An all too common error among many believing Catholics is their attitude toward death and what happens immediately after death. All too many are convinced that their loved ones, immediately after passing from this life to the next, are already in heaven, even though such loved ones did not live an exemplary and holy life. Remember what the last Book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, teaches us: “Nothing impure can enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus also states: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God.”(Mt. 5:8)
How often do we hear at funerals, referring to the deceased, these words: “Well, he is in a better place now!” or “Now he is no longer suffering.” Obviously, those who utter these statements toward the deceased have no bad will in the least. Nonetheless, these statements can cause great damage and the reason is crystal clear! If this person who has passed into eternity is in a better place, which of course refers to heaven, and if he is no longer suffering because he enjoys the perpetual bliss of heaven, then it is not necessary to offer any prayers or sacrifices for the purification of his soul. In other words, why waste prayers and sacrifices in praying for a soul who is already in heaven?
However, we must arrive at the bare truth. Only those who are absolutely pure, without any stain of sin, without any attachments to sin and this world, and who have been totally purified of their past sins can have access to the Kingdom of heaven. Most of us would have to admit, with honesty and truth, that we probably have not arrived at that state, yet. In other words, only those who have perfected themselves in charity—supernatural love for God and neighbor—are ready to enter into the utter holiness and essence of the eternal Home of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Mary, the angels and saints!
Therefore, no matter who the person is and was, after he has passed from this life to the next, it is a salutary practice and most pleasing to God to pray, offer sacrifices, offer Masses and offer alms for the deceased. We should not canonize them before their time. When I say canonize, I mean declare that they are already in heaven. Only the Holy Father, the Pope, has the right to declare officially that such a person is a saint in heaven, as Pope Francis did recently declaring three individuals to be in heaven, to be saints: Saint Jose Luis Rios de Sanchez (Mexican), Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (French), and Cura Brochero (Argentinian).
Therefore, if such a person has died in the state of grace, but has not yet arrived at heaven, then his destiny is that of PURGATORY. What is this place called “Purgatory” and what can we do on our part, to help these souls to be freed or liberated from the pains of such a place? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Purgatory as such:
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, 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.” (CCC # 1030)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also quotes Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who is the origin and initiator of the “Gregorian Masses”—meaning 30 consecutive Masses for the deceased, on the topic of Purgatory with these motivating words:
“As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.” (CCC #1031)
Then the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us a clear Biblical passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Maccabees (2 Mac. 12:46) that gives support and proof for the reality of Purgatory, as well as what practices we should undertake so as to help these poor souls in their suffering to arrive safely home in heaven, their eternal reward. In a word, the souls in Purgatory are saved because they died in the state of sanctifying grace, but they are totally dependent upon the infinite mercy of Almighty God for final purification. However, the mercy of Almighty God is partially mediated through what we do for them while we are on earth. God wants us to do all we can to help these souls attain their eternal reward. Therefore, let us read and reflect seriously in an attitude of prayer the words once again of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: Therefore (Judas Maccabeus) made atonement for the dead that they might be delivered from their sin. From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” (CCC # 1032)
The month of November has typically been a month in which we are called to remember the souls of the faithful departed. On November 1st the Church celebrates “All Saints”; then on November 2nd, the Church celebrates and prays for the deceased, the faithful departed. On that same day, the Church allows ordained priests to celebrate three Masses so as to help the poor souls who are detained in Purgatory to arrive at their eternal destiny—Heaven!
In conclusion we would like to offer a short list of practices that we can willingly and generously undertake, as an act of charity, to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are still in Purgatory to attain total purification so that they can finally contemplate the beautiful face of Jesus the Lord.
1. PRAYER—Offer any prayer and at any time for the souls in Purgatory, Prayer refreshes and purifies these suffering souls.
2. SACRIFICES—Offer up, give up, sacrifice something that you like to help the souls in Purgatory. God is pleased not so much with the greatness of the action but rather with the love placed in the action.
Give of what you have to the poor and offer it for the poor souls in Purgatory. This can release them of their bonds. (Read the Book of Tobit)
3. HOLY COMMUNION—Offer your Holy Communion in Mass for the poor souls. This is very pleasing to God.
4. HOLY MASS—Better yet have a Mass offered for the souls in Purgatory. The priest offers this Mass specifically for this soul and the people pray for him.
5. GREGORIAN MASSES. Still better would be to offer a Gregorian Mass for the deceased. This consists in offering 30 consecutive Masses for the deceased. It is called “Gregorian” because the first to undertake this practice wasPope Saint Gregory the Great.
Another very useful practice is to pray nine straight days for the soul after his departure from this life to the next.
6. CHAPLET OF DIVINE MERCY. This practice of the Chaplet is very pleasing to God, in which we offer the Precious Blood of Jesus for the sake of the souls of the whole world—this includes the souls in Purgatory.
7. PERSONAL SUFFERINGS. All of us have our own crosses and sufferings. We should not waste them! Why not offer them for the souls in Purgatory, especially the abandoned souls in Purgatory.
8. OUR LADY—Pray to Our Lady, Mother of mercy, for the souls in Purgatory. Tradition has it that on major Marian Feast days or Solemnities many souls in Purgatory are purified and attain to the beatific vision of God in heaven. Why? Due to prayers of Our Lady, Queen of mercy!
In conclusion, let us do all we possibly can in our lives to help the souls in Purgatory to attain full forgiveness of their sins, purification of their past faults, so as to attain the glory of heaven.