Purgatory is real, but so are the means to avoid it

By Donal Anthony Foley –

Most Catholics who take their faith seriously have some degree of devotion to the Holy Souls in purgatory and are anxious to do what they can to assist their deceased relatives and friends with prayers for the dead and in particular with having Masses offered for them, especially during the month of November.

Most of us, though, have a pretty sketchy idea of what purgatory will actually involve, so it’s worth looking at the topic of purgatory more closely.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about final purification, or purgatory: “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. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.” (Catechism 1030, 1031)

The existence of purgatory was reaffirmed by the Blessed Virgin during the first apparition on May 13, 1917, and in terms which are quite sobering. She told Lucia that one of her friends who had recently died would “be in purgatory until the end of the world.” Lucia would later write that this seemingly harsh sentence was, in fact, to be looked at as a mercy of God that she was saved, and is a reminder that we are to pray for the souls in purgatory because our offerings of prayers and Masses can help lessen their time there.

Apart from what Our Lady said at Fatima, though, we do have other insights from the lives of the saints as to the nature and reality of purgatory. For example, Saint Faustina, the apostle of the Divine Mercy devotion, revealed in her diary about how her guardian angel took her to purgatory:

“I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God.”

She goes on to say:

“I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call her ‘The Star of the Sea.’ She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice] which said, ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it.’” (Diary 20)

This vision further confirms the existence of purgatory and its nature as a cleansing fire which spiritually purifies the suffering souls.

St. Faustina and many other saints, like St. Padre Pio, were devoted to the Holy Souls in purgatory and even told of souls who came to them in visible human form to ask for their intercession. No stranger to the needs of the Holy Souls, St. Pio once said that “more souls of the dead than of the living climb this mountain to attend my masses and to seek my prayers.”

So what can we do to avoid going to purgatory – or at least to avoid going to hell and hopefully spending as little time in purgatory as possible?

The most important things are to strive to remain in a state of grace through prayer and the sacraments, and particularly Holy Communion and Confession, while also doing our best to live a good moral life.

As regards being in a state of grace at the moment of death, devotion to Our Lady historically and at Fatima, provides us with two excellent means of doing this.

The first is the brown scapular which was given to St. Simon Stock by Our Lady, in England, in the 13th century. She appeared to him, gave him the scapular as a large garment, and said. “This will be for you and for all Carmelites the privilege, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire.”

This promise implies Mary’s intercession to ensure that the wearer of the scapular obtains the grace of final perseverance, that is, of dying in a state of grace, and this privilege has been extended to all Catholics who are enrolled in the scapular.

Regarding Fatima, we have the Five First Saturdays promise of Our Lady that she will assist at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for salvation all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to confession and receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep her company for 15 minutes while meditating on remaining mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to her Immaculate Heart.

Coming back to the Divine Mercy devotion, this new revelation is a further source of comfort for us. The reason why people go to purgatory in the first place is that, despite being in a state of grace and having confessed their sins, they still must undergo temporal punishment before entering heaven, unless they had perfect contrition for those sins.

The beauty of the Divine Mercy devotion is that it contains a promise that not only will our sins be forgiven, but also the temporal punishment attached to them will be wiped out. To achieve this, we have to receive Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday in a state of grace and trust in God’s Divine Mercy. Our Lord revealed to St. Faustina: “My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open . I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment…Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.” (see Diary of St. Faustina, 699)

Purgatory is in some senses a frightening doctrine in terms of its severity, but through wearing the brown scapular and doing the Five First Saturdays and Divine Mercy devotions, we can hope to reduce out time in purgatory or even avoid going there altogether.

Given all that, it would foolish to pass up on these great privileges the Church offers us in these sacramentals and devotions.

Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, including Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people – details can be found at:http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk/

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