HOW LONG DO SOULS REMAIN IN PURGATORY?
The length of time souls are detained in Purgatory depends on:
(a) The number of their faults;
(b) The malice and deliberation with which these have been committed;
(c) The penance done, or not done, the satisfaction made, or not made for sins during life;
(d) Much, too, depends on the suffrages offered for them after death.
What can safely be said is that the time souls spend in Purgatory is, as a rule, very much longer than people commonly imagine.
We will quote a few of the many instances which are recounted in the lives and revelations of the Saints.
St. Louis Bertrand’s father was an exemplary Christian, as we should naturally expect, being the father of so great a Saint. He had even wished to become a Carthusian monk until he learned that it was not God’s will for him.
When he died, after long years spent in the practice of every Christian virtue, his saintly son, fully aware of the rigors of God’s Justice, offered many Masses and poured forth the most fervent supplications for the soul he so dearly loved.
A vision of his father still in Purgatory forced him to intensify a hundredfold his suffrages. He added most severe penances and long fasts to his Masses and prayers. Yet eight whole years passed before he obtained the release of his father.
St. Malachy’s sister was detained in Purgatory for a very long time, despite the Masses, prayers and heroic mortifications the Saint offered for her!
It was related to a holy nun in Pampluna, who had succeeded in releasing many Carmelite nuns from Purgatory, that most of these had spent there terms of from 30 to 60 years!
Carmelite nuns in Purgatory for 40, 50 and 60 years! What will it be for those living amidst the temptations of the World and with all their hundreds of weaknesses?
St. Vincent Ferrer, after the death of his sister, prayed with incredible fervor for her soul and offered many Masses for her release. She appeared to him at length and told him that had it not been for his powerful intercession with God, she should have remained an interminable time in Purgatory.
In the Dominican Order it is the rule to pray for the Master Generals by name on their anniversaries. Many of these have been dead several hundred years! They were men especially eminent for piety and learning. This rule would not be approved by the Church were it not necessary and prudent.
We do not mean to imply that all souls are detained equally long periods in the expiatory fires. Many have committed lesser faults and have done more penance. Therefore, their punishment will be much less severe.
Still, the instances we have quoted are very much to the point, for if these souls who enjoyed the intimacy, who saw the example and who shared in the intercession of great Saints during their lives and were aided by their most efficacious suffrages after death were yet detained for such a length of time in Purgatory, what may not happen to us who enjoy none of these wonderful privileges?
WHY SUCH LENGTHY EXPIATION?
The reasons are not difficult to find:
1. The malice of sin is very great. What appear to us small faults are in reality serious offenses against the infinite goodness of God. It is enough to see how the Saints wept over their faults.
We are weak, it may be urged. That is true, but then God offers us abundant graces to strengthen our weakness, gives us light to see the gravity of our faults, and the necessary force to conquer temptation. If we are still weak, the fault is all our own. We do not use the light and strength God so generously offers us; we do not pray, we do not receive the Sacraments as we should.
2. An eminent theologian wisely remarks that if souls are condemned to Hell for all eternity because of one mortal sin, it is not to be wondered at that other souls should be detained for long years in Purgatory who have committed countless deliberate venial sins, some of which are so grave that at the time of their commission the sinner scarcely knows if they are mortal or venial. Too, they may have committed many mortal sins for which they have had little sorrow and done little or no penance. The guilt has been remitted by absolution, but the pain due to the sins will have to be paid in Purgatory.
Our Lord tells us that we shall have to render an account for each and every idle word we say and that we may not leave our prison until we shall have paid the last farthing. (Cf. Matt. 5:26.)
The Saints committed few and slight sins, and still they sorrowed much and did severe penances. We commit many and grave sins, and we sorrow little and do little or no penance.
It would be difficult to calculate the immense number of venial sins that any Catholic commits.
(a) There is an infinite number of faults of self-love, selfishness; thoughts, words and acts of sensuality, too, in a hundred forms; faults of charity in thought, word and deed; laziness, vanity, jealousy, tepidity and innumerable other faults.
(b) There are sins of omission which we pay so little heed to. We love God so little, yet He has a thousand claims on our love. We treat Him with coldness, indifference and base ingratitude.
He died for each one of us. Do we ever thank Him as we ought? He remains day and night on the Altar, waiting for our visits, anxious to help us. How seldom we go to Him! He longs to come into our hearts in Holy Communion, and we refuse Him entrance. He offers Himself up for us on the Altar every morning at Mass and gives oceans of graces to those who assist at the Great Sacrifice. Yet many are too lazy to go to this Calvary! What an abuse of grace!
(c) Our hearts are mean and hard, full of self-love. We have happy homes, splendid food, warm clothing, an abundance of all good things. Many around us live in hunger and misery, and we give them so little; whereas, we spend lavishly and needlessly on ourselves.
(d) Life is given us to serve God, to save our souls. Most Christians, however, are satisfied to give God five minutes of prayer in the morning, five minutes at night! The rest of the 24 hours is given to work, rest and pleasure. Ten minutes to God, to our immortal souls, to the great work we have to do, viz., our salvation. Twenty-three hours and 50 minutes to this transitory life! Is it fair to God?
It may be alleged that our work, our rest, our sufferings are done for God!
They should be, and then our merits would be indeed great. The truth is that many scarcely ever think of God during the day. The one engrossing object of their thoughts is self. They think and labor and rest and sleep to satisfy self. God gets a very little place in their day and in their minds. This is an outrage to His loving Heart, which is ever thinking of us.
NOW TO COME TO MORTAL SINS
Many Christians unfortunately commit mortal sins during their lives, but though they confess them, they make no due satisfaction for them, as we have already said.
The Venerable Bede appears to be of the opinion that those who pass a great part of their lives in the commission of grave sins and confess them on their deathbed may be detained in Purgatory even until the Last Day.
St. Gertrude in her revelations states that those who have committed many grave sins and have not done due penance may not share in the ordinary suffrages of the Church for a very considerable time!
All those sins, mortal and venial, are accumulating for the 20, 30, 40, 60 years of our lives. Each and every one has to be atoned for after death.
Is it, then, any wonder that souls have to remain so long in Purgatory?