
Debt must be Paid in Purgatory. Too, it could be that
for many of the Sins Forgiven in this Life (e.g. through
Sacramental Confession), some of the Debt of
Temporal Punishment due to Sin remains to be
Paid in Purgatory.
We must not Confuse the Two (2) Effects of Sin
mentioned above. Forgiveness of Sin does not
mean (in the Divine Scheme of Things) that it will not be
Punished. The Guilt is Removed when the
Sinner Sincerely Repents, but the Offense still Deserves to be
Punished. This is often expressed in the Scriptures: "For them You were
a God Who Forgives; yet You Punished all their Offenses" (Psalm 99:8). And we see how
God dealt with David, who Ordered the Death of Uriah, of whose Wife, David
had Fathered a Child: "Nathan (the Prophet) said to David: 'The Lord on His Part has Forgiven your Sin; you shall
not Die. But since you have Utterly Spurned the Lord by this Deed, the Child born to you must surely Die" (2Samuel 12:13).
Many a Parent would do well to Reflect-on God's Merciful Love that
Forgives, but Punishes as well, to Help Check the
Fault. For some, the Notion of Forgiveness is Forgiving
Punishment. Such makes for a Spoiled Child.
As Regards the Extent of Suffering in Purgatory,
Saint Thomas Aquinas answers:
"Severity of Punishment corresponds Properly Speaking to the Amount of Guilt (i.e. the Gravity of Sin);
whereas the Length of Punishment corresponds to the Firmness with which Sin has Taken Root in its Subject. Hence it may happen that
One may be Delayed Longer who is Tormented Less, and Vice Versa"
(Append. to Suppl. 2, 6).
It is clear from the above that All do not Suffer to the Same Degree in
Purgatory, for all do not come to that Stage of their
Salvation with the same Debt of Punishment
to Undergo. And Theologians tell us Sin is Punished
more-Severely in Purgatory than on Earth, because the
Separated Soul, Released-from the Dependence-on the Body, Knows far-better
than it did on Earth the Goodness, Love and
Majesty of the God it has
Offended, and is much more Aware-of its Self-Love and
Unworthiness. From the Moment of
Death, Love of God is the Overpowering Activity of the
Soul; and from this Love Springs all the
Painful Longings of the Soul: the Longing to
Atone-for Sin, and to make-Amends to God,
Who out of Infinite (∞)
Love Created and Redeemed him; the Longing to
Suffer all that God Wishes, even though as
Theologians declare, it is Greater-than any Suffering we Know on Earth.
Consequently, Intense as the Suffering of Purgatory
may be, the Soul sees it as Just; and since the
Soul sees it as the Means Appointed-by God to Remove
all Hindrances to the Complete Possession and Enjoyment of
God, the Soul happily-accepts it. Though the
Soul on Earth did not have the Courage to Impose this Deep Interior
Suffering, it now Accepts that Suffering
Willingly. Consequently, as Father Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. explains,
All in Purgatory have Perfect Peace, Perfect Abandonment into the Hands of the Lord. There is no Anxiety, for all are sure of their
Salvation; no Impatience, for there is Perfect Union with the Divine Will; no Envy, for they Love all Souls as themselves; no Terror,
for they Adore the Divine Justice (Everlasting Life, p. 184, 185).
Attachment to Creatures
In the Preceding Section we were looking more at the Intensity of the Suffering of
Purgatory. This Section considers the Length of that
Purification. Even after the Debt of Temporal
Punishment due to Sin has been Paid, there can still remain what Saint
Thomas calls the "Remains of Sin" (De Malo, Q.7,a.11,ad 4). It was to this that he was referring, in
the Words quoted above: "The Length of Punishment corresponds to the Firmness with which Sin has Taken Root in
its Subject". The Angelic Doctor comments further:
"Some Venial Sins Cling more-Persistently than others, according as the Affections are More Inclined to
them. And since that which Clings more-Persistently is more-Slowly Cleansed, it follows that some are Tormented in Purgatory
longer than others, inasmuch as their Affections are Steeped-in Venial Sins" (Ibid.).
