My notes from a talk I gave after mass last Sunday:
THE LAST THINGS - part 3
Both reason and faith tell us that there is a middle ground of expiation, where the soul is cleansed from all stain of sin before it can enter the glory of heaven. "There shall not enter into it anything defiled" (Apoc. 21:27). Christ said, "Amen, I say to thee, thou will not come out from it until thou hast paid the last penny" (Matt. 5:26). Even persons who deny the existence of purgatory instinctively pray for their loved ones who have died. There would be great inconsistency if their reason did not tell them that their prayers would do the dead good. Prayers are useless for those in heaven or hell.
Because God is both just and merciful. Purgatory is for the good of the soul, not because God enjoys inflicting pain.
The logic of purgatory springs from two facts:- our imperfection on earth, and our perfection in heaven.
WHAT IS IT?
· A temporary destination – heaven & hell are eternal destinations.
· It is for those who are neither good enough for heaven nor bad enough for hell (see CCC1030). It is for those souls who after receiving Baptism committed sins but have been absolved of all mortal sins. This is decided at the Particular Judgement (session 2).
· It is to gain sanctity needed to enter into the joy of heaven.
· It is the final purification for the elect which is entirely different to punishment of damned.
WHAT IS PURGATORY LIKE?
St Catherine of Genoa says that although purgatory is incomparably painful (because we see all the horror of our own sins – and we cannot do anything about them ourselves) yet it is incomparably joyful because God is with us there, and we are learning to endure the truth, His light. It is joyful also because all those in purgatory are assured of their eventual entrance into heaven.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHURCH’S DOCTRINE OF PURGATORY
It really helps to understand the difference between the 2 effects of sin:-
a. Eternal effects of sin affect our relationship with God – after sinning it is restored through repentance and sacrament of penance (‘confession’).
b. Temporal effects of sin affect our neighbour, ourselves and the world – we need to do penance for this – this is for justice, this is for our healing (remedial) - we begin to address this through the penance we do from Confession but that is just the beginning – we can do penance for one another’s sins as well as our own (Our Lady of Fatima asked the children seers to offer a rosary each day for a penance for sinners) à see also indulgences.
While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the ‘old man’ and to put on the ‘new man.’ (CCC1473)
The purgation of purgatory is for our cleansing, our healing, our preparation for heaven – it is also penance for all the sin we have not done penance for in this life.
· Penance is an act that is contributing to our conversion.
· The Church allocates Fridays and Lent as special times to do Penance. We abstain from meat collectively on a Friday as a corporate penance for the sins of all members of the Church. And Lent is a special time to do penance for sin. However we can do penance at any time. Any sacrifice or suffering can be offered up as a penance.
We can also ask for a mass to be offered as reparation for sin (general or specific sins).
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYING FOR THE DEAD
· Why pray for the dead? It is common for people to pray for the dead. Why do this if prayer does nothing to help them?
· Of course we do not know if a particular person is in purgatory for we cannot judge them. However we pray as if they are in purgatory.
· To pray for the holy souls in purgatory is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
· The holy soul in purgatory can do nothing to avail itself of grace (for that is only possible in this life). However, the soul in purgatory CAN benefit from our prayers.
HOW TO PRAY FOR THE DEAD
· The highest and most effective prayer for the holy souls in purgatory is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By having a Mass offered for the intention of a soul or souls in purgatory, we offer in this world the best help to the holy souls.
· The next most effective prayer is the Holy Rosary. Piously praying a Holy Rosary for the intention of holy souls in purgatory is the most effective thing we can do without the aid of a priest offering a mass.
· Remembering to pray for the holy souls in purgatory on a regular basis. E.g. “May the souls of the faithful in the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.”
· Almsgiving :- by making gifts to charitable causes ; this pious act offered for the holy souls is also an effective act of intercessory reparation (St John Chrysostom recommended this).
· Piously offering acts of sacrifice or charity for the benefit of the souls in purgatory can be another helpful and effective thing to do.
REMEMBER! Those souls in purgatory who are hastened to heaven by our prayer will undoubtedly pray for us from heaven. This can be another motivation to pray for the dead.