PURGATORY AND PRESUMPTION: Please Don’t Forget to Pray For Me!

Let’s play a game.

 Let’s imagine you’re dead.  You ate a rotten peanut, or you took a bullet for your best friend, or you stumbled onto a busy roadway on a dark and stormy night….

 It doesn’t really matter how it happened—but now here you are, spiraling and spinning toward eternity, lining up for your first meeting with…. well, you’re on your way to…. um…. uh-oh…. to God. 

 And in your deepest being, you know that from the beginning of time—since before the beginning of time, in fact—He has loved you, has yearned for you to truly love Him, too.  And you know that He has worked everything for your good, has given you one opportunity after another to recognize Him in the people around you, in the circumstances of your life. 

 But you were busy.

*     *     *     *     *

Before you get huffy:  I’m not trying to single you out here.  That’s my story, too—and the story of every human who has walked the face of the earth.  (Well, everyone, that is, except for His mother Mary, who was preserved from sin in order to be the perfect Ark of the Covenant, the spotless Theotokos.)   

So we, sinful creatures all, step out of this life into eternity—and we know, more clearly than we have never known anything, that we are not worthy to be in the presence of the Almighty God.  In life, we may have casually popped the Eucharist onto our tongue, drunk of the Precious Blood, then gone back to our pews to idly watch the others return to their seats, ogling the cute boys or checking out the fashion faux pax, hardly pausing to ponder the great impossibility, the unimaginable truth, that God has given Himself to us, in the flimsy gift wrap of bread and wine.  Wholly.  Fully. 

We have ignored Him, too, when we have not bothered to pray; when we have gossiped about our neighbors; when we have shirked our responsibilities in the workplace, when we have allowed anger to govern our relationships or our driving, when we have cheated on our diets or (yikes!) cheated on our spouses.

We are earthen vessels, all of us.  And we know instinctively that we cannot face the great and mighty God in our current condition.  True, we have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, and His sacrifice has made it possible for us to be with Him for all eternity.  First, though, we need to wash up—get ready for the party, for the great receiving line.

That’s what Purgatory is.  It’s the washroom, the hot shower, where we become like Him.  Were we to remain sniveling complainers, or bigots, or racists, or petty thieves, or just lazy bumpkins, we would be blinded by the great white light of Heaven, unable to bear being in the presence of He Who Is.  We must be transformed, so that we can be one with God and with all of His creation, there eternally praising Him and sharing in His glory.

 The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1030) says that Purgatory is “a purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  It’s a place where those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” can have their souls shined up a bit, before their personal encounter with God. 

 Purgatory is nothing like Hell—in fact, people in Purgatory experience some modicum of joy, knowing that they are en route to an eternity with Christ.  Those who are confined to Hell have no such consolation—having, in their great pride, rejected God’s grace in their lives and turned their faces away from Him for all eternity. 

 So these folks with whom I (and you) will hopefully share a spell in Purgatory are aware that Heaven is their destination.  This good news buoys them, even as they learn how to be More Like God.  The Catechism (CCC 1031) explains that

“this final purification of the elect… is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” 

 The hot shower just ain’t so bad.

 *     *     *     *     *

Where is all this going?  Well, some of you may know that my mother died recently; and over a period of days, I talked with many people—many of whom assured me that she was most certainly already in heaven.  They said it in different ways:  “She suffered her Purgatory here on earth, during her time in the nursing home.”  “She’s finally at rest.”  “God has taken her to be with Him.”  “She’s happy with your dad now, at last.” 

 To which I say (excuse my bluntness), “How the hell would you know that?” 

 The effect of Purgation, as I understand it, is that the person becomes Shiny Like God.  Only when all sin is eliminated, when the soul shines with a purity and grace unknown on this earth, will he or she be ready to enter into eternal happiness in heaven.  

