Faith-filled Christians know how to love. Granted, we aren’t perfect, but we wake up every morning to care for our children, go to work to provide for our families, embrace our religious vocation—or fulfill whatever responsibilities God calls us to. We give up little things countless times a day so that we can please God and others. Because we know Jesus, the source of love, we know that love is about sacrifice—sacrificing our comfort, money, time, and will—for the sake of another. Through our prayers, words, actions, and donations, our love encompasses not only those we personally know but those we’ve never met.
And while all this is true, I can’t help but think one group is often forgotten: the souls in purgatory (aka the Church Suffering). God desires our prayers on their behalf because He longs for those souls to be with Him in heaven but also because it helps us grow in holiness.
“The practice of recommending to God the souls in Purgatory, that He may mitigate the great pains which they suffer, and that He may soon bring them to His glory, is most pleasing to the Lord and most profitable to us.” –St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
I believe few pray for them because not only do Catholics make up only around 15.6% of the world’s population (World Christian Database -Brill 2013), but fewer Catholics in our generation believe all that the Church teaches. Pew Research Center Survey of US Catholics and Family Life (2015) estimates only half of America’s Catholics agree with all the Church’s teachings.
How many believe in purgatory? Of those who do believe, how many are inspired to pray for the poor souls?
We rarely hear it mentioned in Church. One could easily conclude that the Church has outgrown this teaching. Attending many funeral Masses today, one could even assume that most people die and go directly to heaven. But Scripture and the saints have told us otherwise.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13,14, emphasis mine).
Of those few who are saved, even fewer go directly to heaven because “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgement” (Matt 12:36). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that every venial sin must be washed off a soul before it can enter heaven. That’s what purgatory is about!
“We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven.” –St. John Vianney
So what is purgatory? Immediately after death, a soul faces their particular judgment, where they see their soul as God sees it. Only those who are free of all sin will go to directly to heaven. While it is possible for any one of us, and truly what God wants, few die with the level of perfection required to go directly to heaven.
Nothing unclean can enter heaven (see Revelations 21:27).
After standing before the profound holiness of God, those with any stain of sin would not want to enter heaven—not even with the slightest venial sin. God deeply loves these souls who have died in His friendship, so in His great mercy He created a place where souls are purified of whatever selfishness remains in them after death.
Purgatory is the mercy of God. But while the souls in purgatory have great joy, knowing that they are saved, they endure great suffering while they are cleansed of their sins. St Catherine of Genoa explains that “… the souls in Purgatory enjoy the greatest happiness and endure the greatest pain; the one does not hinder the other.”
Most of us will die with attachment to sin. Our love will need to be purified so that we can be united with God in a perfect union of love through all eternity. Purgatory “burns away” this attachment so that we can love God alone.
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 (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030).
The souls in purgatory can no longer pray for themselves, but we can help them! God loves these souls intensely and deeply desires that we pray for them so they can be with Him in heaven. He has done amazing things over the years to prove this. He has allowed souls from purgatory to visit the living to gain prayers. And He has shown many saints visions of purgatory, wanting to inspire them to pray with greater fervor and to tell others so that more people will pray.
The Museum of the Souls in Purgatory in Rome displays proofs that souls from purgatory have visited the living, asking for prayers. These proofs include handprints and fingerprints burned into such things as a pillowcase, prayer book, and even a wall. We can also read of the many encounters saints have had, both their visions of purgatory and their experiences with visitors from purgatory. Those saints include St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, St. Catherine of Genoa, and Saint Gemma Galgani.
The souls in purgatory are holy. They have died in God’s grace and they will be in heaven but not until their purification is complete. They long for heaven. And God longs for them but as we read in Scriptures, “truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:26 RSV-CE).
If you struggle to accept this teaching of the Church, read more about it. See what the Early Church Fathers believed. See what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. If you believe but need more inspiration, read what the saints have to say about purgatory. Let their words inspire you to pray not only for your loved ones but for all the holy souls, and especially for those with no one to pray for them.
More than 151,000 people die each day (Population Reference Bureau & The World Factbook). If only 15.6% of the world’s population is Catholic and not all of them believe in purgatory, how many souls have no one to pray for them?
I pray that the love of faith-filled Christians will grow even more, encompassing our suffering brothers and sisters. And that more will be inspired to pray, offer Holy Mass, and sacrifice for them. Ignite charity for the holy souls in your children and others in your life. In the process, you will be purifying your own love of God and making friends who can pray for you in return, now and once you leave this world.
“For these blessed souls are His eternal spouses, and most grateful are they to those who obtain their deliverance from prison, or even a mitigation of their torments. When, therefore, they arrive in Heaven, they will be sure to remember all who have prayed for them.” -St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
My first supernatural thriller, Tortured Soul, comes out May 12. While most of my books are written for young adults, this story is geared toward adults. Set in modern times and upstate New York, it is inspired by the apparitions of souls in purgatory to modern-day mystic Eugenie von der Leyen (1867-1929, Germany). I wrote this story because I believe that few in our day pray for the souls in purgatory, some because they don’t believe in purgatory, others because they don’t think about it. Through this story, I hope to remind people about these souls and to increase the awareness that we can help them with our prayers. They can also help us!
I am honored to have the endorsement of Susan Tassone (aka “The Purgatory Lady”):
“Theresa Linden’s, Tortured Soul, gives an accurate, captivating, and “novel” way for readers to learn about, and better understand, the Church’s teaching on purgatory.”
To learn more about purgatory, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1030-1032 and 1472.
For books and resources to help the poor souls, visit “The Purgatory Lady,” Susan Tassone, at SusanTassone.com.
For Gregorian Masses, visit the Pious Union of St. Joseph. Gregorian Masses are a series of Holy Masses offered on thirty consecutive days for the repose of an individual soul as soon as possible after the person’s death. Gregorian Masses take their name from Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who was the first to popularize this practice. In his Dialogues, Saint Gregory relates that the soul of a departed monk appeared to his fellow monks and declared that he had been delivered from Purgatory upon the completion of thirty Masses. The Sacred Congregation on Indulgences has declared the tradition to be “a pious and reasonable belief of the faithful.”
Note: This does not guarantee the release of a soul from purgatory on the completion of thirty Masses but points to the efficacy and power of the Holy Mass.
“… the holy Mass not only shortens their pains but also extends great immediate relief to those poor souls … the charity you exercise toward poor souls under purification will all redound to your own good.” -St. Leonard of Port Maurice
Copyright 2019 Theresa Linden
About the author: Theresa Linden is the author of award-winning Catholic fiction that weaves the natural with the supernatural. Her novels include a dystopian trilogy, a contemporary young adult series, two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body, and a short story in Secrets: Visible & Invisible. Her newest release, Tortured Soul, is a supernatural thriller inspired by the alleged apparitions of souls in purgatory to Eugenie von der Leyen (1867-1929). Theresa holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. Her books are featured on CatholicTeenBooks.com, Catholic Reads, and Virtue Works Media. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and three teenage boys.