The Catholic Commentator  

Lent is a time to spiritually apply the principals of spring cleaning the house to spring cleaning the soul so we can be united with the resurrected Jesus at Easter. But struggle as we may to “clean up the mess,” we may have the uneasiness that we are not quite ready for heaven if we should die because we still attach ourselves to some sins or “dirt” in our souls. 

Placing a soul in purgatory, therefore, is God’s merciful, loving act of final cleansing of the soul, so it can be perfectly purified and brought home to him in heaven, according to clergy of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

“We might begin our reflection (on purgatory) by asking the question, ‘What happens when we die?’ ” said Father Miles Walsh, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baton Rouge. “The church teaches that when we die we are first of all judged by God, and at that judgment, which we call the particular judgment, we learn our eternal destiny: whether we will spend eternity with God in heaven … or whether we will spend eternity apart from him in hell. And yet, even if we are destined for heaven, our Catholic tradition, including Scripture itself, attests that most of those who will go to heaven must first spend a period of time being purified of any and all attachment to sin, and we call this state of being purgatory.  

“This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say (1032):  All who die in the state of God’s grace, i.e., in the state of friendship with him, 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. The church gives the name ‘purgatory’ to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”  

Father Matthew Graham, administrator of St. Elizabeth Church in Paincourtville and St. Jules Church in Belle Rose, talked about references to purgatory in Scripture. He highlighted how St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15  that  at a person’s judgment their works will be judged by fire to test their quality. If the person’s works are built upon a solid foundation of “gold, silver and precious metals” (rooted in Christ) that person will receive a wage.  

But if someone’s work is burned up like hay, wood or stubble (through “bad works” or sin) that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.  

The fire of purgatory is much different than the fire of hell, which is eternal loss and regret according to Father Walsh and Father Graham. The fire of purgatory is the soul’s burning desire to be with God.  

Father Walsh noted that in 1 Peter 1:7, the apostle writes about the assurance that souls in purgatory have of ultimate salvation: In this you rejoice, for although you may have to suffer for a while, this is so that the genuineness of your faith, which is more precious than gold tested by fire, may prove to be for the praise, glory and honor of God.  

“Here St. Peter is pointing out that we can voluntarily begin our purgatory – our purification – here on earth – but there will also be a time of purification for us after we have died, a time of preparation for heaven,” said Father Walsh. 

Praying for the souls in purgatory, who can no longer do anything for themselves but receive the painful, but necessary, purging of sins by God, is a way to assist those souls and receive graces. Father Walsh and Father Graham pointed to passages in the Bible and church traditions that highlight people praying for the dead. Scripture notes that even before the days of Christ, Jewish people, such as Judas Maccabeus and Job in the Old Testament, prayed for the dead.  

Father Graham noted that the souls of the dead are remembered in the eucharistic prayers at Mass, as well as in a prayer over offerings for the funeral Mass.  

He recommended that Catholics offer a prayer for the souls in purgatory once a week during Lent. Additionally, they could offer up their fasting for a deceased family member or loved one.  

Other ways of remembering the dead include lighting a votive candle, visiting a cemetery, reciting lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the Eternal Rest Prayer or praying the Requiem aeternam.  

Father Graham and Father Walsh pointed out that in his Sermon on the Mount, Christ warns people to rectify their relationship with God and others when he said,“Settle with your opponent while there is still time, before you go to court. Otherwise you will be turned over to the judge, who will hand you over to the jailer, and you will be put into prison.  I warn you, you will remain there until you have paid the last penny.” 

An image of Father Walsh has of purgatory is a dishwasher.  

“Even after the dishes are cleaned, and the impurities are washed away, some impurities remain, and we use the steaming heat of a dishwasher to sterilize them. So also with our souls,” said Father Walsh. “If we are far from God at the time of death – though not deserving of hell and eternal separation from God, then our purgatory will be longer and more painful. If we are very close to God, then our purgatory will be short and sweet. The wonderful thing about purgatory is that everyone in that state knows that they will one day be in heaven and there is no longer any desire or taste for sin.    

“And yet there is pain, the pain of self reflection, sorrow for sin, and an intense longing for perfect communion with God.”  

Father Graham compared the soul’s need to be purified to the bride’s desire to be spotless on her wedding day before coming to her groom. In this case, we, as part of the church, want to be spotless before coming before the bridegroom, Christ.  

He also referred to purgatory as a safety net, because, even if people question a deceased person’s salvation, no one knows what was in the person’s heart when they died.  

“There are only things that the Lord knows,” said Father Graham. 

St. Gertrude the Great Prayer for Souls in Purgatory  

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“Eternal Father,
I offer You 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,
for those in my own home,
and in my family. Amen.”