Although, as we have Pointed-out, after Death the
Soul no longer has to Battle with the Inclinations, Habits and Passions of
the Body, the Habits of Thought and Will are in the
Soul, and their Corruptions are not Shed by merely Shedding the
Body. Speaking of this Father Garrigou-Lagrange explains:
"When Grave Sin is Remitted by Grace, the Soul is no longer Turned-away from God, but it can Retain a
Defective Disposition which carries it toward Created Good. These Defective Dispositions, while they no longer have Predominance,
remain as the Fuel of Concupiscence. The Drunkard or the Backbiter, even after Absolution, Retains the Disposition to Fall Back
into his Old Sin. Do these Dispositions remain in the Separated Soul? Yes. They are like Rust, Penetrating at times to the Depths
of the Intelligence and Will. Does this Rust Disappear Suddenly upon the Entrance of Purgatory?" With Saint Thomas he
answers: "The Duration of the Suffering Corresponds-to the Rootedness which the Sin has in its
Subject" (Ibid. p. 181; IV Sent. dist. 21, q.1., a.3).
Deeply Rooted Sin
Analogy of Deeply Rooted Sin and Rust
The Effects of Deeply Rooted Sin, like Rust, can not be simply Brushed or Rinsed-away. Phosphoric Acid
may be used as a "Rust Converter", by direct application to Rusted Iron, Steel Tools, or Surfaces. The Phosphoric Acid
converts Reddish-Brown Iron Oxide (Rust) to Black Ferric Phosphate, FePO4. After Treatment, the Black
Ferric-Phosphate Coating can be Scrubbed-off, leaving a Fresh Metal Surface. Multiple
Applications of Phosphoric Acid may be required to Remove deeply-pitted Rust. Very Similarly, Multiple
'Spiritual Instants' (as explained below by Father Garrigou-Lagrange) are required to remove all Stain of Deeply
Rooted Sin from the Soul. Similarly too, the various Acids used to remove Rust, burn the Body as do the Fires of Purgatory.
By Frequently Weakening and Consenting even to Small Venial
Sins, the Soul gives the "Law of Sin" a
Hold-on the Will, so that it can become more Deeply Rooted in the
Soul. Saint Paul, Holy as he was,
Complained about "Another Law in my Members, Fighting-against the Law of my Mind, Captivating me in
the Law of Sin", so that "I do not the Good that I Will, but the Evil I Hate, that I do"
Insofar as the "Law of Sin" has a Hold-on the Will,
the Soul remains Divided-within itself. In regard to
God, it Delights-in His Law. Yet, in regard to Creatures that have
Captivated it, occasionally they Draw the Will to
Delight-in them, in Disregard-of God's Law. The Roots
of this Division remain after Death and Render the
Soul Unfit for Heaven until they are
God could Remove these "Remains of Sin" in the
Soul in an Instant, Raising the Soul's Love
for Him to such an Intensity as to Burn-out Instantly all other Loves and Attractions. This
He may do in the Case of Martyrs. But
in other Souls, it is fitting that they should go through the Long
Agony of Painfully Detaching their
Souls from the Wrong Affections to Creatures which they have Willfully and
Persistently encouraged-to take Root in their Souls.
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction Fortifies the Soul
for the Last Struggle, and Hinders Disordered
Inclinations and Attachments from Harming us at the Supreme Moment. However, those
Defective Dispositions still remain, and must be
Purified in Purgatory. In this way
Egoism, Selfishness, Lust,
Envy, Pride, etc. are "Burned
Away" (as Spiritual Writers express it) until Charity Reigns-completely in the
How are we to Understand the Expression that these Dispositions are "Burned
Away"? The Early Fathers spoke of a Purifying Fire.
Theologians are not in Agreement as to the Nature of that Fire. The Word
Fire is used in the Scriptures (sometimes Literally, sometimes Figuratively) as a
Punishing and Purifying Element. In the Sacred Books,
Fire is often used as a Symbol of God, e.g.
God Speaking-to Moses from the Flaming Bush, and the Holy Spirit (the
Love of the Father and the
Son) appearing-over each of the Apostles on Pentecost
as Small Flames of Fire. Could it be that, since Sinners
Refuse-to LoveGod by Obedience to
His Law, in some Mysterious Way, the
Fire of Divine Love which they have
Spurned, is the Very Instrument of their Punishment
or Purification? At any rate, the Church has
made no Pronouncements concerning the Existence of a Real Fire in
Purgatory. Perhaps the Image of Fire best
expresses the Painful Purification that takes place in the
Gradual Liberation from Sinful Attachments, and the
Suffering in Payment-for the Temporal Punishment due to
By Reason-of the Mystical Body of Christ, the
Souls in Purgatory are our Neighbors, just as Truly as those in our
Neighborhood. And these Departed Souls can do nothing for themselves. They can no
longer Merit an Increase-of Grace, nor Gain
Indulgences which would Remit Temporal Punishment
due to Sin, nor Receive Cleansing and
Strengthening Graces of the Sacraments. They
can only Suffer to Satisfy the Debt of
Punishment due to their Sins.
