Our life on earth is an opportunity to respond to God’s love. We choose our eternal destination, Heaven or Hell, by how we respond to living out our Catholic faith on a daily basis. If we choose to love God, we also desire to follow Him, His Commandments, and the Church’s teachings. It’s not always easy, but the foretaste we consume from the Eucharist encourages us to do just that–live the Catholic faith. The Eucharist is indeed an “appetizer” of what we’ll receive in Heaven.
“Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Denying oneself is an act of humility. We strip away our selfish pride, and we follow Christ to the best of our ability. Jesus also said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) We are called to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts.
God Almighty does not burden us with unnecessary requests or commands. He prepares us for what heaven will be like. In heaven we will worship God unceasingly (Revelation 4:8). We are invited to the heavenly banquet–the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9) Preparations indeed are in order.
“People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” –Revelation 21:26-27
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 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.” (CCC 1030)
Nothing unclean may enter Heaven. People who have died in the state of grace, meaning all mortal sins have been forgiven before the time of death, will one day bask in Heavenly Glory. There may be the remains of particular venial sins or even temporal punishment due to the sins already forgiven that require purification before crossing into the threshold of Heaven and experiencing the Beatific Vision.
“We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven.” –Saint John Vianney
Purgatory is a purification process where the removal of all venial sins, vices, and inclinations to sin that are not considered grave matter (i.e. mortal sins). This purification allows us to enter into heaven, as clean Souls ready to encounter Christ face to face.
Fire is often the vision we incur when we think about Purgatory. Paul writes, “If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15) The penalty, or loss, is not referring to the fire of Hell, because the person is saved. No one can be saved in Hell. The purification process may feel like fire, and it may hurt, because we’re being stripped of our desire to sin. For some people humility can be a painful process, but a necessary one. We yearn for Heaven as we are being purified.
“This mountain’s of such sort that climbing it is hardest at the start; but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind. Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle that climbing farther up will be as restful as traveling downstream by boat, you will be where this pathway ends, and there you can expect to put your weariness to rest.” – Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio
Praying for one another isn’t limited to our earthly life. No. We can ask the Saints in Heaven to pray for us. We can and, rightly so, should pray for the Souls in Purgatory. The Church has taught for many centuries that we should pray for the Souls in Purgatory. We do not pray for the Souls only on All Souls’ Day. The month of November is dedicated to the Souls in Purgatory, and even beyond that to praying for them daily. In recent decades praying for the Souls in Purgatory has been deemphasized. Requiem Masses and black vestments have been replaced with feast-like Masses with white vestments on All Souls’ Day and funerals. Our mortal minds cannot comprehend the importance of praying for the Souls in Purgatory.
Prayer is powerful and we should not limit our prayers only to the living. One of the great joys we’ll receive in Heaven is to see how our prayers had on the Souls in Purgatory. Once the Souls enter Heaven they too will be praying for us. Praying for the Living and the Dead is a wonderful Spiritual Work of Mercy and the effects of this pious act cannot be downplayed by the implications it can have on others lives.
We join with the Communion of Saints in praying for all Souls, including those in Purgatory. That is a powerful expression of how much we love God and want to feast together at the Banquet in Heaven. We get a foretaste of that at every Mass in the Eucharist. Let us together offer up prayers to the the Souls in Purgatory. They too will pray for us.
by John Connor