Purgatory: The Dogma of God’s Mercy and Justice
For the sake of souls living in an age permeated by the modernist heresy, it is not by chance that, at Fatima, Heaven highlighted the Church’s doctrines and dogmas so frequently undermined. Perhaps foremost among these ignored truths is Purgatory, a dogma pertaining to the interior life of the soul and the mercy and the justice of God.
The word purgatory comes from the Latin purgare, which means “to purify” or “to cleanse.” “The word Purgatory is sometimes taken to mean a place, sometimes as an intermediate state between Hell and Heaven,” explains Fr. Schouppe, S.J., author of Purgatory – Explained by the Lives and the Legends of the Saints.
“It is, properly speaking, the condition of souls which, at the moment of death, are in the state of grace, but which have not completely expiated their faults, nor attained the degree of purity necessary to enjoy the Vision of God.” Fr. Schouppe continues, “Purgatory is a transitory state which terminates in a life of everlasting happiness. It is not a trial by which merit may be gained or lost, but a state of atonement and expiation.”
The dogma of Purgatory reinforces the necessity of the three conversions of the interior life, for “it forms one of the principal parts of the work of Jesus Christ, and plays an essential role in the economy of the salvation of man.”
We may think otherwise, but sanctity is not impossible, for Jesus Himself encourages and instructs us, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Neither can we reach spiritual perfection by our own efforts, but “with God, all things are possible.” [Matt 19: 26] For the living, each day of earthly life is “a time of trial, a time of merit for the soul” and at the very moment life ends, the immortal soul remains in the state in which death claimed it.
While we hope that our merits will gain us heaven, we must also remember that what we deem as only trivial faults are not small in God’s eyes. In considering Purgatory, our frail human nature frequently tends to think only of God’s mercy, simultaneously preferring to forget His Justice. Regardless of our personal opinions, God has revealed that His two attributes of Mercy and Justice are never separated.
Like the slightest shadow which must disappear before the sun’s bright light, “no shadow of sin can endure before His Face.” Souls who depart this life in a state of sanctifying grace are saved and will attain Heaven, but if there is any debt still remaining for absolved sins – any slight lack of perfect charity in love for God or neighbor – then God’s Mercy and Justice allows the saved soul to expiate its sins in Purgatory.
Because the doctrine of Purgatory has been held throughout the ages, the Council of Trent declared: “Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost has, following the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council, that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the Acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar, the Holy Council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of Purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and the sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached.”
Maria das Nevas and Amelia
In recent times, Our Lady Herself referred to Purgatory when, at the first Fatima apparition in May 1917, She was asked by the child Lucia about the souls of two young village ladies who had recently died.
The Virgin answered that the first girl, Maria das Nevas, who died when about 16 years of age, was in Heaven. But of Amelia, a young woman of 18 years at her death, Our Lady said, “She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.”
The Fate of Two Souls Revealed
The latter disclosure about Amelia’s prolonged period of expiation never fails to shock and trouble those who first hear of it. While mere curiosity should not instigate the inquiry, it appears there is one immediate and common question about this revelation:
What did Amelia do? That is, what forgiven sin(s) committed by a young person (a “teenager” by today’s standards), who lived in a remote village without any modern conveniences or amusements, could lead to a Purgatory of such time and duration?
The only answer upon which we can assuredly rely comes from Sr. Lucia when, years later, she was asked by Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P, about certain details regarding Amelia. Sr. Lucia’s charitable, prudent, and brief response was befitting of a Servant of God: “Amelia was eighteen years old, Father, and, after all, for one mortal sin a soul may be in Hell forever.”
“Just” one mortal sin! Was Lucia’s response a delicate hint that it was one mortal sin, obviously repented, for which Amelia would endure a Purgatory incomprehensible to our minds? Did Our Lady make this known to Lucia? If such is the case, it still remains that we do not know the details of Amelia’s solitary mortal sin – but neither do we need to know.
Instead, we should consider the reasons why Our Lady allowed to be made public the state of two souls, one who was already in Heaven (a revelation which many overlook) and one who would be in Purgatory until the end of time.
