Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Purgatory: The Dogma of God's Mercy and Justice

For the sake of souls living in an age permeated by the modernist heresy, it is not by chance that, at Fatima, Heaven highlighted the Church’s doctrines and dogmas so frequently undermined. Perhaps foremost among these ignored truths is Purgatory, a dogma pertaining to the interior life of the soul and the mercy and the justice of God.

The word purgatory comes from the Latin purgare, which means “to purify” or “to cleanse.” “The word Purgatory is sometimes taken to mean a place, sometimes as an intermediate state between Hell and Heaven,” explains Fr. Schouppe, S.J., author of Purgatory – Explained by the Lives and the Legends of the Saints.[1]

“It is, properly speaking, the condition of souls which, at the moment of death, are in the state of grace, but which have not completely expiated their faults, nor attained the degree of purity necessary to enjoy the Vision of God.” [2] Fr. Schouppe continues, “Purgatory is a transitory state which terminates in a life of everlasting happiness. It is not a trial by which merit may be gained or lost, but a state of atonement and expiation.” [3]

The dogma of Purgatory reinforces the necessity of the three conversions of the interior life, for “it forms one of the principal parts of the work of Jesus Christ, and plays an essential role in the economy of the salvation of man.” [4]

We may think otherwise, but sanctity is not impossible, for Jesus Himself encourages and instructs us, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [5] Neither can we reach spiritual perfection by our own efforts, but with God, all things are possible.” [6] For the living, each day of earthly life is “a time of trial, a time of merit for the soul” [7]- and at the very moment life ends, the immortal soul remains in the state in which death claimed it.

While we hope that our merits will gain us heaven, we must also remember that what we deem as only trivial faults are not small in God’s eyes. In considering Purgatory, our frail human nature frequently tends to think only of God’s mercy, simultaneously preferring to forget His Justice. Regardless of our personal opinions, God has revealed that His two attributes of Mercy and Justice are never separated.

Like the slightest shadow which must disappear before the sun’s bright light, “no shadow of sin can endure before His Face.” [8] Souls who depart this life in a state of sanctifying grace are saved and will attain Heaven, but if there is any debt still remaining for absolved sins – any slight lack of perfect charity in love for God or neighbor – then God’s Mercy and Justice allows the saved soul to expiate its sins in Purgatory.

Purgatory: A Teaching from Antiquity
From the ancient tradition of the Jews, to the time of Christ and from the earliest days of His one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, “the people of God had no hesitation in asserting the efficacy of prayers offered for the dead in order that those who had departed this life might find pardon for their sins and the hope of eternal resurrection.”[9]

With infallible examples from the Holy Scriptures and Tradition, the witness of the early Church, the Holy Ghost makes clear that forgiven sins can and will be atoned, either in this life or in the next:

• The Old Testament clearly states in Macabees, “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” [10] This passage tells of an offering of silver “to Jerusalem for sacrifices to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For if he (Judas of the Macabees) had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.” [11]

• In Zacharias, the Holy Ghost speaks of the purification of souls in the next life, “I will refine them as silver refined, and I will try them as gold is tried.” [12] Gold and silver are burned in the fire to be freed from dross; similarly, souls are tried and purified in fire by the Lord.[13]

• Our Lord Himself affirms that there is a place of expiation after death, likening it to a prison: “I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.” [14] Jesus refers not to hell, which is eternal, but teaches “distinctly of a temporary place…of purification, where the souls of the just can be freed…and purified for their entrance into heaven.”[15]

• Our Divine Savior also reveals: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.” [16]

Repented sins can be forgiven, and expiated in this world or the next, but the sin against the Holy Ghost is the terrible exception of which Christ warned the peoples of all ages - persistent impenitence, the sin of one who rejects conversion and dies in mortal sin. One guilty of this sin can never obtain forgiveness of God, because at the hour of death he continues to thrust God away from him.” [17] The reason this sin is not forgiven in this world or the next is only because the individual person continues to reject God, even at death! Is it any wonder why Our Lady of Fatima so often stressed sacrifice for the conversion of our fellow sinners?

