The pope that led the Catholic Church into the 13th century was Pope Innocent III. He reigned from 1198 AD to 1216 AD. During his pontificate he proclaimed the fourth crusade, he approved a band of begging brothers founded by Saint Francis, and he convened the Lateran Council in 1215 to deliberate on the improvement of morals, the extinction of heresy, and the strengthening of the faith. In 1216 at the age of 56 he died. Three days later Pope Honorius III was named his successor. In the Netherlands on the day that Pope Innocent III died, St. Lutgarda was praying in her convent when suddenly appeared a man completely engulfed in flames. When she inquired who this was the person responded that he was Pope Innocent III. When she questioned how he could be in such a state he informed her that he was expiating three faults which might have caused his eternal damnation. He explained that thanks to the Blessed Mother he had obtained pardon for them though that he needed to make atonement. He further stated that this expiation was terrible and would go on for centuries unless she came to his assistance. A highly regarded pope was judged worthy of purgatory for centuries for three faults. He begged for assistance in the name of Mary and then disappeared. St. Lutgarda announced that this appearance had occurred to her sisters and they began to pray and perform works of penance to deliver him from purgatory. Some weeks later the announcement that the pope had died arrived at the convent through normal channels.
St. Francis of Rome says that on average it takes seven years in purgatory to make expiation for each forgiven mortal sin. St. Robert Bellarmine, a doctor of the Church, stated that the pains of purgatory could last as long as centuries. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange states the following “Theological opinion in general favors long duration of purgatorial purification, especially for those that have held high office or had great responsibility.” We are all familiar with the story of Fatima where the children asked the Blessed Mother about a young teenage girl in their village who had died. When asking what had been her fate they were informed that she had been saved though her soul would be in purgatory until the end of the world. All souls in purgatory at the time the world ends will be released since purgatory ends on the day of the general judgment.
Truths about Purgatory
Purgatory is the place where the souls of the members of the Church suffering live. They are commonly called the “poor souls” or “holy souls”.
The souls in purgatory died in the state of grace, so they are all saved. However, these souls cannot yet enter heaven because they have to make amends. Purgatory is where these souls make amends. It is like “summer school for heaven” – you didn’t flunk though you also didn’t quite pass. God being infinitely merciful has a “good deal”.
Purgatory is a place of great joy and peace while also being a place of great suffering. St. Catherine of Genoa tells us that the poor souls enjoy an inexpressible peace which is compounded of joy and pain. No peace can be compared with the peace in purgatory other than that in heaven. Where is the pain from? God increases in these poor souls the desire to see the beatific vision. This desire becomes so strong that it becomes unbearable. They love God and want o see Him in the greatest way though they can’t yet.
There are two types of pain in purgatory – the delay of the beatific vision and the pain of sense. There is a real suffering of not being able to see God face to face. According to St. Augustine, St. Isadore, St. Bonaventure, and St. Robert Bellarmine, the least pain in purgatory is worse than the greatest pains on earth. St. Catherine of Genoa who experienced these pains tells us that these souls unite great joy with great suffering. One does not diminish the other. The pain of sense, according to St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Basil, and St. Robert Bellarmine is caused by the purgatorial fire which is cleansing the souls of their imperfections.
There are three reasons that souls get detained in purgatory. First, they are making amends for forgiven sins – either mortal or venial for which they have not provided satisfaction. The virtue of justice is considered rendering to another what is his due – pay what you owe. If we violate the virtue of justice we haven’t render unto God what is His due which is our absolute obedience. Repentance is one thing, while providing reparation is another. If we repent before we die, we will be alright. Failure to repent means hell. Repentance without restitution means purgatory. This is why we do penance as an outcome of confession. That is why we give alms. We want to even out the balance in this life so that we do not have to pay for it in the next. You can ask for more penance in the confessional. Because the penance is attached to a sacrament it has more value for you. Second, they are making amends for unforgiven venial sins. Venial sins do not warrant hell though they too require reparation. Matthew 5 verse 26 reminds us that we will not be released until we have paid the last penny. Third, souls are detained in purgatory because even though their sins have been forgiven, they still have the remains of sin when they die. St. Thomas points out that there are two problems with any sin. One, is that the sinner turns away from God and the other is that he turns towards a creature. Someone with an addiction may be given the grace to repent which will resolve the turning away from God when a good confession is made. However, if in his soul there remains an attraction toward the substance to which there was the addiction, this is considered a lack of virtue and is called the remains of sin. It has to go before you can get into heaven. This is why it is so important to work on your virtues. Getting your virtues in order, roots out your vices. God gives us everything we need to be able to die and go straight to heaven. The exact amount of suffering we need to make amends. The exact amount of suffering we need to grow in virtue. If we don’t grow – it is our own fault! This is why we have crosses in our lives. So that we will become saints! God makes sure we have the opportunity to grow in virtue and conquer the vice so that we can get to heaven. We need to take advantage of the sacraments. God deos not want anyone to have to go to purgatory.
