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Masses for the Faithful Departed Spacer
Introduction Spacer
General Remarks Spacer
1st Motive: The Pains of Purgatory Spacer
2nd Motive: The Duration of ... Spacer
3rd Motive: The Condition of ... Spacer
4th Motive: The Number of Souls Spacer
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6th Motive: The Church Triumphant Spacer
7th Motive: Own Spiritual Advantage Spacer
8th Motive: Natural Affection Spacer
9th Motive: The Value of the Mass Spacer
Certain Practical Questions Spacer
The Second Motive — The Duration of the Pains of Purgatory

I say to thee, thou shalt not go out thence, until thou pays the very last mite. - Luke 12:59

The Church has made no explicit definition regarding the time during which souls are detained in Purgatory; yet she has not left us wholly to conjecture. Her ritual, the teaching of her theologians and the revelations of many of her saintly children throw no little light upon this important point, and present us with a powerful motive to stimulate our zeal and charity in behalf of these suffering prisoners of Jesus Christ. The Church is under the perpetual guidance of the Spirit of Truth, and Jesus Christ is with her to the end of time; hence not only her doctrinal definitions, but also her ritual and whatever has the seal of her approbation, carry with them a weight that should command our veneration and confidence. St. Teresa said:


"I would lay down my life for only one of the ceremonies of the Church."


Now it is well known that the Church not only encourages the celebration of anniversary Masses for the dead, but also permits the establishment of Masses for long periods of years, and in many cases she has even given her sanction to the foundation of perpetual Masses in their behalf. Such action on the part of the Church can be explained on no other hypothesis than that she favors the opinion that many souls are detained in Purgatory for a great number of years, and a few perhaps to the Day of Judgment.


The revelations of the saints and eminent servants of God, although not of faith, must yet be looked upon as carrying great weight with them, both on account of the holiness of those to whom the revelations were made, and also from the tacit approval of the Church in permitting them to be read by the faithful. It is quite common to find in these revelations mention made of souls suffering in Purgatory for forty, fifty, and even a hundred years; and some revelations speak of souls that are to be imprisoned until the Last Day. Think, Christian reader, of souls burning in a lake of fire for such periods of years. Is not this a most forcible and pathetic appeal to your charity? What heart could resist it? Side by side with this, place the second great commandment of Jesus Christ: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"; reflect, draw your conclusions, and form your resolutions.


But in order to enlighten and stimulate your zeal still more, read the following on the duration of the pains of Purgatory, from Father Faber:


"This duration may be understood in two ways: first, as of actual length of time, and secondly, as of seeming length from the excess of pain. With regard to the first, if we look into the revelations of Sister Francesca of Pampeluna, we shall find, among some hundreds of cases, that by far the greater majority suffered thirty, forty, or sixty years. Here are some of the examples : A holy Bishop, for some negligence in his high office, had been in Purgatory fifty- nine years before he appeared to the servant of God; another Bishop, so generous of his revenues that he was named the almsgiver, had been there for five years, because he had wished for the dignity; another Bishop had been there for forty; a priest for forty years because through his negligence some sick persons had died without the Sacraments; another forty-five years for inconsiderateness in his ministerial functions; a gentleman fifty-nine years for worldliness; another sixty-four for fondness for playing cards for money; another thirty-five years for worldliness. Bishops seem, upon the whole, according to her revelations, to remain longest there, and to be visited with the extreme of rigor."*