 That could happen in an instant, or over a long period of time.  In our casual culture, it’s common to act as though the deceased person has already passed through any unfortunate suffering which might be imposed, and is already in the arms of the Father.  But why would we presume that?

 I remember a story from a childhood book on Our Lady of Fatima.  Mary, speaking to the three young visionaries, told them that one young woman—a girl of about 14, if I recall—“would be in Purgatory until the end of Time.”   What sort of great sins must this young girl have accumulated in her short lifetime, to warrant such a delay in welcoming her to Heaven?  (You might take a minute right now to pray for that girl—since she may, in fact, still await admission to the pearly gates….)

*     *     *     *     *

The Council of Trent, Session XXV (December 3-4, 1563), reconfirmed the long-standing teaching of the Church, “that Purgatory exists, and that the souls detained therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.” 

Please don’t let Presumption blind you to the need to pray for those who have gone before us. 

Please pray for my mother, who remained imperfect despite her confinement and who, no doubt, fell short of reflecting the full glory of God.  Of course, much can be forgiven due to her frailty; and if we, her children, cut her some slack for her obstinacy, how much more must her Heavenly Father love her and want to hold her to Himself? 

But unless you have some super-duper inside track with St. Peter at the gate, you don’t really know what’s goin’ on with Mom right now.  And if she’s waiting, in need of our prayers, and you aren’t there for her, you know how much she’d like to hit you upside of the head?  Pray for her.  Pray for her always, until the day you die, because you just don’t understand what it’s like out there in Eternity.  If she’s already in Heaven, your prayers can be reassigned to some poor bloke who needs them.  But don’t stop!

Please pray for my other relatives, too.  My father was a good and faithful man, and he died many years ago; but what do we on earth know of his experience outside of Time, and whether he is even yet with God in Heaven?  Please pray for him.

 And when I die, please pray for me.  The Lord (and my husband) know that I’m not perfect.  And no one knows just what it will take for me to reach that state of perfection where I’ll feel properly dressed to go in to the banquet. 

 I won’t be able to tell you then, so let me tell you now:  I am one heck of a piece of work, and it’s gonna take a lot to polish me up for heaven.  Your prayers, especially your offerings of Masses, are so needed, and so appreciated. 

 Pray for me, and I will pray for you.


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9 Responses to “PURGATORY AND PRESUMPTION: Please Don’t Forget to Pray For Me!”

  1. Dolorosa says:

    Sadly, many have been made to believe that if they are good, nice people they will go straight to Heaven. The truth is that very FEW go straight to Heaven. Most go to Purgatory and a great many go to Hell because little Jacinta of Fatima saw souls falling into Hell like snowflakes. Very scary! Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we made be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

  2. June Fuery says:

    Great article, Kathy,have just found you and will continue to follow you. God bless.

  3. jim says:

    kathy, JESUS promised immediate salvation to believers ! Scripture teaches
    ” justification ” is a declararative act of GOD , not a process ! JESUS said in JOHN 5:24 : ” HE who hears MY word, and believes HIM, who sent ME ,has eternal life, and does not come into judgment , but has oassed out of death to life. On the basis of faith alone , sinners pass out of death into life.
    PURGATORY is never mentioned in scripture !!
    What must we do to be saved ? > ” believe in the LORD JESUS, and you shall be saved “. ( ACTS 16 : 31 ). Works have no part in ” justification ” . The only thing that can make any sinner acceptable to GOD is the imputed merit of the LORD JESUS CHRIST .
    Warning !!!! beware of another gospel !!!
    ” Fight truth decay , read the BIBLE everyday “

  4. Kathy Schiffer says:

    Dear Jim–
    The word “Trinity” isn’t found in the Bible either; but you do believe in the Trinity, don’t you? You believe it because it’s inferred, in Jesus’ references to the Father and to the Paraclete, and in many implicit and explicit verses. So, with Purgatory.