St. Paul speaks of the exact way by which souls are freed from repented sins not yet atoned: “For other foundation (sic) no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus…Every man’s work shall be manifest: for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”[18]

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) explains, “While this passage presents considerable difficulty, it is regarded by many of the Fathers and theologians as evidence for the existence of an intermediate state in which the dross of lighter transgressions will be burnt away, and the soul thus purified will be saved.”[19]

St. John the beloved disciple, in offering hope and consolation to those who live in the valley of tears and faithfully endure all of life’s trials and tribulations, reveals: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and death shall be no more; nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more.”[20] In speaking of Heaven, however, St. John also reminds the elect, “There shall not enter into it anything defiled.” [21]

St. Augustine of Hippo teaches, “That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly, in the greater or less degree in which they loved the good things that perish – through a certain purgatorial fire.”[22]

• Because the doctrine of Purgatory has been held throughout the ages, the Council of Trent declared: “Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost has, following the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council, that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the Acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar, the Holy Council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of Purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and the sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached.”[23]

• Finally, in recent times, Our Lady Herself referred to Purgatory when, at the first Fatima apparition in May 1917, She was asked by the child Lucia about the souls of two young village ladies who had recently died.

The Virgin answered that the first girl, Maria das Nevas, who died when about 16 years of age, was in Heaven. But of Amelia, a young woman of 18 years at her death, Our Lady said, “She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.” [24]

The Fate of Two Souls Revealed
The latter disclosure about Amelia’s prolonged period of expiation never fails to shock and trouble those who first hear of it. While mere curiosity should not instigate the inquiry, it appears there is one immediate and common question about this revelation:

What did Amelia do? That is, what forgiven sin(s) committed by a young person (a “teenager” by today’s standards), who lived in a remote village without any modern conveniences or amusements, could lead to a Purgatory of such time and duration?

The only answer upon which we can assuredly rely comes from Sr. Lucia when, years later, she was asked by Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P, about certain details regarding Amelia. Sr. Lucia’s charitable, prudent, and brief response was befitting of a Servant of God: “Amelia was eighteen years old, Father, and, after all, for one mortal sin a soul may be in Hell forever.” [25]

“Just” one mortal sin! Was Lucia’s response a delicate hint that it was one mortal sin, obviously repented, for which Amelia would endure a Purgatory incomprehensible to our minds? Did Our Lady make this known to Lucia? If such is the case, it still remains that we do not know the details of Amelia’s solitary mortal sin - but neither do we need to know.

Instead, we should consider the reasons why Our Lady allowed to be made public the state of two souls, one who was already in Heaven (a revelation which many overlook) and one who would be in Purgatory until the end of time.

“What is certain is that Our Lady wanted us to know this for our instruction, and it would be foolish presumption to pretend to dispute the judgments of God,” observes Fatima historian, Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité. “He alone, Who intimately knows each soul, the abundance of graces He has given to it, the degree of knowledge it had of its fault and the quality of its repentance, is the judge of the gravity of sin.” [26]

Frère Michel also wisely notes that we may rarely think about Maria das Nevas, the young soul of whom Our Lady said so simply, “She is in heaven.” No, we are not inclined to ponder much about Maria, for today we are misled to believe that Heaven is our natural “right.” Perhaps, too, we make light-hearted jokes like, “Well, at least in Purgatory, I’ll be with friends.” Yet the sufferings of Purgatory are not objects of jest, especially because the straight and sure path to Heaven is made known to us: Pick up your cross daily and follow Me.[27]

Should we not first contemplate the teenaged Maria, if only for a few moments, and wonder: How did she fulfill God’s Commandments? What heroic virtues did she practice? Did she endure Purgatory at all – or was her soul taken straight to Heaven? Were inquiries ever made about the details of her life or death? Is there anything really known about this young lady, other than her name and age? Or was her hidden and humble interior life - in which (as it seems) no one showed interest, even when her glorious state in Heaven became known - meant as a lesson in itself?

Since it appears no questions about Maria were ever asked, we have no details. What we do have, however, is Our Lady’s word that Maria is in Heaven, and that is enough to tell us two simple and beautiful things about Maria – “she was a good girl and a good Christian.” [28]

Out of the Depths I Have Cried to Thee, O Lord…
But we do not forget Amelia, who died in the state of grace and is saved, nor should we forget her. It is, after all, our “sacred duty to pray for and make sacrifices on behalf of the Poor Souls in Purgatory.” [29]

We call these souls “poor” because they can do nothing for themselves, relying always on our charity offered on their behalf; we call them “holy” because there is no question that they are among the saved. Cherished by God and assured of their salvation, they can and do intercede for us with their prayers.

However, while the poor souls can pray for us but no longer gain merit for themselves, and since the saints in Heaven pray for them but cannot acquire any indulgences for them, those who languish in Purgatory rely on the charity of the living.