I am here reminded of a remark of the good Cure of Ars, that many souls, especially those of Bishops, priests, or other persons whom we regard as holy or as having had better opportunities than ordinary Christians, may, by a cruelly high estimate of their sanctity, be permitted to languish in Purgatory, while we extol their virtues and flatter ourselves that they are reigning with God in glory. We fancy it charitable to entertain a high opinion of the good qualities of others, and so it is; but it is always more charitable and more pleasing to God for us to pray for the dead. Whether those for whom me offer our suffrages stand in need of them or not, such prayers are never offered in vain; they always redound to the honor and glory of God; are always beneficial to ourselves; and always assist some one in Purgatory, either those for whom we pray, or, if those are lost or liberated, some others, according to the good pleasure of God. Why should the words of St. Augustine be true of us: "We praise our friends where they are not, while they are tormented where they are." This I believe to be in some measure a most subtle temptation of the devil, who succeeds, alas! too well, in assuming the garb of an angel of light and deceives us, causing us to neglect the dead under a pretext of charity. For, although the souls are certain of their eternal salvation and can no longer be tempted by the devil, yet they have been created to adore God, and as long as they are absent from Heaven God is being forever deprived of the accidental glory He would have derived from their adoration and hymns of praise. Hence the demon by managing to have them left in Purgatory, is, in a measure, able to vent his hatred both against them and against their Creator; and shall we permit ourselves to be made the instruments of his malice: and this, too, under the pretext of charity?


Upon this very important point, - one which I trust the reader will not forget, - Father Faber makes the following observations:


"We are apt to leave off [praying for the dead] too soon, imagining with a foolish and unenlightened fondness that our friends are free from Purgatory much sooner than they are. If Sister Francesca beheld the souls of many fervent Carmelites, some of whom had wrought miracles in lifetime, still in Purgatory ten, twenty, thirty, sixty years after their death, and still not near their deliverance, as many told her, what must become of us and ours?"*


Further on he gives an instance of the duration of the soul's imprisonment, from which the reader may learn an important lesson in regard to the rigor of Divine Justice, and the force of the words of Moses: "O that they would be wise and would understand, and would provide for their last end"; or those of St. Paul: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." It happened to Sister Marie Denise de Martigant of the Visitation, who was known to St. Francis de Sales, and who died at Annecy in 1653. Says Fr. Faber: "Once after Communion on the Feast of Our Lady of Angels she felt a strange interior movement as if our Lord was taking her soul out of her body and leading her to the shore of Purgatory." There He pointed out to her the soul of a powerful prince who had been killed in a duel, but to whom God had given the grace to make an act of contrition before he breathed his last; and she was ordered to pray for him especially. . . .


"Language almost fails to describe the sufferings both of mind and body Marie Denise went through for the alleviation of this soul. . . . After a long martyrdom of this kind it pleased God that she should see in a vision the suffering soul of the prince, slightly raised above the bottom of the burning abyss, and in a capacity of being delivered somewhat before the Day of Judgment, and also that an abbreviation of some few hours of his Purgatory had been granted. She begged Mother De Chatel to pray for him; and that good mother, consenting to do so, could not refrain from expressing her surprise that Marie Denise had only spoken of an abridgment of a few hours; but the Sister replied: 'Ah! my mother, it is a great thing that the divine mercy has begun to allow Itself to be influenced: time has not the same measure in the other life which it has in this; years of sadness, weariness, poverty, and severe illness in this world are not to be compared with one single hour of the sufferings of the poor souls in Purgatory.' It would take me too long to relate all the communications our Lord vouchsafed to make to her about the state of that soul. It came at last to this, that she offered her life for his simple alleviation, not deliverance; and it was accepted. Not long before her death, when the superioress was expressing herself to the effect that surely by this time the soul was free, Marie Denise said, with great warmth: 'O Mother! many years and many suffrages are needed yet': and at last she died, and yet there was no word that the prince was delivered even by that heroic sacrifice, crowning upwards of nine years of sufferings, prayers, Masses, Communions and Indulgences, not on her part only, but through her on the part of many others also. What a long commentary might be written upon all this! But hearts that love God will comment on it for themselves."*

If it be asked why souls are detained so long, the same Sister gives the four following reasons:


"First, because of the inconceivable purity which the soul must have before it can present itself before Him who is essential sanctity and purity, and who receives no one into His glorious city who is not as pure as the city itself.


Secondly, because of the innumerable multitude of venial faults which we commit in this life, and the little penance which we do for the mortal sins we have confessed.


Thirdly, because of the inability of these souls to help themselves; and


Fourthly, because of the lukewarmness and negligence of the greater part of Christians in praying and doing good works for these souls, as the dead fade from the memory of the living almost as soon as they have vanished from their eyes; while true charity will follow those it loves through the flames of Purgatory till the joys of Paradise.*


The last of these reasons especially is deserving of our serious attention. Alas! what will become of us, or who will think of us when we are burning in the fires of Purgatory, - if we are so fortunate as to reach Purgatory, - since we so soon forget those who languish there and in vain look to us for deliverance?


As regards the examples of the Saints, although numerous and weighty, as showing their belief in the great duration of Purgatory for many souls, the following, which places two illustrious Saints before us, must suffice. The reader will not fail to see how the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, rebukes the senseless custom of grand funerals, and seeks, as I do in these pages, to induce Christians to act as such and not as pagans, by directing their attention to the relief of the suffering soul. Speaking of the closing scene in the life of his mother, St. Monica, he says: "She, when the day of her dissolution was at hand, had no thought for the sumptuous covering of her body, or the embalming of it, nor had she any desire of a fine monument, nor was solicitous about her sepulchre in her own country: none of these things did she recommend to us; but only desired that we should make a remembrance of her at Thy Altar, at which she had constantly attended without one day's intermission; whence she knew was dispensed that Holy Victim by which was canceled that handwriting which was against us. . . . Let her therefore rest in peace, together with her husband, . . . whom she dutifully served, bringing forth fruit to Thee in much patience, that she might also gain him to Thee. And do Thou inspire, O Lord my God! do Thou inspire Thy servants, my brethren, Thy children, my masters, whom I serve with my voice, and my heart, and my writings, that as many as shall read this may remember at Thy Altar Thy handmaid Monica, with Patricius, formerly her husband. . . . Let them remember with a pious affection these who were my parents in this transitory life. . . . That so what my mother made her last request to me, may be more plentifully performed for her by the prayers of many, procured by these my confessions and by my prayers."* May the pious reader exercise the same charity in behalf of the soul of my mother, whose death lately took place, and whose dying request was the same as that of St. Monica!


Nor is the evidence of reason wanting in support of the opinion that many souls are detained for a very long time in Purgatory. If for "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account on the day of Judgment"; if "God will render to every man according to his works"; and if "there shall not enter into Heaven anything defiled," it necessarily follows that the time during which souls are detained in Purgatory must differ according to the degree of their indebtedness to Divine Justice. The soul that appears before God guilty of but few venial sins, or with a small portion only of temporary punishment unpaid, cannot immediately enter Heaven; yet what an immeasurable distance is there between it and the soul that has barely escaped eternal fire; that goes before God after a lukewarm life, during which, in the words of Job, it drank iniquity like water; or that has been saved at the last moment and goes into the Divine Presence, stained with perhaps innumerable venial sins, or with all, or nearly all, the temporal punishment due to mortal sins still unpaid! If the former be detained but one hour, how many years would it not require to burn the dross of sin from the latter? The one, though endeavoring to profit by all the graces it received, yet sinned at times through human frailty; the other made the commission of deliberate venial sins, the abuse of God's graces, and the neglect of penance and mortification its daily bread. Should a thousand years be thought too much to prepare it for its admission into the presence of Him before whom the Heavens are not clean? Or, take the ordinary good Christian: how many his venial sins, how cold his spirit of piety, how few and trifling his acts of mortification!


So far from thinking the punishment of Purgatory too severe, we should rather adore the infinite mercy of God if He permits the soul, after suffering even to the Day of Judgment, to enter into the enjoyment of the Beatific Vision for the endless years of eternity. The following words of Father Coleridge will be in place here:


"It may be useful to sum up very shortly the chief arguments which have been adduced by the writers who take the more severe side as to the question of the duration of the pains of Purgatory. Some of these have argued from the famous and very difficult passage in the First Epistle of St; Peter [1 Peter, 3:19], in which the Apostle speaks of Our Lord's preaching to the spirits in prison, whom they suppose to have been antediluvian, [a person who lived before the Flood] who disbelieved the warnings of Noah. These must have been for many hundreds of years in Purgatory. . . .