    Catholics and Protestants can agree on two things regarding the afterlife: Souls in hell will not grow close to God, and those in heaven cannot draw any nearer to him. If purgatory does not exist, prayers for the dead are useless. But if a state of purification exists for some after death, and if prayers can help others in their process of sanctification in this life (Job 1:5; 1 Thess. 5:23), it seems reasonable that prayers would be beneficial to those who are being sanctified after this life. This narrows down the essential question: Does purgatory exist?

    If sin still clings to Christians (Heb 12:1), but there is no sin in heaven (Rev. 21:27), there must be a purification that takes place after one’s death and before one enters heaven. Even if it were “in the blink of an eye,” this final stage of sanctification must take place, so those who die in God’s favor may be cleansed if any affection for sin remains in them.

    Paul mentions this in 1 Cor. 3:13–15: “Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

    Paul’s thought calls to mind the image of God as the refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap mentioned in Malachi 3:2. The fuller’s soap was lye or alkaline salt that removed stains from clothing. A refiner’s fire was an oven of intense heat where precious metals were placed in order to purify them of their corrosion and dross. In the same way, purgatory is when a soul is immersed into the fire of God’s love and lifted out of the residue of its imperfections.

    God bless you,

  5. Kathy Schiffer says:

    Thanks for your kind words, June. Please keep me in your prayers.

  6. Nina says:

    Dear Jim,
    One of the problems here is that you think Catholic doctrine teaches that we need to perform good works on our own merit to be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    I’d be happy to talk to you about grace, faith and salvation if you are, in fact, interested in the truth.
    Let me know if you want to learn what we believe or if you have already decided that we are wrong.
    In His love,

  7. Mary says:

    Jim, nowhere in scripture does it say that we are saved by faith ALONE. As Catholics we believe that Jesus has redeemed us. We are saved by grace in faith.

    As St. Paul tells us, “we work out our salvation in fear and trembling”. Jesus also tells us that He will separate the goats from the sheep based upon their response to the needs of others and those that “fail” will not be with Him in eternity. Based upon these biblical references it does not make sense that that all we need to is believe.

    Catholics do not believe that we earn salvation. It is our free gift from God but we must respond to the invitation from God and live lives that are compatible with the Ten Commandments and the natural law. St. James says, “faith without works is dead”. The works he is referring to is conversion and “working” to build up God’s Kingdom. Our faith is interactive and not static.

  8. By the way, Kathy…love the “how the hell do you know that” line. At my first husband’s funeral — he died the day before the Challenger tragedy — folks pictured him (he was a scientist) chatting with the shuttle passengers about what went wrong. At my uncle’s death, folks had him playing checkers with long-dead relatives. @Jim: God bless you. These folks weren’t Catholic, and were truly Bible-loving, Bible-reading people. I’m not sure where in the Bible it says that the dead will automatically be transported to that big checker-playing board in the sky, you know?

  9. JIM says:

    How can you relate ” purgatory ” to Malachi 3 : 2 . i think if you looked at Rev 6 : 12-17 it talks about the great day of wrath ! the 6th seal !! purgatory ??
    the bible says it is better to be “absent ” from the body and present with the LORD.
    2 Cor. 5 ;6
    only 2 things : you are either here or with HIM. none of us is going to be a ” spiritual RIP VAN WINKLE “.
    thief on the cross ? JESUS didn’t say : verily , verily i say unto thee , if your lucky , in a few hundred years , you’ll be with me in PARADISE . NO ,jesus SAID : TODAY thou shalt be with me in PARADISE.
    Luke 16 ; 19-31 > rich man in sheol / hades / hell and the beggar carried off by angels to ABRAHAM”S bosom ( PARADISE )
    the rich man , an unbeliever , goes to the place of the unrighteous dead, but that’s not the final HELL until after the GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT !
    what happens to unbelievers ? they shall die in their sins and where i go— you can’t come. youi die in your sins and you go to a place different than where i shall be .
    John 8 : 21