The practice of praying for the faithful departed goes all the way back to the early Christian era when names of the deceased were posted in places of worship so that all could pray for them. The catacombs of Rome testify to this practice.
Purgatory is not a physical location but a stage for the purification of souls before entrance into God’s heaven. St. Pope Gregory the Great reminds us that souls needing purification undergo a process of further cleansing which allows them to enter heaven. Jesus tells us that whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will be condemned (Mk 3: 29) but for lesser offenses there would be purification before entrance into heaven. Based on Scriptural passages which speak of cleansing and purification, the Church teaching on purification was formulated at the Councils of Trent and Florence (CCC# 330, 331)
When we pray for the faithful departed we simply practice what we profess in Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints … the resurrection of the body.” We are all adopted sons and daughters of God. The deceased have gone ahead to be with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While we grieve at the loss of loved ones, we trust in Jesus’ words that all who believe will be saved.
Purgatory is not some kind of prison where one is expected to make restitution for offenses of the past; rather purgatory provides for inward transformation to make it possible to be united with God.
Perhaps purgatory may be likened to a boot camp for heaven. No matter who or how we may be, boot camps are meant to prepare us for future tasks and responsibilities. It is a time to deepen one’s relationships with the merciful and loving Father who sent his only begotten Son so that we may have eternal life.
The celebration of All Souls reminds the living to pray for the departed that they may rise again as promised by Jesus to his followers.