About Purgatory



Dear Family of God,

The month of November is dedicated by the Church to pray for the dead. It is the time to remember our beloved ones and help them pass from the sufferings in Purgatory to the joys of eternal happiness in Heaven. To help us carry out this noble work of mercy I would like, though briefly, to answer some of the frequently asked questions about Purgatory:

  1. What is Purgatory?
  2. Who go to purgatory and why?
  3. How long do people stay in purgatory?
  4. How can people get out of purgatory?
  5. Why are we told to pray and offer Mass Intention for the dead? And more others.

My aim in answering these questions is to help the readers understand our faith, increase our desire to help the dead and therefore, order our life so that after this life we too may be welcomed into the Heavenly joys.

What is Purgatory?

Purgatory is a transitory state of suffering into which a soul of the deceased person enters if after death it does not go directly to heaven or directly to hell. It is transitory in the sense that a soul is in purgatory for a period of time before it joins its creator in Heaven.


Which suffering is experienced in purgatory?

What makes the dead suffer in purgatory is their inability to see the face of God. It is a desire of every human being and the goal of life to see the face of God. Therefore, if after this life one fails to see the goal of his life; this is the source of great sufferings.

  • John tells usBeloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he really is”(1Jn.3:2).


  • The Psalmist puts it this wayOne thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord… My heart says to you ‘Your face O Lord do I seek’” (Ps.27:4-8).



  •  The Psalmist continuesAs a deer that yearns for streams of water, so does my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when can I enter and see the face of God “ (Ps.42:1-2).


  •  The poet has it this wayIt were my soul’s desire, to see the face of God; This still is my soul’s desire, whatever life afford, to gain my soul’s desire and see you face, O Lord.” (Breviary – Morning prayer, Saturday third week in ordinary time).

All these show that the end of human life is happiness which consists in seeing God. This is the goal of our life. So, whatever you do ask yourself ‘is it helping me to gain my soul’s desire – to see the face of God?’ In purgatory the dead cannot see the face of God which causes them much suffering.


We also do not see God. How are we different from those in purgatory?


Although we the living do not see God face to face, we are better off because we have the symbols of the presence of God in our life. We see God by faith. We have the Eucharist and the Sacraments which are the symbols of the presence of Christ who is the Sacrament of God. We can meet God in the Church and in the leaders of the Church. We can experience Him in various moments of our life- in sorrow and in joy. In purgatory, on the other hand there is no Mass, no Eucharist, no Sacrament of reconciliation; they have no symbols to see God. This is how we differ from those in purgatory.

 How does Purgatory differ from Hell?

Those in purgatory and those in hell all suffer because they cannot see the face of God. However, those in purgatory are different from those in hell because those in purgatory have hope of one day they will leave behind the sufferings in purgatory and see the face of God. Those in hell have already made an irrevocable denial of God and can never again see the face of God. This makes the sufferings in hell unspeakable. What a loss!

Why do people have to go into purgatory?

The reasons that make people go to purgatory are the following:

  1. If one dies with venial sins before confessing them.
  2. If one dies without fulfilling the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has been remitted by the Sacrament of reconciliation (CCC1471). Every sin breaches the love of God and neighbor.  The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entails the remission of the eternal punishment of sin but the temporal punishment of sin remains (cfr CCC1473) for the difference).  After celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation we are required to redress the harmony we have breached in the society because of our sings. If we do not do this here on earth we shall be required to do it in purgatory, to be purified before we can join the saints in heaven.


In order to understand the differences between eternal and temporal punishments and what we are to do even after confession consider this example. Suppose someone gives false witness in court about the ownership of a piece of land and the actual owner loses the land, is evicted and all the family members become IDPs (internally displaced persons).


Suppose also that the person who gave false witness confesses his sins and obtains absolution from the priest. This absolution restores his relationship with God and removes eternal punishment which would send him to hell; but there is still something more to be done. His actions have breached order and relationship in the human family by causing grave pain and suffering to the family. The family is now restless and in abject poverty. God is merciful but he is also just. Something must be done. Besides his confession he needs to redress this relationship. That is why we are to do penance after confession. This penance aims at correcting the wrong we have done and helping us to practice virtue. That is why we are told to return stolen items or to withdraw the false witnesses we have made.

