WHAT IS PURGATORY?
It is a prison of fire in which nearly all [saved] souls are plunged after death and in which they suffer the intensest pain. Here is what the great Doctors of the Church tell us of Purgatory:
So grievous is their suffering that one minute in this awful fire seems like a century.
St. Thomas Aquinas, the Prince of Theologians, says that the fire of Purgatory is equal in intensity to the fire of Hell, and that the slightest contact with it is more dreadful than all the possible sufferings of this Earth!
St. Augustine, the greatest of the Holy Doctors, teaches that to be purified of their faults previous to being admitted to Heaven, souls after death are subjected to a fire more penetrating, more dreadful than anything we can see, or feel, or conceive in this life;
“Though this fire is destined to cleanse and purify the soul,” adds St. Augustine, “still it is more acute than anything we could possibly endure on Earth.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria does not hesitate to say that “it would be preferable to suffer all the possible torments of Earth until the Judgment day than to pass one day in Purgatory.”
Another great Saint says: “Our fire, in comparison with the fire of Purgatory, is as a refreshing breeze.” The other holy writers speak in identical terms of this awful fire.
HOW COMES IT THAT THE PAINS OF PURGATORY ARE SO SEVERE?
1. The fire we see on Earth was made by the goodness of God for our comfort and well-being. Still, when used as a torment, it is the most dreadful one we can imagine.
2. The fire of Purgatory, on the contrary, was made by the Justice of God to punish and purify us and is, therefore, incomparably more severe.
3. Our fire, at most, burns this gross body of ours, made of clay; whereas, the fire of Purgatory acts on the spiritual soul, which is unspeakably more sensitive to pain.
4. The more intense our fire is, the more speedily it destroys its victim, who therefore ceases to suffer; whereas, the fire of Purgatory inflicts the keenest, most violent pain, but never kills the soul nor lessens its sensibility.
5. Unsurpassingly severe as is the fire of Purgatory, the pain of loss or separation from God, which the souls also suffer in Purgatory, is far more severe. The soul separated from the body craves with all the intensity of its spiritual nature for God. It is consumed with an intense desire to fly to Him. Yet it is held back. No words can describe the anguish of this unsatisfied craving.
What madness, therefore, it is for intelligent beings to neglect taking every possible precaution to avoid such a dreadful fate.
It is puerile to say that it cannot be so, that we cannot understand it, that it is better not to think or speak of it. The fact remains always the same ? whether we believe it, or whether we do not ? that the pains of Purgatory are beyond everything we can imagine or conceive. These are the words of St. Augustine.