Recently I viewed an excellent film on purgatory that included a testimony from Father Doug Lorig, a priest in Arizona. For a long time praying and offering Masses for the deceased has been important to him. He had been touched in particular by a case of a seventeen-year-old boy named Tony who had in his life been involved with drugs and gangs, finally committing suicide. Father Doug prayed for him for over a year. Some time later he was at a cemetery for a funeral and heard someone call his name. “Father Doug!” But no one was there. Then the priest looked down and noticed that he was at Tony’s grave. He heard the simple words, “Father Doug! Thank you!” The priest concluded that Tony had finally gone to heaven, helped by prayers and particularly the Mass.
Purgatory is a place of mercy. The Catholic Church teaches that those who die in union with God but who still need some purification from the effects of sin are cleansed after death. They can be helped by the prayers and penances offered by those on earth.
What is purgatory like? St. Catherine of Genoa, who lived in the 14th century, wrote a small treatise on purgatory. She discusses it in a very positive way. God, who is Pure Love, heals our disordered self-love in the purgative process. This healing opens the soul ever more deeply to the love of God. Love is the basis of the entire process. God is not vindictive, seeking to punish our faults in a vengeful way. Instead, Catherine writes that our flaws are burned away in the last stage of love. Nothing imperfect can enter heaven. Just like we can’t look directly at the bright sun with our eyes, after death the eyes of our soul could not bear the presence of God unless we are cleansed of sin and all its effects.
How can we help the holy souls? Because we belong to the communion of saints, we can help them by our prayers, penances, and good works. When we unite our prayers to those of Jesus, they have a special value to atone for sin. In God’s providence, we can offer that value not only for ourselves, but also for the holy souls in purgatory. Offering the Mass is an especially powerful means to help them. While we can pray for our deceased loved ones at any time, the Church dedicates the month of November for this intention in particular. A prayer such as the following can be used:
Jesus, good Master, I plead with you on behalf of the souls toward whom I have a greater debt of gratitude, justice, charity, and family bonds: parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives and friends, especially (N.). I recommend to you those who had greater responsibilities on earth. I plead with you also for forgotten souls, and for those who were more devoted to you, the Divine Master, to Mary, Queen of the Apostles, and to St. Paul the Apostle. Lord, admit them soon into eternal happiness.
Prayer by Blessed James Alberione