Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
This month we are celebrating one of the most fundamental and most consoling truths of Catholicism, the Communion of Saints. Yesterday was All Saints, the Church Triumphant, today is All Souls, the Church Suffering, and tomorrow should be All of Us, the Church Militant. That would complete the Communion of Saints. Today is All Souls the day we pray for the Church Suffering. When you say the Church Suffering you are talking about Purgatory.
Is there a purgatory? Protestants deny that there is a purgatory. But they pray for the dead which means that there is a Purgatory. They believe only in heaven and hell. But the hell many believe in is only temporary and that is just what Purgatory is. Therefore they believe in heaven and purgatory, not hell.
Reason says that there SHOULD be. We know that we are not perfect enough for heaven and not wicked enough for hell. So there must be a middle state of purification. According to the New Catholic Catechism: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship but 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.”
Tradition testifies that from the beginning Christians have prayed for the dead. (Catacombs, Monica) If you pray for the dead it is presumed that there is a purgatory because souls in heaven need no prayers and the souls in hell cannot be helped by prayer.
Scripture has no explicit mention of purgatory, but it is implicitly contained in the Second Book of Macabees, chapter 12. Jews use this in their celebration of Hanukah. But the Protestants do not have this book in their Bible. Mormons use First Corinthians, chapter 15, as the basis for being baptized for the dead.
What is purgatory like? It is a place of great joy. They realize that they have won the victory and they are being prepared for heaven. This is where they want to be. They want to be purified before they see God. It is also a place of great suffering. They cannot help themselves because the time for merit ended with death. It is the pain of a lover separated from the beloved. “Fire” is a metaphor, the fire of love which purifies. St. Thomas calls it “impatience.” St. Augustine calls it “restless.”
How many go to purgatory? And how long do they stay? Only God knows. I think fewer go to Purgatory than is generally thought. Most have a first class, non-stop flight. Long before the priest at the funeral says, “May the angels lead you to paradise…” they are already there. Life itself is a process of daily purification, the unbloody martyrdom of the daily, monotonous grind. The crosses, illnesses accepted willingly especially in the process of dying. As we feel all of those things we held so dearly slowly receding from us, we realized, perhaps for the first time that they are not God.
Every member of the Communion of Saints is remembered and prayed for in every Mass. What a consolation for us to know that long after we are dead and forgotten the Church will be praying for us in every Mass. And because of the 24 different time zones in the world several Masses are being offered every minute of the day somewhere in the world.
When we realize all
of this we see what a wonderful gift it is to be a Catholic and to be
a member of the Communion of Saints.
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