Purgatory

Friday November 2, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of All Souls

Reading I (Daniel 12:1-3) Reading II (Romans 6:3-9)

Gospel (St. John 6:37-40 )

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of All Souls. This is, in a sense, a continuation of the feast we celebrated yesterday because these are all holy souls; these are all individuals who are in the state of grace. They are part of the Communion of Saints. They are united with us in the bonds of grace. These are people who died in the state of grace, but they were not yet perfect. Thanks be to God, in His mercy He has given us a place where, if we are still imperfect when we die, we can be purified. The Book of Revelation tells us that nothing impure can enter into Heaven, so if we are not yet perfected we cannot enter Heaven.

Now we could take a poll and ask how many here think that they will be perfect at the moment of death, and we would probably not have many hands up. If that were the case, you realize that none of us would be able to go to Heaven. But God's Will is that we all would be able to get to Heaven.

We know that some, indeed, will reject Him completely. They will remain in the state of mortal sin; they will not be repentant. Those people will not be able to go to Heaven. Every single person who dies in the state of mortal sin condemns himself, and they cannot go to Heaven - ever. But every single person who dies in the state of grace will go to Heaven, every last one of them. It is just a question of how long it is going to take to be purified.

And so God has provided this place called "Purgatory", which you can see by its root that it comes from the same word as "purge". It is where all the sin and the effects of sin are being purged from the souls of these saints. As Saint Paul told us in the second reading, the person who has died has been absolved from sin. They cannot sin any longer. So, for those souls in Purgatory, they can only go one direction, that is, toward eternal life. There is no going backwards. These souls are doing absolutely everything in their power to get to Heaven as fast as they can. In other words, (even though they are outside of time) if you think about it in a 24 hour period - for 24 hours a day they are praying as hard and as fervently as they possibly can, with every ounce of their ability. They are doing everything that they possibly can.

But we can help them. We can pray for them. We can help them along the way to Heaven by taking on some penances, by praying for them, by offering up various things. We can offer our participation in Mass; we can offer up our Communion. All these things we can offer for the poor souls because they cannot do anything more than they are already doing. They are doing everything possible. But if we can help them, it will get them there that much sooner. It is an act of charity for us to be able to do this for them.

This is a group of people that we need to be very careful that we never forget because there are many, many souls in Purgatory who have absolutely no one praying for them. Remember that there are many Christian people who have this idea that at the very moment that you die you go directly to Heaven. Therefore, they do not pray for any of their people in Purgatory.

But we also have to remember that you cannot enter into Heaven until you accept the fullness of truth because Jesus Christ is the fullness of truth, and you cannot enter into Heaven until you accept Him. Now, these people who are of good will, who through no fault of their own did not know the fullness of truth in this life, God will be merciful to them. He is not going to allow them to be condemned to eternal condemnation for something that was not their own fault, or because they did not know any different. But they are going to have to be in Purgatory while they wrestle within themselves with some of the issues that they did not believe when they were in this life, through no fault of their own.

The problem is that those who do not believe in Purgatory in this world certainly will in the next. But, unfortunately, none of their friends believe in Purgatory; consequently, none of their friends are praying for them because they have this "nice" belief that everybody is already in Heaven just because they believed in Jesus. And so these souls are there with no one praying for them. Something else that we can do is to offer our prayers for them.

And how many Catholics are there today that do not pray for their beloved dead? It is just a forgotten thing. I should remind you that Purgatory is an infallible teaching of the Church. It is not an optional belief. It is not something that is a "neat" idea and maybe it is there. It is an infallible teaching; so it is something that must be accepted because the reality is there.

We need to pray for these souls. They are part of what Our Lord talked about in the Gospel reading: the Father sent Him, so He would not lose anything of what the Father has given Him. These souls were faithful to Christ and He will not lose them. They will be in Heaven for eternity; it is just simply a matter of time before they get there.

And also (if we need a selfish reason for doing some of these good things), we need to remember that if we pray for these holy souls, when they get to Heaven they will be praying for us. They can already pray for us, even if they are in Purgatory, because they are part of the Communion of Saints. But know that if we help them get to Heaven, they will help us get to Heaven. We can be guaranteed of that because, out of gratitude and out of charity for us, they are not going to forget who helped them along the way. If you want them to pray for your children, tell them you will pray for them. You can ask them, "Pray for my kids." Or you can ask them to pray for yourself, or for whomever, for conversions of individuals or whatever it may be. The prayers of the poor souls in Purgatory are very powerful. We must never forget them.

It is a great thing that the Church takes this one day out of the year especially to remember them. But, for all of us, it is not one day a year; it is not an annual thing. It is something that we must remember regularly, even daily: to pray for the poor souls in Purgatory and help them so that they will, as soon as possible, enter into the fullness of life prepared for them by Our Lord.

I mentioned earlier that Purgatory is an infallible teaching of the Church, but one might question where that comes from. It is something that comes up rather frequently when we are dealing with people who are not Catholic; [they ask], "Where does it say that in the Bible?" Of course, the word itself is never used, just as the word "Trinity" is never used in the Bible but it is believed by all Christians. But the concept of it certainly does come up very clearly in several locations.

In 2 Maccabees, it is made very clear. But for those who are not Catholic, they do not believe that that is part of the Bible. It is there that we see Judas Maccabeus taking up a collection so that sacrifices could be offered for those who had died in battle. On each of the people who had died, they found an amulet, a little medal to a false god. And so they took up that collection to atone for the sins of these men so that their guilt might be washed away and they would be able to share in the resurrection of the just.

But we can find it in other places, as well. For instance, in the Gospels Jesus tells us that there are some who will be handed over to the judge; and the judge will hand them over to the jailer; and the jailer will not release them until they have paid the last penny. In other words, until their temporal punishment due to sin is completely removed, they will have to be in Purgatory. Obviously, there is no getting out of hell; so the Lord is not talking about someone who was condemned and suddenly able to get out. But rather, it is a temporary place, a place of temporal punishment. Just as if we would commit a crime there would be a temporal punishment for that crime to repay whatever it is that we had done. We do that on the natural level. The same thing happens with our sins. We need to be purified of those things. It is not so much that the Lord is trying to punish us, but when we sin we hurt ourselves. And when we hurt ourselves, that needs to be healed; it needs to be purified. That is what Purgatory does.

Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, talks about how even after this life there will be a purification "as if in fire". And so we see it there. We see it in the First Letter of Saint Peter, as well. There are a number of places in Scripture - and in the New Testament in particular - where this concept of Purgatory is made very clear. It is not something that is foreign to the Bible. It is not something that the Church made up in the Middle Ages for whatever reason people want to suggest. But rather, it is what the Lord taught. It is what the apostles taught. It is what the Church has believed from the very beginning.

Remember, for instance, Saint Monica: Right before she died she looked at her son and said, "Remember me at the altar." Why would she be remembered at the altar? I don't suppose she thought that she was going straight to Heaven immediately; so it is to pray for her. The Church said Mass in the catacombs on the tombs of the saints, and they prayed for them. They also asked for the prayers of the saints; so they believed in the fullness of the Communion of Saints right from the very beginning.

That belief continues right down to our day and it will continue, I guess, until the end of the world because at the moment the world ends, Purgatory will end. And so, until then, Purgatory is going to be there and [also] that fullness of the Communion of Saints: those in Heaven, those in Purgatory, and all those in the state of grace on earth, all united in the bonds of grace; that one family of God who all share the same life of sanctifying grace and can pray for one another and help one another to be able to get to Heaven.

 

* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.