Here we are again, Christmas is just just a few days away! For now, I won’t delve on Christmas being the most exciting time of the year, the time for merriment and gift giving but from another perspective.
One time prior to Halloween eve, my former CCD kids were surprised when I asked them to write down on a ¼ art paper the names of their loved ones who have passed away and to drop them in a tin can placed at the center of our makeshift altar. Thereafter, we formed a circle holding hands and praying together for the departed souls. I made sure that this is done before the start of the class so they can focus more on the prayer. All of them were happy about the thought that should they offer a prayer, the sins of their departed loved ones would be forgiven and that they could possibly go to Heaven to be with God where there will be eternal happiness. Believe it or not, one child even asked me if she could also include the name of her dead favorite pet dog, which I have allowed for her sake (but reminding everyone that the prayer’s meant for dead people)!
The topic which was discussed with the kids for that particularly day was about “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”, two important and solemn feasts of the Catholic Church and are traditionally observed on November 1 and 2, respectively. The kids were quite familiar about “Heaven” and “Hell” probably they have heard it from their parents, i.e., good people go to Heaven and that bad or evil people go to Hell. Briefly, I described them Heaven and Hell so general and so simple without making it hard and complicated placing emphasis on how people’s souls look and feel while in Heaven and in Hell, i.e. in Heaven, people are happy and that in Hell, people are unhappy and suffers a lot. The allegory of the long spoons made the kids better understand and appreciate more how souls look and feel when they are in Heaven and in Hell.
However, when the kids were asked about Purgatory, they simply gave me innocent blank stares. They were a bit tongue tied even the child with the most curious and inquisitive mind had to stop for a moment. I was not actually surprised if they had no prior knowledge on what Purgatory is all about, their parents would probably have not mentioned it to them or don’t know about it, at all. However, it was worth noting that the kids were excited to learn on the subject. They felt happy for their departed loved ones particularly because of the belief that their souls are given the privilege of being accelerated to heaven after being purified with the little help of prayers from people on earth.
How about us now, particularly Catholics, do we still believe in Purgatory? Do we still believe it still exists? Do we still offer prayers for the souls as often as we can? I asked these questions because I seldom hear something about this now, although in some liturgical celebrations, the living and the deceased members of the Church are remembered in the Holy Mass, but no mention of “Purgatory”.
I remember my mother (I kept mentioning her in my articles as she was truly the first one who taught/showed me about the catholic faith) would always remind us to pray for the holy souls in purgatory (she would say it in Spanish “purgatorio”) and would even enumerate and patiently recite the names of our departed relatives especially during the month of November.
My mother had a firm belief (probably based on her readings or learning from the religious in the community) which she handed down to her children, that praying for the souls in purgatory would ease the “cleansing” of their temporary pain and sufferings and eventually would help them enter Heaven someday.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1030) states:
“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”.
For some people, departed souls can either go to heaven or to hell. For us Catholics, we believe in the souls in Purgatory as one of the three compositions of the Church: the church militant (the living people on earth), the church suffering (the departed souls in purgatory) and the church triumphant (the saints, angels and those who have been raised up to heaven to be with God). In other words, we believe in Purgatory as another state of of after life where tainted souls (because of their attraction to sin) destined for heaven are being cleansed and purified. Some theologians and saints who were advocates of Purgatory (e.g. St. Nicholas of Tolentine) have stressed the importance of Purgatory in one’s soul. According to them, Purgatory is like a spiritual gift to God for everyone specifically to people who have committed grievous sins but have asked God’s forgiveness and mercy and have decided to live a good life before they die.
While there is total “darkness” in Hell, there is light in Purgatory. In Hell, there is no recourse anymore, no offered prayers would be able to save souls from eternal damnation. But for the souls in Purgatory, our prayers for them help a lot. Our prayers for souls in purgatory, coupled with our sacrifices and sufferings could shorten their time there. It has been mentioned that the souls in Purgatory are in closer union with God experiencing greater joys compared to those on earth. As such, the light in Purgatory which offer welcome relief for repentant sinners adds beauty to it. The souls in Purgatory are saints-in-waiting because they are destined to be in Heaven after the purification.
Of course, it would be more perfect and beautiful if every soul would go straight to heaven. However, the sad reality is that only those who die in “God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified” will automatically live forever with God.
The month of November and the Christmas season are known as the best times of the year to pray for the souls in Purgatory as they are perceived to be released and raised up to Heaven especially during Christmas. During Christmas night, it is believed that thousands of souls in Purgatory are raised up to Heaven. The Blessed Mother, in fact, mentioned this in one of her apparitions. St. Teresa of Avila similaly mentioned something about the relevance of Christmas to the souls in Purgatory. I would guess our departed loved ones would very much wish “Heaven” as their Christmas gifts!
Apart from prayers, there are other wonderful Christmas gifts we can offer for the souls in purgatory: a) Holy Mass; b) Recitation of the Holy Rosary; c) Corporal Works of Mercy; and d) Good little things we do towards our neighbors or to ourselves, e.g. the so-called mortification, etc.
Note that it only takes some few minutes to help our departed loved ones, and who knows the favors we give to them might be returned to us in three-folds once they become saints in Heaven!
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen
This write-up is a modified version of an article earlier written by the same author and published in a catholic magazine based in NYC.