At funerals all too often you hear: “Well, he is no longer suffering!” And, “Now he is in a much better place.” And another common saying: “Now he is in heaven with the Lord in glory!” Although the persons who have expressed these common niceties were most probably moved with good will and the best of intentions, they could be far off the target! Why this straight-forward and possibly startling remark? It is for this reason: the reality of Purgatory.
Among the many heresies floating around in many Catholic circles is that everybody goes to heaven and right away! In other words, simply being a baptized catholic and nothing more is a sure passport to heaven. No need for any intermediate state of purification; with death, the gates of heaven are open and the flight is non-stop and one way!.The pearly-gates are opened and the Lord is ready to embrace forever!
Not only is this a false theology, but it is highly dangerous and damaging for the state of the deceased. Why? If all are totally convinced that “Uncle Harry” is rejoicing with God, the angels and saints meriting the fruits of his faith in God and earthly labors, then what is the purpose and reason for praying for him? No sense in praying for the saints in heaven, nor the condemned in hell, but only those detained in Purgatory.
It has been sound and solid Catholic teaching over the centuries that only those who are perfect in charity, have no impurities and imperfections on their souls and have done due reparation for the sins of their past will have access to their Heavenly abode. The Book of Revelation expresses this with the utmost clarity: “Nothing impure can enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus reiterated this in the Sermon on the Mount, in one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart; they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)
The point is this: none of us have the authority to canonize unofficially any person that has passed from this life to the next life! By doing so in proclaiming that such a person is in a better place, is no longer suffering, is in the eternal and everlasting hills of peace and joy is presumptuous, wrong, and simply false-compassion. Worse yet, we are taking over the role of the Holy Father, the Pope. Only the Pope himself has a right to canonize or to declare that such a person is definitely in heaven. And there is only one Pope—it is not you nor is it me!
Speaking about Popes and Purgatory, there is a story very apropos of the topic of Purgatory and the importance of much prayer for the dead. The story can be found in the life of one of the greatest Popes in the history of the Church. In fact, rarely does the church add to the name of the Pope “The Great”. The Pope that we are referring to is Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540-604).
On one occasion the Pope was talking to one of his friends on the topic of the after-life and the importance to pray for the dead! The substance of their talk was the following: whoever died first, then the survivor would make it a point to pray for the deceased.
It happened that the friend of Pope Saint Gregory passed away first. Shortly after his death, his friend appeared to Gregory suffering intensely the pains of Purgatory. He certainly did not seem to be in “a better place” or was “not suffering” as so many presume today!!! Quite the contrary his suffering was very intense to put it mildly!
That being the case, Pope Saint Gregory made a concerted effort to pray for his friend so as to alleviate his pains and to deliver him as soon as possible from Purgatory!
By far the most powerful prayer in the universe is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore, Pope Saint Gregory the Great, being of course a priest started to offer Masses for the intention and purification and relief of his dear friend. This the Pope did with the best of intentions!
What do you think happened? This holy Pope, canonized and known to be one of the greatest of all Popes in two millennia, offered Masses, weeks of Masses, and finally a whole month of Masses for the delivery of this one soul—who probably was not such a bad guy according to world criteria. However, it was only after a full month in which the Pope offered Masses for him every day that he was finally delivered and had full access to heaven.
True, after the month, the Pope’s friend appeared to him in glory, thanking him profusely for the many prayers offered that served to purify him of his sins, diminish his intense suffering and gain full entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the history and origin of what we call The Gregorian Mass. This Mass, or rather a long line of consecutive Masses, is offered for the deceased (it can also be offered for the living…) for the purpose of purifying the soul of the deceased, alleviating his intense suffering, and gaining for him access to heaven as soon as possible. Indeed it is a great act of charity to pray for the dead. They can no longer merit for themselves and are totally dependent upon the mercy of God, but also the prayers, sacrifices, fasting, and Masses that could and should be offered on their behalf.
An Augustinian saint, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, is often depicted in art as celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. However, the religious art-work displays the saint consecrating the Chalice—the Precious Blood of Jesus. Then Purgatory can be seen below and the angels descending into the fiery pit of Purgatory and leading them to their heavenly abode. It was noted that one of the primary reasons why Saint Nicholas wanted to become a priest was because he wanted to deliver as many souls from Purgatory to heaven through the celebration of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
In conclusion, let us pray fervently for the dead; let us pray fervently and constantly for the souls in Purgatory. Let us not fall into the modern theological error in believing that everybody goes immediately to heaven. This is dangerously erroneous and false-compassion as well as presumptuous!
Finally, pray, and pray and pray for the souls in Purgatory. However, offer the greatest prayer in the universe for the souls in Purgatory—the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Prayer in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy connects us directly to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and its power to purify and save: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world…” May Our Lady, Mother of mercy, attain for us all a quick entrance into Heaven!