The Afterlife: Purgatory

What is the value of suffering - for us and for "holy souls" in Purgatory?

Below is the first of three blog posts on the afterlife - Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell. Read the second and third installments here:

The Afterlife: Heaven  The Afterlife: Hell

The Joy and Suffering of the Holy Souls

Let us crowd heaven with more and more intercessors!

“Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” 2 Mac 12:46

The baseball great Yogi Berra has a number of delightfully wise and quirky quotes, but I think one in particular applies nicely to the doctrine of Purgatory. “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

The doctrine of Purgatory is very Catholic. Like our other Catholic observances such as the Mass, the sacraments, the Rosary, and so on, the existence of Purgatory is deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church and reflected in Scripture. Aside from Maccabees quoted above, St. Paul prays for a deceased friend in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:16-18). The ancient practice of the faithful has been to remember their dead at funerals and cemeteries, in novenas and Masses. The Church Fathers strongly encourage prayers and suffrages for the dead, particularly St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Tertullian, and St. Augustine.

It’s St. Augustine who makes particular note of who our suffrages for the dead can be applied to, pointing out that they don’t assist all the dead, but only those holy souls whose state is not yet fixed: namely, those in Purgatory.

Mankind's Eternal Dilemna - The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, Frans Francken
Mankind's Eternal Dilemna - The Choice Between Virtue and Vice. Frans Francken (c. 1633).

So Purgatory is very Catholic, and the very idea of suffrages for others is very Catholic, too. Offering our prayers, penances, Mass intentions, fasting, and sufferings for the living and the dead is an absolutely vital part of our faith. We ought to offer our incidental hardships, and even go out of our way to endure hardships, in order to alleviate the suffering of others. Let us consider the character of the souls in Purgatory to enflame our hearts in love for them.

The souls in Purgatory are guaranteed to one day experience the Beatific Vision. Their joy in that eventuality is beyond any joy we have on earth. But before that day comes, they must be tried as silver is tried in the fire, an intense suffering unlike anything we experience on earth. Their attachment to sin must be purged before they are able to experience Christ, for nothing impure can enter heaven. So, we can say that although their pain exceeds our own, their happiness and joy also exceed our own.

Further, we call them the “holy souls” for a reason. Although they are suffering for their sins, they have died as part of the body of Christ and are guaranteed union with him. As such, while they depend on our intercession for the shortening of their purgation, we can also expect that when they finally attain the vision of God, they will in turn intercede for us. It may even be that God reveals our petitions to them, and accepts their prayers on our behalf.

So, as we offer suffrages for them, we have the guarantee that we are moving them closer and closer to union with God. Along with whatever other devotions we feel moved by, let us feel moved by the cause of the holy souls in Purgatory, continuously crowding heaven with more and more intercessors. Let us go to their side frequently in their time of need so that they may come to us in ours.

Br. John Vianney Russell, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE