Purgatory is one of the more misunderstood realities of human existence. It is sometimes confused with hell, or limbo (which is not an official teaching of the Catholic Church). Purgatory, is, in fact, one of the most merciful gifts from God.
Human beings have been made for heaven, and heaven is perfect. I don’t simply mean that heaven is nice, but rather, it is PERFECT. There is no sin, or even the thought of sin. Revelation 21:27 says, “nothing unclean will enter it.” There is no anger, jealousy, or even a bad thought. What a beautiful image.
However, we all still struggle with some sin. As a result, when we die, we are not perfect. In a sense, we are not fit for heaven because some sin or even some struggle with sin still is found in us. And the consequence, is that we are not fit to enter into heaven.
Some may say, “Well, then no one can go to heaven!” And without purgatory, they would be right. However, therein lies the infinite mercy of God! If we are judged worthy to enter into heaven when we die, God gives us one more act of mercy by purging out of us any attraction to sin that may remain in us. And this is what we call Purgatory. It is that state of existence where we are finally prepared to enter into the banquet feast of the Lamb. I would sometimes liken it to the mudroom in a house. It is that anti-chamber to the dinner where we clean off whatever clings to us so that we might enter the home where we experience love.
This week, on November 2nd, we celebrate All Souls’ Day, which is a day specifically dedicated to praying for the souls in Purgatory. As the Church on earth, we are still spiritually bound to those who are in Purgatory on their way to heaven, and thus, we can assist them. That is why at funerals, the primary purpose is to pray for the soul of the deceased, and so too on All Souls’ Day. Just as on Earth, we pray for other people to help them, this is also the case with all the souls in Purgatory.
I encourage all of you to pray for all of the souls in Purgatory, especially those of your friends, loved ones, and parishioners of Nativity of Mary. It is particularly encouraged for all of us to stop into a cemetery and pray for the deceased. In doing so, you can also receive a plenary indulgence (an article for another time). So please join the Church throughout the world in prayer for the souls in Purgatory, so that we may all meet in heaven at the eternal banquet feast of God.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord…
...and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Through the mercy of God may they rest in peace.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl