Purgatory is the the final step: the purification & removal of all remaining attachment to sin that we may possess so that our love for God is spot free.
Purgatory is something we may never fully understand. What is it? I have heard Purgatory described many ways. Many people wrongly misinterpret it to be a place where God will “get us back” for what we have done wrong, thinking it is a result of His anger. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Purgatory was designed with love in mind, pure love.
When someone dies in God’s grace they are more than likely not 100% perfect in every way. Even the greatest saints to whom we look to for inspiration would have had some imperfection in their lives. Purgatory is nothing other than the final step: the purification & removal of all remaining attachment to sin that we may possess so that our love for God is spot-free. Think of it like a wedding, and you are the bride. As the bride you will spend months leading up to the ceremony preparing for it. Choosing colors, choosing a bridal party, choosing a dress… the list goes on. Even on the day of the wedding you will be swept up in the chaos that is preparing for that decisive moment when you will exchange vows with your husband. It is not until the moments before the doors open and you appear to all those seated in the church that you have a minute to reflect on it all - to prepare for it all. Purgatory is just that: the time in between the preparation and the final moment. Just as a bride will spend much time preparing for her wedding, we will do the same preparing for Heaven. In fact, our whole lives should and will be the time in which we are given to prepare for the feast that awaits us in Heaven. However, we may not just experience a moment of preparation. Ideally we would completely purify ourselves while on Earth, but if not we will die with attachment to sin and Purgatory will be the process in which we engage to enter into Heaven. Of course, we know that our God is merciful and forgiving. But while all may be forgiven, we may not be detached from it. Purgatory will be the burning out of the last of our attachments so that we may enter Heaven 100% free of anything and everything to do with sin. This can range from sarcasm to addiction, and anything in between.
How will this happen? The short answer is: we don’t know. We only know from different references in scripture that it does. For example,
“If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinithians 3:15)
“But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.” (Revelation 21:27)
And while this may scare or intimidate us, we must keep in mind that Purgatory is a result of God’s infinite love for us. Purgatory is the place where, if you cannot do so on Earth, you will finally free yourself of all the sins and demons you struggled with while alive. Will it be painful? More than likely (think of it like your own walk to Calvary). But we can assume it will be painful in the sense that letting go of any kind of attachment is painful. Breaking a bad habit does not come easily, but the resulting freedom will be worth it. At the end of Purgatory we will all be 100% in union with God. This doesn’t mean we have a free excuse to live our lives complacently here on Earth - we should be striving for Heaven, not for Purgatory. If we strive for Purgatory, we lose that net.
With all of this in mind, it is important to remember that we are called to pray for the souls in Purgatory. These souls are still in communion with God, the members of the Church on Earth, and those who live in Heaven. Our prayers for them become acts of love and instruments of purification through God’s grace: we are given an opportunity to participate in the final purification of those who go before us through our prayers and sacrifices. These prayers forge a bond of union with them - for just as much as we pray for them, they can pray for us too (whether that is during their time in Purgatory or once they have reached Heaven). How can we pray for them? There are many ways, but today I will share with you a prayer I used to recite as a child when in the car with my mom. We said this at least once a day growing up, and I encourage you now to do the same. The prayer comes from St. Gertrude, a 13th century German nun, writer & mystic who was blessed with many Heavenly visions. According to tradition, St. Gertrude was told by Our Lord that each time she piously recited this prayer it would release 1,000 souls from their suffering in purgatory. It is recounted that Jesus showed her a vast number of souls entering heaven from purgatory as a result of her faithful and frequent recitation of this prayer.
I offer You the most precious blood
Of they Divine Son, Jesus,
In union with the Masses said
Throughout the world today,
For all the Holy Souls in Purgatory,
For sinners everywhere,
For sinners in the universal Church,
For those in my own home,
And in my family, Amen.