Lesson 45 – Purgatory


(Washing Our Baptismal Robes)

Peace be to you.


I wonder if you ever heard the story of a monk who did not get up for meditation every morning.  He would sleep until it was about time for him to say his mass.  The superior called him in and said, “You must get out of bed every morning at 4:30 and come down for your hour meditation before mass.”  The monk said, “I find it very hard to get up.”  The superior said to him, “Well, tomorrow morning when you wake up, you imagine you are in Purgatory and the flames of Purgatory are enveloping you and you will immediately bound out and come down for meditation.”  Well, the next morning, he was late, as usual.  The superior called him in and asked, “Did you do what I told you to do?”  “Yes,” he said, I did, but I loved Purgatory.”


Well, that is our subject.  We will see how you like it.


Once I visited a man in a hospital who had led a very miserable life through alcoholism, infidelity and other gross sins. He had made his wife very unhappy, his children ashamed of his conduct and the whole family impoverished. But on his deathbed, we reconciled him to God. And he said to me, “I will not be here much longer.  I have no doubt that God has forgiven my sins, but I am ready for that strafing which I know I shall get and deserve.”


Notice the distinction that he had made between peace and pain.

He was at peace because his sins were forgiven and yet he knew he had not fully atoned for all his of sins.

  • He distinguished between forgiveness and making up for the sins, just as the thief did on the right hand side of our Lord.
  • Our Lord assured him of paradise, and yet, he continued to suffer. And while he was hanging there, that thief said, “We suffer the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 23:41)

It is one thing to be forgiven; it is quite another thing to expiate for that sin.


Diamonds in the Raw:

If you ever visited a great diamond mine such as Kimberly and saw the diamonds there in the raw, you would be disappointed because they looked so dull and so full of flaws.  Each and every one of them would have to be cut and then polished and if the diamonds were conscious it would be rather a painful process and it would have to be done, too, by an expert.

Now Purgatory is like thatIt is a means of reaching excellence; it is a means of achieving perfection that otherwise would never be known.

It is something like a darkroom for a photographic film. The film is taken into the darkroom; it is treated with burning acids that all of the hidden color and beauty may be revealed. Purgatory is some such place as that.


  • The judgment of God is final, but still there is a merciful chance to be cleansed of the remains of sin by those who die in a state of Grace but have not yet atoned for all the punishment due to sins.

For example, we are forgiven for having stolen but yet never having returned the stolen goods. Most of us are not ready to go before the judgment seat of God.

  • Look at how many undone duties there are in our lives; loose ends; muddling through responsibilities; wrong turns retraced and then taken again lightly; opportunities missed; intentions were good and not wholly carried into act. Most of our good intentions actually were only on the thin upper surface of our soul. They did not always sink down into the very depths of our being. And God, therefore, will not sentence such souls to eternal loss and that is why there was a provision made for making up for our failings if we die in the state of Grace, after death.


Book of Maccabees : 2 Macc 12:45   

We read in the Book of Maccabees that it is a pious and holy thought to pray for the dead that they may be released from their sins.

Our Blessed Lord Himself spoke of forgiveness in the world to come. Remember the parable of the debtor’s prison from which there was no release until the debt is paid? (Matthew 18:23-35). That implied a release from debts in another life.

Furthermore, St. Paul says that man has imposed very poor materials on the foundation, which was laid by Christ, and these materials must all be tried by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13)

Now what is Purgatory?

  1. It is that place in which, the Love of God tempers the Justice of God, and
  2. Secondly, where the love of man tempers the injustice of man.

In other words, we want to show you how very reasonable it is.



I ) Purgatory: Where the Love of God is tempered by the Justice of God.

First of all, we say that Purgatory is where the Love of God tempers the justice of God. The necessity of Purgatory is grounded upon the absolute Purity of God.

In the Book of the Apocalypse, we read of the great beauty of His City, of its Pure Gold, with its Walls of Jasper and its Spotless Light, which is not of the sun or moon, but the Light of the Lamb slain as it were from the beginning of the world. We also learn of the condition of entering into the Gates of that Heavenly Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:18 ) As the Holy Book puts it, “There shall not enter into it anything defiled, or that worketh abomination, or that maketh a lie, but they that are written in the Book of  the Life of the Lamb.“  (Revelation 21:27 ) So, Justice demands, then, that nothing unclean, but only the pure of heart shall stand before the Face of the Pure God.