Our Lord meant what he said when he said in Matthew 5 that we will not get out until we have paid the last penny. No one with the slightest speck of imperfection can enter heaven. The souls in purgatory do not want to enter heaven until they have been purified. Because they are anxious for the beatific vision, they want to be purified now!
Souls in purgatory cannot merit. The time for merit is while on earth. Merit means growing in grace. There is no growth after death.
We can offer up our prayers and good works for the souls in purgatory. While we may be selfishly concerned about what awaits us in our future, we should be focused on the assistance we can bring to the souls currently in purgatory. If we assist them, God is infinitely just and will take care of us should we face a purgatorial experience. The saints intercede for us today and we are supposed to help out the poor souls. We should be seeking to obtain indulgences whenever we can and offering them up. Have Masses said for the poor souls. Offer up your Mass intentions for the poor souls. Offer up your sufferings and sickness for the poor souls.
We are at war with sin. It is either pay now or pay later!
Indulgences are offered to help us grow in holiness. Seeking to obtain them help us grow in holiness. A plenary indulgence wipes away all of the temporal punishment due to sin. We can offer up these indulgences for poor souls in purgatory. When we do the particular work associated with a partial indulgence, the Church adds to its spiritual treasury the effect of that work.
Another option to assist in minimizing any purgatorial experience is the wearing of the brown scapular. Two wonderful promises of Our Lady are available to those who have enrolled in the brown scapular. The great promise was given by the Blessed Mother to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251as follows: “Whoever dies wearing the scapular shall not suffer eternal fire (hell).” The second promise has to do with purgatory. It is known as the Sabbatine Privilege. It was given by the Blessed Mother to Pope John XXII in 1322 and is as follows: “I the Mother of Grace shall descend on the Saturday after their death to whom so ever I shall find in purgatory I will free.” There are three conditions for obtaining this privilege. First, one must wear the scapular. Second, you must practice chastity according to your state in life. Third, is the daily recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A priest with diocesan faculties has the ability to commute this third requirement to another pious work. This is commonly done for the option of a daily rosary. God sends His Blessed Mother here to remind us of how merciful He is. He died on the cross to keep us from going to Hell and He sent His Mother to keep us from having to spend extended time in purgatory.
The notes above were recorded from an audio resource provided by Father Ripperger. We offer a thank you to Father Ripperger for sharing his teachings with us and for allowing us to post these notes from his teachings. For more content on other topics from Father Ripperger, see the following link:
The following are notes recorded from an audio resource from Bishop Sheen.
There was a monk who found it difficult to get up for his hour of meditation prior to celebrating Mass. After many instances of this being a problem, his superior told him that he was to imagine himself being enveloped by the flames in purgatory and that this would cause him to get up responsibly. When he was late as usual the next morning, his superior called him in and asked if he had done what he had been told. The monk responded that he had and that he “loved” purgatory. Let’s see how you like it! There is a distinction between being forgiven and making up for the sins we have committed. The thief hanging next tour Lord experienced this. While the Lord promised him paradise, he continued to suffer. This suffering was due for the crimes he had committed. It is one thing to be forgiven and quite another to be expiated for your sins. Diamonds when first taken from the mine are dull and full of flaws. Each and every one must be cut and polished. This has to be done by an expert. Our purgatory is like that. It is a means of reaching excellence. It is a means of achieving perfection that would otherwise never be known. It is something like a dark room where film is taken and treated with burning acids so that all of the hidden color and beauty may be revealed. The judgment of God is final. Yet there is a merciful chance to be cleansed of the remains of sin by those who die in a state of grace though who have not yet atoned for the punishment of their sins. Most of us are not ready to go before the judgment throne of God. We have undone duties that remain in our lives. We have taken responsibilities lightly and missed opportunities. While our intentions were good, they were only on the thin upper surface of our soul. They did not always sink down into the depths of our being. As a result, God will not sentence such souls to eternal loss. That is why God gave us a provision for making up for our failings if we don’t die in a state of grace. After death, as recorded in Maccabees, it is a pious, holy thought to pray for the dead that they may be released of their sins. Our Lord himself spoke of forgiveness in the world to come. Remember the parable of the debtor’s prison from which there was no release until the debt is paid? That implies relief from debts in another life.
