Going back to my childhood years I remember accompanying my grandmother in praying the Novenas for the souls in purgatory. Our catholic belief tells us that the souls in purgatory (suffering Church) need our prayers (pilgrim Church) so that they can enter heaven (triumphant Church). Thus, sufficient prayers being offered to God for them will bring them to heaven. But how come these souls ended up in purgatory?
Our Holy Mother Church teaches us that when we die, we will be judged individually by God: either we go to hell, or purgatory, or heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.1022). Death ends our earthly life. It is one of the consequences of sin, and therefore contrary to God’s plan for us. Death is not God’s creation because He has destined us for eternal life. Since sin entered the world, death has also become an unavoidable event in our life on account of our sins. It is the last enemy to be conquered before we face God’s seat of judgment.
However, death is not all evil. Through it, we can pronounce our definitive stance whether we want to be in Christ forever or be separated from Him forever – thanks to the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. In other words, death can either lead us to hell or heaven. Our final destiny in the next life to come is not God’s decision to be made for us but ours whether we choose Him or reject Him, even if He wants us to be with Him forever.
Firstly, hell is the punishment for those who die in a state of mortal sin. It is a state of eternal separation from God. Those souls in hell cannot anymore be rescued from their state of life in so far as the Church is concerned. It is Christ himself who tells us about the existence of hell (cf. Mt. 5:22; 10:28; 13:42, 50; Mk. 9:43-48). Thus, the Church cannot but teach the existence of hell and its eternity (cf. CCC, no. 1035). Although God has destined us to be in heaven, He cannot force us to accept His plan for us. He respects our decisions even those contrary to His will.
Do we really need to pray for the souls in hell? We don’t need to pray for them. But how do we know that the souls are in hell or purgatory or heaven? We do not have any sure means to find out whether the souls are in hell or purgatory or heaven except for those proclaimed by the Church as martyrs and saints. Only God knows and to those whom He revealed. Even if we do not know the state of life of our brothers and sisters after their death, we cannot but pray for them presuming that they are in purgatory.
Secondly, heaven is being prepared by God for “those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified” (CCC, no. 1023). It is seeing God face to face, the deepest longing for each one of us. Once we die in a state of perfect purity, our Church teaches us that we will immediately enter heaven without going through a purification process in purgatory. When we are already in heaven, we become “saints” gazing on the face of God forever.
Thirdly, purgatory is not a teaching invented by the Church. A proof of this is that this practice of praying for the souls in purgatory is mentioned in the Scripture (cf. 2 Macc 12:46). The Book of Maccabees was written two centuries before Christ was born in Bethlehem. These souls in purgatory did not die in a state of mortal sins. Let us be clear that they are destined for eternal life. The reason why they are not yet in heaven is that they need to be perfectly purified. This purification process is so dependent on the prayers of the pilgrim Church and on God’s mercy.
It cannot be denied that the souls in purgatory are suffering. They are eager to see the Lord face to face. To shorten their agony, more prayers are needed in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharist. The Church also tells us that almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance will purify the souls in purgatory (cf. CCC, nos. 1030-32). Devotional practices like praying the Rosary, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, and the Novena for the Dead will bring them to the state of eternal happiness.
Therefore, our prayers for the souls in purgatory are what they need most. Let us comfort them with our prayers, almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance as our spiritual work of mercy so that heaven will be given to them by the Lord as soon as possible. Let us entrust them to the Most Merciful God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints that all of them be brought to the fullness of life in heaven.
May the souls of the faithful departed rest eternally in peace with God. Amen.
Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great for the Souls in Purgatory
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the masses said throughout the world today,
for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal church,
those in my own home and within my family.
Written by: Rev. Fr. Alemar Orit, MSP