Other ways redressing the destroyed order after confession include following:

  1. Fulfilling the penances given to the penitent by the confessor during confession.
  2. Works of mercy.
  3. Alms giving.
  4. Burying the dead.Visiting the sick.
  5. Consoling the bereaved
  6. Helping the church
  7. Pilgrimages
  8. Indulgences.
  9. Prayers.


If we do not do all these after confession we might be required to pass through purgatory for purification.

For how long does one have to be in purgatory?

The time to be in purgatory is not known. It depends on the mercy of God. It should be remembered also, that God is not bound by time. For Him one day is like a thousand days and a thousand days is like one day. The concept of time is for us human beings.

Why should we help the dead?

We are invited to help the dead to come out of purgatory because they cannot do anything for themselves. After death one’s struggles for heaven come to an end. One faces individual judgment either to heaven, hell or to purgatory. To come out from purgatory depends on God’s mercy. It is through our help and the help of those saints in heaven that we invoke God’s mercy on the dead. They cannot pray for themselves. Through our prayers we commend them to God that He admits them into the joys of heaven so that they may find their soul’s desire to see the Face of God. We do all this because of our faith in heaven and in the resurrection.

How can we help the Dead in Purgatory?

  1. Prayers. We are called to help the dead through prayers especially by offering the sacrifice of Mass for them.


Why should we offer Mass intentions for the dead?

The sacrifice of Mass and the sacrifice of the Cross is one sacrifice. On the Cross, Christ died so that we may be saved and see the face of God. Therefore, this prayer is most fitting for the dead that they may see the face of God. As we celebrate Mass we plead to God to remember the death of His Son on the Cross and therefore, welcome the dead into His family that they may enjoy the benefits of the Cross.


Why should we make offerings or Mass stipend for the Mass?

  • It is a symbol of participating in the sacrifice of the Mass for the dead. By offering money we unite ourselves and our toils in obtaining this money with the offering of Christ on the altar for the dead.
  • It is also a contribution to the church so that she continues to exist and offer the sacrifice of the Mass for the dead and later for us when we die.

Other ways of helping the dead in purgatory include:

2. Works of Mercy.

3. Almsgiving

4. Burying the dead.

5. Visiting and helping the sick

6. Consoling the bereaved.

7. Helping the Church

8. Pilgrimages.


9.    Indulgence. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 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 …Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead (CCC1471).


By granting indulgences to a faithful Christian dead or living, the Church applies to them the merits of the good acts of Jesus Christ and of the Virgin Mary and other Saints for the remission of the temporal punishment of the faithful. Jesus, Mary and the saints have done many good works whose merits have been left in the treasury of the Church which she applies for the benefit of her children. In other words, the Church prays so that God considers the good deeds of Jesus, Mary and other saints and shows mercy and compassion to the faithful Christian living or dead in purgatory.



How can one be granted Indulgences?

  • Praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.
  • Works of Mercy to which are attached indulgences.
  • Having celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation with seven days
  • Pilgrimages.

You can acquire these indulgences for yourself or for your loved ones who have died: father, mother, relative, son, daughter, wife, husband or friend. This means that we ask and pray with the Church to invoke God’s attention on the merits of the good deeds of Jesus Mary and other saints and have mercy upon our loved ones.

When we make use of indulgences, let us also remember to do good works so that we contribute something into the treasury of the Church as the saints did which will help others when we have departed.



In short this is purgatory; this is how people get there and this is how we can avoid it and help those who are already there. Let this Month of November be special to you after having known this truth. Do something for the dead. As we help many to get to heaven we create for ourselves friends who will remember us when it is our turn.

May perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen

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One Response to “About Purgatory”

  • Mildred Shivachi:

    Thank you Fr.Achilles. This information is very effective. Thank you for making it easy to understand. May you have an outstanding and blessed weekend .

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