Another argument which has more force is that drawn from passages in ancient Liturgies, in which prayers are offered for all who died since the beginning of the world, and from the practice of the Church of allowing and encouraging the foundation of Masses for the souls of those who have been very long dead. Again, the same conclusion is drawn from the great length of the public penances inflicted in ancient times upon sinners while alive; and, again, from the very large Indulgences which have sometimes been conceded. These Indulgences, of course, correspond to so much canonical penance, and so are a fresh witness to the idea in the mind of the authorities who granted them, as to the length of penance that might be necessary for forgiven sins. The same writers argue also from the great, intrinsic enormity of a single mortal sin, which deserves eternal punishment, and they conclude from this that when its guilt is forgiven it cannot, be wonderful that its punishment in Purgatory should be very long indeed. They add that many souls may pass out of this life in a state of grace after living for a long time in a state of sin, and so with a great accumulation of mortal sins* on their souls, which may have to be expiated in Purgatory. Then, each venial sin requires some punishment, and of these there may be almost a countless multitude, making up an all but endless debt to the justice of God. . . .


"It is not likely that persons who lead careless lives, who make almost an open profession of thinking it enough to aim to keep out of mortal sin, who approach the Sacraments but seldom, and then without perfect dispositions, who ever hardly think of doing penance or making up for their sins by alms, deeds, and prayers, and acts of charity, can do much in the ordinary course of things towards paying the debt of satisfaction which will otherwise be exacted from them in Purgatory. It seems as if the souls who pass out of this world without having some debt still to pay are very few indeed, and there are a great many revelations among the lives of the Saints which seem to imply that many who are thought very perfect here, by reason of their state of life or of their devotion to good works and to the service of God, are yet found by the just Judge of all, before whom they stand, to be in need of great purification lasting for a long time. There are doubts as to the power of attrition without the Sacrament of Penance to cancel venial sin, and satisfactions do not apply to sins which have never been retracted. The ordinary manner of confession of venial sins, especially of the lighter sort, and of those which are habitual, is often very much wanting in sorrow, even in the case of persons who approach the Sacraments frequently. And there are many common defects in the use of the Sacraments, both of Penance and of Holy Communion, which prevent these fountains of remission from producing their full effect upon the soul. And the same may be said of the great treasure of Indulgences, which are also only apply to sins which have been in some way positively withdrawn and retracted. All these arguments tend to show that there may frequently be a very long Purgatory indeed awaiting persons who are not simple sinners reclaimed to God at the last moment and saved by the Sacraments of the Church, but who have spent their lives more or less in the practice of Christian virtues and the service of God. . . Let the reasons for thinking that Purgatory is often very long indeed be as powerful as they are represented to be, they are only all the more imperative calls on our charity towards those who cannot help themselves."*


As regards the second kind of duration of the pains of Purgatory we know from our limited experience that the intensity of pain often seems to add to the length of our sufferings. How long does not the silent night appear to the invalid who, wracked with pain, counts the ticking's of the clock and imagines every minute an hour, every hour an age, and thinks that day will never return. The same happens to the poor suffering souls in Purgatory, only in an intensified form, owing to the acuteness of the pains they endure and the ardor of their desire to be free and to be united to God. Of this Father Faber says:


"Then, as to seeming length from the extremity of pain, there are many instances on record in the Chronicles of the Franciscans, the life of St. Francis Jerome, and elsewhere, of souls appearing an hour or two after death, and thinking that they had been many years in Purgatory. And such may be the Purgatory of those who are caught up to meet the Lord at the Last Day!"*


In conclusion, let us bear in mind the words of St. Catharine of Genoa regarding the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory, which would appear to refer rather to the pain of loss than to that of sense, - "The pain never diminishes, although the time does."


1. All for Jesus, pp. 394-395.

2. All for Jesus, p. 395.
3. All for Jesus, pp. 417-421.

4. All for Jesus, p. 417.
5. St. Augustine's Confession, b. ix, chap 13.
6. Of temporal punishment due to mortal sins the guilt and eternal punishment of which have been forgiven.
7. The Prisoners of the King, pp 92-95.

8. All for Jesus, pp. 395.


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