What is purgatory? It is that place in which the love of God tempers the justice of God. It is also where the love of man tempers the injustice of man. The necessity of purgatory is grounded upon the absolute purity of God. In the book of Revelation we read about the streets of gold, the walls of jasper, and the spotless light in heaven. We also learn of the conditions for entering into the gates of this heavenly Jerusalem. Revelation chapter 21 verse 27 states, “There shall not enter into it anything defiled, or that worketh abomination, or that maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of the life of the lamb.” So justice demands that nothing unclean, but only the pure of heart shall stand before the face of a pure God.
Imagine that there was no purgatory. The justice of God would be too terrible for words. Who of us would dare assert that at the moment of death we were pure enough and spotless enough to stand before the immaculate Lamb of God. Do you think you will be able to say it? There are some – such as the martyrs. Also, some missionary saints and some cloistered saints that become martyrs without recognition. These are glorious exceptions. How many souls die with stains of venial sins? There are those souls who have known sin and carry it with them from their past to their death like a lead weight. The day that we were baptized, the Church placed upon us a white garment. We were encouraged to carry with us this white garment without stain through life and to the judgment throne so as to have life everlasting. Have you kept your garment unsoiled by sin? We cannot enter the white robed army of the king of kings without it being perfectly clean.
How many souls leave this life without some form of undo attachment to creatures, that never wasted a talent, performed an uncharitable deed, neglected holy inspiration, or spoke an idle word for which every one of us must give an account? Many souls on deathbeds are absolved from sins, though not from the debt of that sin. All souls hat die with some form of God possessing them are beautiful souls. However, if there is no purgatory, then due to the slightest imperfection they must be rejected without pity by divine justice. Take away purgatory and God could not pardon so easily. Will one act of contrition at the edge of the tomb atone for many years of sinning? Take away purgatory and the infinite justice of God would surely reject from heaven those who resolve to pay their debts but have not. This is why purgatory is where the love of God tempers the justice of God. There God pardons because He gives time to re-touch these souls with His cross, to re-cut them with the chisel of purification. Here they may wash their baptismal robes so as to enter the spotless purity of heaven. A place where He can resurrect them like the Phoenix of old from the ashes of their own suffering, so that healed by God’s cleansing flames they may attain heaven where Jesus is king and Mary is queen. A place where regardless how trivial the fault, God does not pardon without tears – and there are no tears in heaven.
Purgatory is also a place where the love of man tempers the injustice of man. Most people are unconscious of the injustice, ingratitude, and thanklessness of their lives until they see the cold hand of death laid upon someone they love. It is then and only then that they realize with regret the haunting poverty of their love. One of the greatest reasons for tears shed over graves is for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. How we wish for the departed one to return. Tears are shed before eyes that cannot see. Caresses are offered to arms that cannot embrace us. Words are offered to ears that cannot hear. We have sorrow for the stinted affection that we gave them. It is too late! It does no good to attempt to water last year’s crop or gather roses that have withered and died. Purgatory is therefore the place where the love of God tempers the justice of God and where the love of man tempers the injustice of man for it enables hearts that are left behind to break the barriers of time and death, to convert unspoken words into prayers, unburned incense into sacrifice, unoffered flowers into alms, and undone acts of kindness into help for eternal life. Take away purgatory and how bitter would be the grief for our unkindness and how piercing our sorrow for our forgetfulness. Take away purgatory and how empty our bowed heads and our moments of silence. However, if there be a purgatory then the bowed head gives way to the bent knee and a moment of silence turns to a moment of prayer. Purgatory enables us to atone for our ingratitude because through our prayers, mortifications, and sacrifices it makes it possible to bring joy and consolation to the ones we love. Love is stronger than death. Death should not cut off gratitude. The Church assures us that not being able to give more to them in this world since they are not of it, we can still seek them out in the hands of divine justice and assure them of our love and give them the purchasing price of our redemption. Just as the man who dies in debt has his creditors following him to his grave, he may have his good name restored and revered by the labor of his son who pays the last penny. So too, the soul of a friend, having gone to death owing a penance to God may have it remitted by our prayers here on earth. They suffer and can no longer gain merit. In purgatory we love and because we love we are happy. Our suffering brings us closer to divine love. Our suffering is due to our separation from God and our longing to be with Him. Once purified, the soul will go directly before God himself.