“What is certain is that Our Lady wanted us to know this for our instruction, and it would be foolish presumption to pretend to dispute the judgments of God,” observes Fatima historian, Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité. “He alone, Who intimately knows each soul, the abundance of graces He has given to it, the degree of knowledge it had of its fault and the quality of its repentance, is the judge of the gravity of sin.”
Frère Michel also wisely notes that we may rarely think about Maria das Nevas, the young soul of whom Our Lady said so simply, “She is in heaven.” No, we are not inclined to ponder much about Maria, for today we are misled to believe that Heaven is our natural “right.” Perhaps, too, we make light-hearted jokes like, “Well, at least in Purgatory, I’ll be with friends.” Yet the sufferings of Purgatory are not objects of jest, especially because the straight and sure path to Heaven is made known to us: Pick up your cross daily and follow Me.
Should we not first contemplate the teenaged Maria, if only for a few moments, and wonder: How did she fulfill God’s Commandments? What heroic virtues did she practice? Did she endure Purgatory at all – or was her soul taken straight to Heaven? Were inquiries ever made about the details of her life or death? Is there anything really known about this young lady, other than her name and age? Or was her hidden and humble interior life – in which (as it seems) no one showed interest, even when her glorious state in Heaven became known – meant as a lesson in itself?
Since it appears no questions about Maria were ever asked, we have no details. What we do have, however, is Our Lady’s word that Maria is in Heaven, and that is enough to tell us two simple and beautiful things about Maria – “she was a good girl and a good Christian.”
Out of the Depths I Have Cried to Thee, O Lord…
But we do not forget Amelia, who died in the state of grace and is saved, nor should we forget her. It is, after all, our “sacred duty to pray for and make sacrifices on behalf of the Poor Souls in Purgatory.”
We call these souls “poor” because they can do nothing for themselves, relying always on our charity offered on their behalf; we call them “holy” because there is no question that they are among the saved. Cherished by God and assured of their salvation, they can and do intercede for us with their prayers.
However, while the poor souls can pray for us but no longer gain merit for themselves, and since the saints in Heaven pray for them but cannot acquire any indulgences for them, those who languish in Purgatory rely on the charity of the living.
This is the beautiful “secret” regarding Purgatory, as St. John Chrysostom reminds us, “Not by weeping, but by prayer and almsgiving are the dead relieved.”  It is only we, the Church Militant, who can obtain many indulgences (plenary and partial) for the faithful departed.
We have three central means at our disposal to offer them relief and deliverance: The Holy Mass, the Holy Rosary, and almsgiving (fasts, penances, and sacrifices). For the benefit of our own souls and those in Purgatory, there exist many other highly indulgenced prayers and practices, including but not limited to:
The Brown Scapular of Mt. Carmel: To those who wear this Scapular with devotion, Our Lady promises, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” Too, a pious kiss given to the Brown Scapular offers 500 days’ indulgence, which we can offer for the Poor Souls.
The Sabbatine (Saturday) Privilege, also granted to those who wear the Brown Scapular: “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whosoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them unto the holy mountain of life everlasting.”
A Thousand Souls (the Prayer of St. Gertrude), by which Christ revealed He would release 1,000 souls from Purgatory, each time the prayer is offered: “Eternal Father, I offer thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with all of the Masses said throughout the world today – for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, for those within my own home and within my own family. Amen.”
Since God’s generosity can never be out-done, He not only allows all of our offerings to help the souls in Purgatory, but He also grants that these same actions “gain us merit, an increase in sanctifying grace, a higher degree of charity, closer union with God, and thus a higher degree of glory in Heaven for all eternity.”
There is much more that Our God has revealed about Purgatory, but what is most important is to follow the charitable advice of the eternal Church, and which is so beautifully summarized by St. Augustine: “Forget not the dead and hasten to pray for them!”
[Source: Written by Marianna Bartold and first published in Catholic Family News (CFN). This (slightly shortened) article is taken from “Purgatory: The Dogma of God’s Mercy and Justice”, published in CFN’s November 2009 issue.]