Purgatory and Praying for the Holy Souls

Homily for November 2nd  - All Souls - Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What happens to us when we die? We believe that firstly we will be judged. St. Faustina, who was asked by Jesus to propagate devotion to his Divine Mercy, wrote in her Diary that she was shown her judgment in advance.

Once I was summoned to the judgment of God. I stood alone before the Lord. Jesus appeared such as we know Him during His Passion. After a moment, His wounds disappeared except for five, those in His hands, His feet and His side. Suddenly I saw the complete condition of my soul as God sees it. I could clearly see all that is displeasing to God. I did not know that even smallest transgressions will have to be accounted for. What a moment! Who can describe it? To stand before the Thrice-Holy God!
(Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska §36)

After judgment three choices await us: hell, Purgatory or heaven; hell for those who have rejected God, heaven for those who die as saints and Purgatory for everybody else. We would all like to go immediately to heaven when we die but are we living in such a way that we will die as saints? Would it be more realistic to expect to spend time in Purgatory being purified? Only perfect love can see God face to face so in Purgatory we are purified that we may see God face to face. Today we pray for all the souls who are still in Purgatory undergoing purification and growing in love before they are ready to see God face to face in heaven. It is out of our belief in Purgatory that today’s feast springs. If we didn’t believe in Purgatory today’s commemoration of the holy souls and our prayers for them would not make sense. (some people have asked me if the Church still believes in Purgatory!)

We believe that God is all merciful and that Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection saved us but that does not excuse us from being purified. Jesus has saved us but we still need to make amends for sin committed and we need to be purified. This expiation for sin must be made either in this life or the next. During life we receive many opportunities to expiate sin through our sufferings but after death any unexpiated sin needs to be purified. This is what Purgatory is, purification for unexpiated sin, being healed of the negative effects of sin which do not leave us totally open to grace. Pope Benedict, when Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed it as,

the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people [231] with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process…

Man is the recipient of divine mercy yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
(Joseph Ratzinger Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life pages 230-231
See also Pope Benedict XVI Spe Salvi §§45-47
See also Pope John Paul II, Wednesday Audience, August 4th, 1999)

What causes pain to the souls in Purgatory? A suffering for the souls is that they did not love God properly while they lived, they hurt God and wasted many opportunities to love God. Their delay in going to heaven is a source of great pain. The souls in Purgatory have a great hunger for God, greater than we can imagine. They do not have the distractions of the world and all their longing is to be with God in heaven. The souls in Purgatory do not have bodies but do suffer in some way akin to physical suffering. Yet Purgatory is a joyful transformation because of the certainty of the outcome. St. Frances of Rome, the foundress of the Oblates, who was privileged to see Purgatory said there is no despair in Purgatory and called it a “sojourn of hope.” (Fr. F.X. Schouppe S.J. Purgatory Explained page 11 in 1973 edition)

How long does one stay in Purgatory? That depends on how one lived and how much repentance one did for sin before dying. We could imagine that a person who had lived a wild life and converted just before death would spend much longer in Purgatory than someone who had lived a life in union with God. We cannot compare time in this life with time in the next life. Our Lady at Fatima, when asked by the visionaries about a certain man, said he would be in Purgatory until the end of the world. Time in Purgatory does not pass like time here on earth. St. Robert Bellarmine wrote that for some people the time in Purgatory will last entire centuries according to our time here on earth. (Fr. F.X. Schouppe S.J. Purgatory Explained page 68 in 1973 edition) Accounts of Purgatory by saints and mystics who were either transported to Purgatory or visited by souls tell us that there are various levels in Purgatory ranging from lower levels which are closer to hell to upper levels which are closer to heaven.

St. Catherine of Genoa is noted for her revelations on Purgatory (Treatise on Purgatory) and writes that the souls have great joy and this happiness increases as the souls are purified (Treatise on Purgatory Chapter 2). The souls’ only desire is to please God. Souls long to remove even the slightest imperfection. St Catherine describes Purgatory as a truly great grace from God.

Fr. Schouppe, who has written about Purgatory from the revelations of the saints, tells us that Our Lady herself goes to Purgatory to release the souls on Saturdays and her feast days. (Fr. F.X. Schouppe S.J. Purgatory Explained page 137 in 1973 edition) Fr. Schouppe refers to St. Peter Damien’s account of Our Lady releasing souls on the feast of her Assumption on August 15th. St. Peter Damien wrote of a certain lady having received an apparition from her deceased godmother who said,

during this great solemnity the Queen of Heaven descended into the midst of the purgatorial flames and delivered me, together with a large number of other souls, that we might enter Heaven on the feast of her Assumption. She exercises this great act of clemency each year; and, on this occasion alone, the number of those whom she delivered equals the population of Rome…In proof of the truth of my words, know that you yourself will die a year hence on the feast of the Assumption; if you outlive that period, believe that this was an illusion. (Fr. F.X. Schouppe S.J. Purgatory Explained page 138-139 in 1973 edition)

Other mystical sources indicate that the greatest number of souls is released from Purgatory on Christmas Day. Our Lady promised to release from Purgatory quickly those who wear the Scapular of Mount Carmel devoutly, not as a charm, but with proper devotion while living a holy life.

Souls in Purgatory cannot offer physical sufferings in expiation for sin as we do and rely on us to aid them in their purification by our prayers. This is why we celebrate Mass for the holy souls today. They need our prayers for their purification. When our loved ones die let us not abandon them but help them by our prayers and sacrifices. A mystical source has said that when we pray for our loved ones by name they can see us on earth.

We can help the souls in Purgatory in many ways:

  • Having Mass offered for the soul of a departed loved one is the greatest help we can give them because Mass, being the sacrifice of Jesus offered to the Father, is the greatest prayer. (See stories about praying for the dead)

  • We can pray for the souls in Purgatory.

  • We can offer our fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimages the glory of God, in atonement for sins of those in Purgatory.

  • Let us also remember to gain indulgences for the souls in Purgatory this week. We can gain a plenary indulgence (full remission of all temporal punishment due for sins whose guilt has already been forgiven [temporal punishment is the remains of sin which do not leave us totally open to grace]) for souls in Purgatory today, Commemoration of All Souls, by

    • Visiting a church or oratory and praying there the Creed and one Our Father

    • Praying for the Pope’s intentions

    • Receiving Holy Communion within a week before or afterwards

    • Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation within a week before or afterwards

    • Being in a state of grace i.e. not having any attachment or desire for sin of any kind.

We can also gain a plenary indulgence (full remission of all temporal punishment due for sins) for souls in Purgatory each day from Nov 1st to 8th by

  • visiting a cemetery and praying for the faithful departed

  • praying there for the Pope’s intentions the Creed and one Our Father

  • Receiving Holy Communion within a week before or afterwards

  • Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation within a week before or afterwards

  • Being in a state of grace i.e. not having any attachment or desire for sin of any kind.

Let us pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

Sources and ideas for this homily come from
Joseph Ratzinger Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life
Pope John Paul II, Wednesday Audience, August 4th 1999 on Purgatory
Pope John Paul II Wednesday Audience, September 29th 1999 on indulgences
Fr. F.X. Schouppe S.J. Purgatory Explained
Thomas W. Petrisko Inside Purgatory: What History Theology and the Mystics Tell Us About Purgatory
St. Catherine of Genoa Treatise on Purgatory
Another book I like but did not quote here is The Holy Souls: "Viva Padre Pio" by Fr. Alessio Parente

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Commemoration of All Souls

God’s Magnificent Plan for us after Death - Purgatory

Stories about praying for the dead