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Brenda wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • I'm confused about the doctrine of Purgatory. Is it a place, say like Heaven or Hell?
  • Or is it a state of being?

I've read conflicting descriptions. While the Catechism describes it as purification, it doesn't say whether it is a state or a place.

  • If it's a state of being, then just exactly where are the souls of the departed?
  • How does Baptism relate to Purgatory?
  • Does God send people to Purgatory, or, is it something we bring upon ourselves?

Thanks! Sorry if these questions have been already answered. I couldn't find them in your knowledge base.

God Bless,


  { Is Purgatory a state or permanent place, like Heaven or Hell, and is it motivated by God or us? }

John replied:

Hi Brenda,

Trying to completely define a mystery of faith is not an easy task.

Dogmatically speaking, the Church holds that Purgatory exists, that the souls in Purgatory suffer as they are purified, and that the living can pray for the souls in Purgatory as they can pray for us.

That said, different models have been used to describe Purgatory along with Heaven and Hell. Now remember, human beings are limited by the three dimensional universe we perceive so we think in terms of places, and we also think in terms of time, as we know it and understand it.

But God invented both time and space. Hence, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are not limited by the same time-space continuum we experience. So we grasp to explain mysteries that are revealed. Often times, in our efforts in doing so, our explanations fall short or lead to misunderstandings.

Purgatory, Heaven and Hell, can all be both places and conditions. Time is relative because we are talking about eternity.

The best explanation I've heard, and again this falls under theological opinion and not doctrine, goes as follows:

God is love. God loves all souls. The souls, completely free of worldly attachments, are free to experience God's love in its full ecstasy. That would be Heaven.

Those who die in friendship of God, but not having achieved the selfless love God calls us to, also experience God's love. They still experience joy, but they also experience pain, because God's love is like a burning fire that burns away the last traces of selfishness. The pain is a healing pain.

Those who reject God still experience God's love, but it is a source of anguish and pain, because they've closed themselves off to God. God loves them no less than He loves those in Heaven, but the greater the sinner, the greater the love that causes them anguish.

Whether this is:

  • all one place, or
  • three places with Purgatory being limited by time

— these are all mysteries. Several great minds under the guidance of Holy Mother Church have put forth different ideas.

We do know that the need for Purgatory ends with return of the Lord, so Purgatory does have a temporal limitation in terms of its existence but whether or not the soul is there for one second or one century is conjecture. The important thing to know is that it purifies, and since it stands outside of time as we know it, our prayers assist all those in Purgatory.

John DiMascio

Mary Ann replied:

Hi Brenda,

The children's Catechism used to say Purgatory is:

"a place or state of being. . ."

Purgatory is something that happens! Because the soul is spiritual, Purgatory is an event or process that is not confined to our experience of space and time, which are properties of matter. However, since the soul is oriented to the body, there is probably some way in which the departed soul is still connected to the material world, and thus may experience some aspect of space and time. So, yes and no — as the wise old Catechism said, "a place or state of being."

Purgatory is required by God's holiness and by our imperfection so it is necessitated by our sins and faults, not something God decides to send us to, or not. Rather, it is a process that we realize we need to undergo. Purgatory is generally thought of as the anteroom of Heaven, the place where you are given your wedding garment if you don't arrive with one. It was sometimes conceived as the highest point of Hell, but if Hell is the abode of the damned, and those in Purgatory are not damned but rather are assured of salvation, then of course Purgatory belongs to Heaven.

C.S. Lewis imagined that Purgatory was the purifying effect of Paradise upon us. He conceived of Heaven as so real, so intensely beautiful and good, that it is painful to the imperfect soul, much as bright light hurts the eyes of people long in darkness. However we want to imagine it, the important thing is that love covers a multitude of sins on this earth, and it is far easier to grow in charity on this earth, than to be purified passively in Purgatory.

Purgatory is a work of God's mercy, and a cause for joy.

