Last week, for the Feast of All Saints, we looked at the question “what is a saint?” Continuing this series of the study of the “Last Things,” we let’s look at the Church’s teaching on Purgatory and Hell. My intention is certainly not to frighten anyone, since Halloween is over. Yet, there are so many false notions about Purgatory and Hell, that many Catholics have a minimal understanding, or no belief at all on those subjects.
What is Hell?
“We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1033)
The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. (CCC # 1035)
God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. (CCC # 1037)
So from the Catechism we know that Hell is real, it’s true pain is the eternal separation from God and the Communion of Saints (the Church in Heaven), and that God does not predestine or want anyone in hell, but the choice in this life is ours. Remember the Lord is merciful, he is always ready to forgive when we turn to him in repentance.
What is Purgatory?
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed as- sured 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
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. CCC #1032
Those in the state of Purgatory are only going to Heaven from there. This purification is a time of final cleansing before taking one’s place at the Table of the Heavenly Banquet, just as before coming to a fine dinner one must “wash up” before coming to the table. And just like in a family, some have more washing up to do than others. But they, the souls, know that their place is ready for them.
“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. 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. ( St John Chrysostom)” [CCC # 1032]
This is why a Funeral Liturgy celebrated at Mass is so important. It is the greatest charity to offer our loved ones who have died.
I encourage you to specifically request, in writing, in a Will, a desire for a Funeral Mass. I have experienced faithful devoted Catholics who were not given a Funeral Mass because their children no longer practiced the faith and did not want one, this is sad. Even if you think you might want to keep it simple, consider this: of all the times to be simple and not attract attention, this is not that time. There are so many graces from God granted from a Funeral Mass.
May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Father Robert Letona