This day, All Souls Day, is set aside for us to pray for the Poor Souls. Jesus once told us this if we did not settle our debts while we are still on the way we would be handed over to a jail from which we would not be freed before we had paid the last cent.
We have always taken that to mean that if we have not made up for our sins before our deaths, we would not be freed to face God before we have atoned for them. Purgatory is the name we give to that place or that period for cleansing our souls.
On weekdays during my time at St. Paul’s I taught the daily Religion classes for the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Graders. Even the non-Catholic kids had to attend those classes, and sometimes they were restive during those fifty minutes.
One day the granddaughter of an Episcopalian bishop blurted out, “I don’t believe there is any place called Purgatory.” I said, “I don’t either. Without bodies we won’t need a place to put them, but Jesus said some kind of cleansing must take place.”
A basic tenant of our Creed has us believing in the Communion of Saints. That means that souls in Purgatory and Heaven can ask God to help us, and we can both send on word to loved ones in heaven, and we can ask God to help along the souls in Purgatory.
Most people have heard of Dante’s Inferno, but not many have read through the second part of that trilogy, Dante’s Purgatorio.
Dante, a truly great man, knew as well as we do that what happens after death is a mystery. As St. John put it, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, the things God has prepare for those who love him.” Still, Dante, wisely using all the hints Scripture gives us, was able to build a beautiful imaginary picture of Purgatory.
As was the case with his Inferno, Dante was led through Purgatory by the Roman poet Virgil. There are many choice passages in the work. I particularly like the time when all Purgatory took to shaking, and when Dante inquired about it, he learned that is was the joy everywhere over the release of a soul to go out to meet God.