Hope this helps,

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Brenda —

For other readers of this posting, this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states on the issue:

III. The Final Purification, Or Purgatory

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4,39:PL 77,396; cf. Matthew 12:31.

Catholic Notes:

When talking with friends and family about Purgatory, it's important they know the basics:

  • Purgatory does exist.
  • Purgatory is not a third place along with Heaven and Hell nor is it a second chance.
  • Purgatory has nothing to do with Limbo, which was only a theological opinion and was never a doctrine of the Church.
  • Souls in Purgatory have been saved just as much as the souls in Heaven.
  • Purgatory is like the Holy Hospital of Heaven.

Purgatory refers to a temporary state of purification for those who have died in the state of grace but still need to get rid of any lingering imperfections (venial sins, earthly attachments, self-will, etc.) before entering the perfection of Heaven.

Purgatory has nothing to do with one's justification or salvation. Those in Purgatory are justified; they are saved.  Purgatory has to do with one's personal holiness and the burning away of remaining self-love.  Revelation 21:27 It's our personal holiness because each person uses their free will differently in life to make good or bad choices on our pilgrimage to our particular judgment.

The Scriptures tell us, Our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29) We believe that All Consuming Fire is Our Very Lord Jesus Himself burning away all the self-love from our souls.

This article by Emily Stimpson from Our Sunday Visitor ( September 29, 2013 will also be helpful.

If you struggle to understand the Catholic view of Purgatory, this analogy may help:

Think of sin as a self-inflicted wound in your life.

When we physically hurt ourselves, many times we have to be brought to the hospital and the doctor or nurse will put an alcoholic disinfectant in our cut or wound. It will hurt ... a lot!!! but it's a good hurt; it's a holy hurt, that is needed to make us physically better.

We also have to distinguish between less severe physical injuries where we cut ourselves and require stitches and more severe injuries, like a NASCAR racing driver who gets into a major collision and ends up with third or fourth-degree burns over 90 percent of their body. There are varying degrees of damage that we do to our bodies, not only physically, but spiritually too!

Because Revelation tells us that nothing impure can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27) and because God Himself is all Holy, we too, have to be all Holy to enter Heaven. To achieve this, any remaining self-inflicted spiritual wounds (meaning self-love) from our pilgrimage on earth has to be burned off, healed, and purified.

  • If our spiritual injuries are along the line of just needing stitches, that healing period where our self-love has to be burned off will be short;
  • but if our self-inflicted injuries are along the line of third or fourth-degree burns, the healing process will take longer.

Saints in the past have had private revelations from the souls in Purgatory. They, (the Holy Souls in Purgatory), have shared that, while the (healing|burning) fires of God's Love in Purgatory are painful (Hebrews 12:29, Exodus 3:1-6), at the same time they had an internal, burning joy because they knew they were being conformed to the image of God and their final destiny would be Total Union with Him.

Instead of the alcoholic disinfectant that the doctor gave us to heal our physical injuries so we can re-enter the Earthly world again, in Purgatory, we experience a holy, healing pain under Jesus' Care which purifies our souls and prepares us to enter Eternal Life with God who is all Holy. Our prayers and good works can also help the Holy Souls currently in Purgatory by 1.) purifying their souls and 2.) preparing them to enter Eternal Life with God, who is all Holy.

  • Interested in helping the Saved, Holy Souls in Purgatory?

Think of the number of saved Faithful Departed who have passed from this life to the next since 33 A.D.: many with major spiritual injuries. There's a lot! This is why praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory is very important — and they can't wait to be purified for Heaven! (Revelation 21:27) If there are any Catholics (who live in the United States) reading this answer, who have a strong devotion to praying for the Holy Souls, check out my other website at:

I work with another colleague, Brian Bagley on this. Together we are trying to re-kindle this devotion among the lay faithful and Catholic clergy in praying for the Holy Souls and for those interested. We will send out a FREE Purgatory Prayer Program for you to get started.


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