This is the beautiful “secret” regarding Purgatory, as St. John Chrysostom reminds us, “Not by weeping, but by prayer and almsgiving are the dead relieved.” [30] It is only we, the Church Militant, who can obtain many indulgences (plenary and partial) for the faithful departed. [31]

We have three central means at our disposal to offer them relief and deliverance: The Holy Mass, the Holy Rosary, and almsgiving (fasts, penances, and sacrifices). For the benefit of our own souls and those in Purgatory, there exist many other highly indulgenced prayers and practices, including but not limited to:

The Brown Scapular of Mt. Carmel: To those who wear this Scapular with devotion, Our Lady promises, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” Too, a pious kiss given to the Brown Scapular offers 500 days’ indulgence, which we can offer for the Poor Souls.

The Sabbatine (Saturday) Privilege, also granted to those who wear the Brown Scapular: “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whosoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them unto the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

A Thousand Souls (the Prayer of St. Gertrude), by which Christ revealed He would release 1,000 souls from Purgatory, each time the prayer is offered: “Eternal Father, I offer thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with all of the Masses said throughout the world today – for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, for those within my own home and within my own family. Amen.” [31]

Since God’s generosity can never be out-done, He not only allows all of our offerings to help the souls in Purgatory, but He also grants that these same actions “gain us merit, an increase in sanctifying grace, a higher degree of charity, closer union with God, and thus a higher degree of glory in Heaven for all eternity.”[33]

There is much more that Our God has revealed about Purgatory, but what is most important is to follow the charitable advice of the eternal Church, and which is so beautifully summarized by St. Augustine: “Forget not the dead and hasten to pray for them!”[34]

~About this Article and its Author~
Secrets of the Catholic City is the name of Mrs. Bartold's new column, published by Catholic Family News (CFN). "Purgatory: The Dogma of God's Mercy and Justice" was published in CFN's November 2009 issue. All Rights Reserved World-wide by the author.

Marianna Bartold, founder of Keeping It Catholic, is the author of “The Age of Mary” Study Guides, a series of “digitally delivered” Catholic unit studies for homeschooled teens - as well as adults or anyone who wishes to grow closer “to Jesus through Mary.” Her other works include the upcoming digital Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings) Catholic Study Guide. She is the author of the Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guide books (Volumes I and II). Mrs. Bartold was the original homeschool editor of Sursum Corda and the founding publisher of The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Magazine.

[1] Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J., Purgatory - Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints [1893 original edition republished in Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1986.]: p.6
[2] Ibid., p.7. (Emphasis in the original)
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 3.
[5] Matt. 5:48.
[6] Matt 19: 26.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J., op cit., p. 4.
[9] Edward Hanna, “Purgatory,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12. [New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911] Accessed Sept. 15, 2009 at
[10] 2 Mach. 12:46.
[11] 2 Mach. 12:43-45.
[12] Zach. 13:9.
[13] “Sermons for the Feast Days of the Year,” anonymous contributor. Included in The Sermons of the Curé of Ars [1901 original republished in Long Prairie, MN: The Neumann Press, 1991]: Part II, p. 10.
[14] Matt. 5: 26.
[15] “Sermons for the Feast Days of the Year,” op. cit., Part II: p. 11.
[16] Matt. 12: 32.
[17] My Catholic Faith: A Manual in Religion [Reprinted from the 1954 edition in Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 2003.]:p. 151.
[18] 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15. [Emphasis added.]
[19] Hanna, loc. cit.
[20] Apoc. 21:4.
[21] Apoc. 21: 27.
[22] St. Augustine of Hippo, cited by William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3. [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979]: p. 149.
[23] Decree Concerning Purgatory, The Council of Trent, Session XXV (December 4, 1563). Also see Denzinger, "Enchiridon", #983.
[24] Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sr. Lucia’s Memoirs [Fatima, Portugal: Postulation Centre, 1976]: p. 161.
[25] John J. Delaney (editor), A Woman Clothed With the Sun [New York: Image Edition, published by Doubleday, 1990]: p. 184. [Emphasis added.]
[26] Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth about Fatima: Science and the Facts, Vol. I [Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, English translation copyright by the author, 1989]: p. 128.
[27] Lk. 9:23, Matt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34. (paraphrased)
[28] Frère Michel, op. cit., p. 129.
[29] Fr. F. X. Schouppe, op. cit., Publisher’s Preface, p. xxviii. [Emphasis in the original]
[30] My Catholic Faith, loc. cit. p. 159.
[31] An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. A plenary indulgence remits all punishment; a partial indulgence remits some part of it. That the Church has the power and authority to grant indulgences is a matter of faith, defined at the Council of Trent, Session XXV, December 4, 1563.
[32] Approval and recommendation signed by M. Cardinal Pahiarca at Lisbon, Portugal, March 4, 1936.

[33] Fr. F. X. Schouppe, op. cit., Publisher’s Preface, p. xxix.
[34] “Sermons for the Feast Days of the Year,” op. cit., Part II, p. 13. [Emphasis in the original]

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