This concludes the content from Bishop Sheen.
Prayer for the Souls in Purgatory
Have you lost a loved one who passed away, or know someone who has? Prayers for souls in purgatory can help them! While we can derive great comfort from the hope that our loved ones are enjoying Eternal Life with God, it never hurts to pray for their souls in any case.
In purgatory, the souls of many of those who have died in God’s grace undergo purification so that they may enter heaven.
The Prayer of St. Gertrude, below, is one of the most famous of the prayers for souls in purgatory. St. Gertrude the Great was a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived in the 13th century. According to tradition, our Lord promised her that 1000 souls would be released from purgatory each time it is said devoutly.
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
Many of the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, considered prayers for souls in purgatory to be essential. The church has endorsed the doctrine of purgatory from the Councils of Florence and Trent in the 15th and 16th centuries right up through Vatican II in the 1960’s.
Scriptural References for Purgatory
2 Maccabees 12 v 44&45
For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sins. (Souls in heaven need no aid/prayer and it is impossible to aid the souls in hell)
1 Peter 3 v 18&19
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God; He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. (Why would he have had to preach to those “in prison”? – to get them out of something/this prison – purgatory)
1 Peter 4 v 6
For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God. (Jesus preached to the dead who could not have been in heaven since the gates of heaven had not been opened, nor could they have been in hell as those souls are eternally lost and would not have benefited from such preaching.)
Matthew 12 v 32
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Jesus suggests that sins can be forgiven/cleansed after life on earth ends. Since sins cannot be forgiven in Hell and you must be sinless to enter heaven, this can only occur in purgatory)
Revelations 21 v 27
But nothing unclean shall enter it (heaven), nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
1 Corinthians 3 v 13-15
Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (This cannot refer to hell, for there no one is saved, nor can it refer to heaven as no one there suffers)
Luke 12 v 59
I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper. (This cannot refer to hell as a soul cannot be released from hell, nor can it related to heaven as no one there suffers/pays)
Hebrews 12 v 23
And to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (Where are the spirits of the just made perfect? Not in hell and they must be perfect to enter heaven. This leaves us with purgatory!)
2 Samuel 13&14
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin, you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” (Though the sin was forgiven, there was still the still implication of sin for which atonement was due)
James 5 v 19&20 (purgatory on earth)
My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Though the sinner may have already been “forgiven”, this work is considered an act of atonement)
Mark 9 v 49
Everyone will be salted with fire.
Hebrews 12 v 14
Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (That perfected holiness that is required to enter heaven)
2 Timothy 1 v 16-18
May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains…May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. (St Paul is praying for his departed friend who he does not believe has yet reached heaven)
Luke 12 v 47
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.” (The words of Jesus. These blows can be used to perfect us.)
2 Corinthians 1 v 6
If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (earthly purgatory)
Hebrews 6 v 10
For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. (We serve the souls in purgatory that will eventually become saints by praying for them and offering up our sufferings)
1 Peter 4 v 1
Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin. (earthly purgatory)
Psalm 99 v 8
O Lord, our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God, though you punished their offenses. (punished though forgiven)
Hebrews 12 v 11
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. (The “fruit” of heaven awaits those souls disciplined/trained in purgatory to reject the desire to sin and become perfected)
Visions of Purgatory by Saints
Many saints have claimed to have had mystical experiences related to purgatory. Of course, personal mystical experiences do not “improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation” but rather are meant to “help [us] live more fully by it in a certain period of history.” (CCC 67) So, read through these stories, seeing if they can help you take more seriously the reality of purgatory. For other stories, simply perform an internet search for saints who visited purgatory.
