Today we celebrate All Souls Day. On this feast (and throughout the month of November) we pray for the souls of the faithful departed. To many non-Catholic Christians, this seems extraneous. After all, if someone is in heaven, they have no need of our prayers. And if someone is in hell, then our prayers would do no good. So why do we pray for the dead? Purgatory.
Some people have the mistaken notion that Purgatory is a “second chance” for Catholics. This is a patently false notion. One cannot repent after death and somehow merit heaven with a stop in Purgatory. Remember, all souls being purified through Purgatory will eventually wind up in heaven. So what, really, is Purgatory?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1031) says this: The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (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.”
So Purgatory is not a “place” as much as it is a process. Revelation 21:27 says “nothing unclean will enter (heaven).” Purgatory is that final cleansing process that rids us of all the sinfulness that we died with. If you would like to go much deeper into this, I have a teaching on Purgatory in my Catholic Apologetics CD series.
Father, we pray the souls of all who have gone on before us. We commend them into your loving hands, and pray that they may be freed from their sins, in Jesus name. Amen.