Now suppose there were no Purgatory. 

The Justice of God would be too terrible for words. Who of us would dare assert that, at the moment of death, we were pure enough and spotless enough to stand before the Immaculate Lamb of God?  Do you think you could you say it? I know I can not.   Oh, there are some, yes, like the martyrs who sprinkled the sand of the coliseum with their blood and testimony of their faith.  The missionaries, like Paul, who spend themselves and are spent for the spread of the gospel; cloistered saints who in the quiet calm of a voluntary Calvary become martyrs without recognition. Souls like that, yes; but these are glorious exceptions. How many millions there are who die with their souls stained with venial sin, who have known evil and by their strong resolve have drawn from it only to carry with them the weakness of their past as a leaden weight.


White Garment:

The day that we were baptized, the Church laid upon us a white garment saying, “Receive this white garment which mayest thou carry without stain before the Judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have Life Everlasting.”  Have you kept your garment unspotted and unsoiled by sin? Have any of us? And have we kept the garment so clean that we could win justice, say, we deserve to enter the white robed army of the King of Kings?  How many souls departing this life have the courage to say that they left it without any undue attachment to creatures, that they were never guilty of a wasted talent, a slight cupidity, an uncharitable deed, a neglect of holy inspiration, or even an idle word for which every one of us must render an account?


How many souls there are, gathered in at the deathbed like late season flowers that are absolved from sins but not from the debt of sins? Take any of our national heroes whose names we venerate and whose deeds we emulate.  Would any Englishman or American who knew something of the purity of God, as much as he loves and respects, for example, a Nelson or a Washington, believe that  either of them at death was free enough from slight faults to enter immediate into the presence of God? Why, the very nationalism of a Nelson and of a Washington, which made them both heroes in war, might in a way make them suspect of being unsuited after death for that true internationalism of heaven, where there is neither English nor American, Jew nor Greek, barbarian nor free, but where all are One in Christ Jesus Our Lord.


All these souls who die with some love of God possessing them are beautiful souls, but if there is no Purgatory, then because of slight imperfections, they must be rejected without pity by Divine Justice. Take away Purgatory, and God could not pardon so easily. Will an Act of Contrition at the edge of the tomb atone for 30 years of sinning?


  • Take away Purgatory and the infinite Justice of God would surely reject from Heaven those who resolve to pay their debts but have not paid even to the last farthing. That is why I say Purgatory is where the Love of God tempers the Justice of God. For there God pardons because He gives time to retouch these souls with His Cross, to re-cut them with the chisel of Purification that they might fit into the great spiritual edifice of the Heavenly Jerusalem, where He plunges them into purifying places where they might wash their stained baptismal robes to enter into the spotless purity of heaven; a place where He can resurrect them like the Phoenix of old, from the ashes of their own suffering, so that like wounded eagles healed by the magic touch of God’s cleansing flames, they might mount heavenward to the City of the Pure, where Christ is King, Mary is Queen, for regardless of how trivial the fault, God does not pardon without tears, and there are no tears in heaven.


II ) Purgatory: Where the love of man tempers the injustice of man.

Now we consider the other proposition. Purgatory is a place not only where the Love of God tempers the Justice of God, but where the love of man may temper the injustice of man. I believe that most men and women are quite unconscious of the injustice and the ingratitude and the thanklessness of their lives until they see the cold hand of death laid upon someone they love. It is then, and only then, they realize and oh, with what regret, the haunting poverty of their love.


One of the reasons why the bitterest of tears are shed over graves are because of  words left unsaid and deeds left undone. “ The child never knew how much I loved her;… he never knew how much he meant to me;… I never knew how dear he was until he was gone ”. Such words are the poison arrows which cruel death shoots at our hearts from the door of every sepulcher. Oh, then, we realize how differently we would have acted if only the departed one would come back. Tears are shed in vain before eyes which cannot see. Caresses are offered without response to arms that cannot embrace. And sighs stir not the heart whose ear is deaf. Oh, then the anguish for not offering flowers before death come, and for not sprinkling the incense while the beloved was still alive, and for not speaking kind words that now must die on the very air they cleave. Oh, the sorrow at the thought that we cannot atone for the stinted affection we gave them, for the light answers we returned to their pleading, and for the lack of reverence we showed to one who was perhaps the dearest thing that God ever gave us to know. But too late.



