What is Purgatory?

Most people know about Heaven and Hell, but what the heck is purgatory? 

Catholics believe that when people die, they are judged for their life, faith, and their acceptance or rejection of the grace of God.  We receive either the promise of Heaven or are condemned to Hell.  Though we instantly receive this judgment upon our deaths, those worthy of Heaven but still burdened by sin must undergo a purification before being granted their eternal reward.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, purgatory is where this purification occurs.  Souls in purgatory undergo suffering “so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).  Purgatory is where souls are fully sanctified.  Not all people go to purgatory before entering Heaven, but those souls unprepared to look upon God in his fullness must undergo this cleansing process before passing through the pearly gates. 

In light of the celebration of All Souls’ Day this past week, Catholics were called to reflect on the souls of their lost loved ones and all the faithful departed.  Though we are no longer with them physically, it is comforting to know that we can pray for all souls and actually aid them in their path to Heaven.  On the flip side, as their souls are sanctified, they grow closer and closer to sainthood, and they can better intercede for us as well.  The Catechism states, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (CCC 958). 

St. Josemaria Escriva referred to the souls in purgatory as his “good friends.” As we strive for holiness here on Earth, it is so important that we remember those struggling to sanctify themselves in purgatory and pray for them as we would a dear friend. 

For a deeper understanding of purgatory, check out Visions of Purgatory.