“That Prison of Suffering” – St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska
St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska, most commonly known as St. Faustina, was a polish nun who claimed to have had a series of visions which included Jesus, the Eucharist, angels, and various saints. It is from her visions, recorded in her diary, that the Church received the now-popular devotion the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In one entry, she tells of a vision of 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.
“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. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.’” (Diary of St. Faustina, 20)
“As Much Pain as in Hell” – St. Catherine of Genoa
St. Catherine of Genoa was a 15th century nun who spent much of her time caring for the sick, particularly those with the bubonic plague. She’s also famous for her mystical experiences of purgatory.
“No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love.
“I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have willfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.” (Treatise on Purgatory)
“A Spirit All on Fire, Resembling Incandescent Metal” – St. Lidwina of Schiedam
St. Lidwina of Schiedam was a 15th century Dutch saint and mystic. As a teenager, she had an ice skating accident that left her debilitated the rest of her life. A sinful man was converted by her prayers and exhortation and was able to make a good confession, but he died soon after, unable to do much penance. After some time, she asked her guardian angel if he was still in purgatory, and she had this vision:
“‘He is there,’ said her angel, ‘and he suffers much. Would you be willing to endure some pain in order to diminish his?’ Certainly,’ she replied, ‘I am ready to suffer anything to assist him.’ Instantly her angel conducted her into a place of frightful torture. ‘Is this, then, Hell, my brother?’ asked the holy maiden, seized with horror. ‘No, sister,’ answered the angel, ‘but this part of Purgatory is bordering upon Hell.’
“Looking around on all sides, she saw what resembled an immense prison, surrounded with walls of a prodigious height, the blackness of which, together with the monstrous stones, inspired her with horror. Approaching this dismal enclosure, she heard a confused noise of lamenting voices, cries of fury, chains, instruments of torture, violent blows which the executioners discharged upon their victims. This noise was such that all the tumult of the world, in tempest or battle, could bear no comparison to it. ‘What, then, is that horrible place?’ asked St. Lidwina of her good angel. ‘Do you wish me to show it to you?’ ‘No, I beseech you,’ said she, recoiling with terror; ‘the noise which I hear is so frightful that I can no longer bear it ; how, then, could I endure the sight of those horrors?’
“Continuing her mysterious route, she saw an angel seated sadly on the curb of a well. ‘Who is that angel?’ she asked of her guide. ‘It is,’ he replied, ‘the angel-guardian of the sinner in whose lot you are interested. His soul is in this well, where it has a special Purgatory.’ At these words, Lidwina cast an inquiring glance at her angel; she desired to see that soul which was dear to her, and endeavour to release it from that frightful pit. Her angel, who understood her, having taken off the cover of the well, a cloud of flames, together with the most plaintive cries, came forth.” Do you recognise that voice?’ said the angel to her. ‘Alas! yes,’ answered the servant of God. ‘Do you desire to see that soul?’ he continued. On her replying in the affirmative, he called him by his name; and immediately our virgin saw appear at the mouth of the pit a spirit all on fire, resembling incandescent metal, which said to her in a voice scarcely audible, ‘O Lidwina, servant of God, who will give me to contemplate the face of the Most High?’
“The sight of this soul, a prey to the most terrible torment of fire, gave our saint such a shock that the cincture which she wore around her body was rent in twain; and, no longer able to endure the sight, she awoke suddenly from her ecstasy. The persons present, perceiving her fear, asked her its cause. ‘Alas!” she replied, ‘how frightful are the prisons of Purgatory! It was to assist the souls that I consented to descend thither. Without this motive, if the whole world were given to me, I would not undergo the terror which that horrible spectacle inspired.’
“Some days later, the same angel whom she had seen so dejected appeared to her with a joyful countenance; he told her that the soul of his protege’ had left the pit and passed into the ordinary Purgatory. This partial alleviation did not suffice the charity of Lidwina; she continued to pray for the poor patient, and to apply to him the merits of her sufferings, until she saw the gates of Heaven opened to him.” (Purgatory, by Fr. F. X. Schouppe, S.J., p. 16-19)