We, on the other hand, can Assist them by our Prayer, by Offering on their Behalf the
Satisfactory Value of our Good Works, Sacrifices
and Trials, by Almsdeeds, by Gaining
Indulgences for them, and especially by the Sacrifice of the
Mass. In all these Ways, we Help ourselves as well as the Poor
Souls, for the Charity which Motivates our Actions,
Merits for Ourselves an Increase-of Grace. As regards the Gaining
of Indulgences, we have to Keep in Mind that the
Church has the Power of "Binding and Loosing" only for the Living, not
for the Dead. Consequently we can only Fulfill the Requisites for Gaining an
Indulgence and Entreat Our Blessed Lord to
Apply their Fruits to the Souls of the
Departed. And we can Well Believe that in the Measure that we Help them Now, in their
Need, when we Come-to that Stage of our Salvation,
we will be Helped by Others. And those we have Helped will be Grateful to us in Heaven for
In the light of all that we have discussed, it seems that many Catholics have a very Erroneous
Opinion as to the Duration of Purgatory. Some, perhaps Reflecting-on the Repentant Thief on
Calvary, or Relying on a Plenary Indulgence at the
Moment of Death, or on the Tradition of what is
called the Sabbatine Privilege, seem Confident that they will be in Heaven very
Shortly after Death. And for the same Reason they Believe too easily in the Prompt Deliverance of
their Loved Ones, and after a Period of a Month or so, no longer
Pray for them. Solid Theologians discourage that Kind of Thinking. In this regard, Father Garrigou-Lagrange comments:
"To escape False Imagining, let us recall that Purgatory is not measured by Solar Time, but by . . .
Discontinuous Time. Discontinuous Time is composed of Successive Spiritual Instants, and each of these Instants may correspond to
Ten, Twenty, Sixty Hours of our Solar Time, just as a Person could remain Thirty Hours in Ecstasy, absorbed by One Sole Thought.
Hence, there is no Proportion between our Solar Time and the Discontinued Time of Purgatory" (Ibid. 177).
Quoting several Theologians who contended that Purgatory is so
Severe, and the Suffrages of the Church are so
Efficacious that no Soul remains in
Purgatory more than Ten or
Twenty Years, Father Garrigou-Lagrange explains: "Theologians
all but Unanimously Reject that View. Souls Converted at the Last Moment, after a Life of Grave Disorder, Remain in Purgatory much longer
than Ten or Twenty Years. Theological Opinion, in general, is that Purgatorial Purification is of Long Duration".
Yet, with all this, their Interior Love for God
Transfigures their Sufferings and fills their Souls
with a Peace and Surrender-to God's Will
which we on Earth cannot Imagine. As someone has expressed it:
"Purgatory is not an Antechamber to Hell;
it is the Waiting Room for Heaven"
Some Prayers for the Souls in Purgatory
Eternal Father, I offer You the Holy Wounds of Your Son, and His Precious Blood, for the Conversion of Sinners
and for the Relief of the Souls in Purgatory.
Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon them. May they Rest in Peace.
Eternal Father, by the Virtue of Your Generosity and Love, I ask that You accept all my Actions, and that You
Multiply their Value in Favor of every Soul in Purgatory. Through Christ Our Lord.
O Gentlest Heart of Jesus, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, ever Consumed with Burning Love for the
Poor Souls in Purgatory, have Mercy on the Soul of Your Departed Servant.
Be not Severe in Your Judgment, but let some Drops of Your Precious Blood fall upon him
(or her), and send, O Merciful Savior, Your Angels to conduct him (or her) to a Place of Refreshment, Light and Peace.
May the Angels lead him into Paradise.
May the Martyrs receive him at his Coming and take him to Jerusalem, the Holy City.
May the Choirs of Angels receive him, and may he, with the once Poor Lazarus, have Rest
May the Souls of all the Faithful Departed, through the Mercy of God, Rest in Peace.
O God, Who has Commanded us to Honor our Father and our Mother, in Your Mercy have Pity on the Souls of my
Father and Mother, and Forgive them their Trespasses; and make me to see them again in the Joy of Everlasting Brightness. Through
Christ Our Lord.