It does little good to water last year’s crop, to snare the bird that has flown, to gather the rose that has withered and died. Purgatory, therefore, is the place where the love of God tempers the justice of God, but also where the love of man tempers the injustice of man, for it enables hearts who are left behind to break the barriers of time and death, to convert unspoken words into prayers, unburned incense into sacrifice, unoffered flowers into alms, and undone acts of kindness into help for eternal life.

  • Take away Purgatory, and how bitter would be the grief for our unkindness and how piercing our sorrow for our forgetfulness.
  • Take away Purgatory, and how empty are our wreaths, our bowed heads, our moment of silence.


*But if there be a Purgatory, then immediately the bowed head gives way to a bent knee, the moment of silence turns to a moment of prayer, and the fading wreath to the abiding offering of sacrifice in the Mass of that great hero of heroes, which is Christ.*


**Purgatory, then enables us to atone for our ingratitude because through our prayers, mortifications and sacrifices, it makes it possible to bring joy and consolation to the ones we love.**  Love is stronger than death, and hence there should be love for those who have gone before us.



Shall death cut off gratitude?


Certainly not. The Church assures us  that not being able to give more to them in this world since they are not of it, we can still seek them out in the hands of Divine Justice and give them the assurance of our love and the purchasing price of our redemption.   Just as a man who dies in death has the malediction of his creditors following him to the grave, but he may have his good name restored and revered by the labor of his son who pays the last penny, so, too, the soul of a friend who has gone to death owing a debt of penance to God may have it remitted by us who are left behind by minting the coin of daily actions into the spiritual coin which purchases Redemption by praying for these poor souls in Purgatory.


They suffer, yes. They can no longer gain merit. They are like an automobile that has run out of gasoline, so they must passively undergo some kind of purification.


In Purgatory we love, and because we love we are happy because that suffering brings us closer to Divine Love. Now the fires of Purgatory are the fires that burn away dross, and when, therefore, a soul is completely purified, there is nothing left to be consumed. Then it just naturally, because it’s Pure, goes before the judgment, not the judgment seat but rather the Throne of God Himself. There is no sense of pain when Perfect Love is eventually reached.



What this suffering of the poor souls in purgatory is like:


Now what this suffering of the poor souls in Purgatory is like is rather difficult for us to imagine. It is kind of dual:

  • on the one hand, it is the suffering because we are separated from God; and on the other hand,


  • it is the suffering because we are so anxious to be with Him.

Perhaps no one has put this better than Cardinal Neumann. In the Dream of Gerontius, (verses 718-727) he wrote, “Learn that the flame of Everlasting Love doth burn ere it transform. When, then, if such thy lot, thou seeest thy Judge, the sight of Him will kindle in thy heart, all tender, gracious, reverential thoughts. Thou wilt be sick with love and yearn for Him, that One so sweet should ever have placed Himself at disadvantage such as to be used so vilely by a being so vile as thee, and thou wilt hate and loathe thyself. For though, now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinned as never thou didst feel and wilt desire to slink away and hide thee from His sight, and yet will have a longing, aye, to dwell within the beauty of His Countenance, and these two pains, so counter and so keen, the longing for Him when thou seeest Him not, the shame of self at thought of seeing Him, will be thy very sharpest Purgatory.”


God love you.



1. In today’s lesson on – Purgatory what stood out the most to you?



2. Why do you think Bishop Sheen gave the subtitle “Washing Our Baptismal Robes” to this lesson?



3. How would you explain to someone seeking a deeper understanding on Purgatory.



4. Now that you have learned more about – Purgatory
what changes do you think this will have in your daily life?


1030 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.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.[604] The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:[605] As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.[606]
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”[607] From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.[608] The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.[609]



1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.
What is an indulgence?
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”[81]
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”[82] Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.
The punishments of sin
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. [83]
1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”[84]
In the Communion of Saints
1474 The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God’s grace is not alone. “The life of each of God’s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person.”[85]

1475 In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.”[86] In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.

1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.”[87]

1477 “This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”[88]

Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church

1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.[89]

1479 Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.

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