Sunday, April 24, 2016



Photo: R. Massaro

Recently, at one of our monthly Carmelite meetings in which our small groups are discussing St. Pope John Paul II's encyclical Dives in Misericordia, our discussion veered off to the topic of purgatory.  Before this meeting, I had recently read what Catholic apologist, Jimmy Akin wrote about this subject. It is an excellent article. I would suggest that every Catholic read this teaching to get a better understanding of the Catholic doctrine on Purgatory.  

In our discussion, we talked about what St. Faustina teaches, that at the moment of death, God offers his mercy to the soul. Here is an excerpt from her diary concerning the Chaplet of Divine Mercy:

Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy. I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy. (Diary #687)

We continued our discussion about purgatory and "time" and purification and indulgences. Many Catholics are confused about the teaching concerning indulgences. In Catholic history, indulgences used to have a number of days attached to them. Catholics erroneously believed that this was the number of days that a person's time in purgatory was shortened.  Jimmy Akin explains this teaching extremely well. He tells us that the number of days was actually the time lessened for those doing public penance. For the full article, refer to the link near the end of this post. Here is an excerpt from his article, How to explain Purgatory to Protestants, concerning indulgences:

Third, Protestants are often confused by the number of "days" that used to be attached to indulgences. They have nothing to do with time in purgatory. Indulgences originally arose as a way of shortening a penitential period on earth. The number of "days" that were attached to indulgences were not understood as shortening time in purgatory, but as easing the purification after death by an amount analogous to the shortening of an earthly penitential period by the number of days indicated.

Fourth, because some people were confused by thinking purgatory was shortened by a set number of days with an indulgence, the Church abolished the "day" figures attached to indulgences specifically to eliminate this confusion.

In our small group discussion, we speculated that perhaps purification could take place in a "moment." After our meeting, I read Mr. Akin's article again. I was intrigued by his statement of the three different kinds of time according to Catholic teaching: Time, Aeviternity, Eternity. This is what he says about these three kinds of time:

Fifth, the reason that the "days" were never understood to be days of literal time off in purgatory is that the medieval theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, those living at precisely the period when the "days" were attached to indulgences, were very clear about the fact that time does not work the same way in the afterlife as it does here. In fact, they had a special term for it, and would contrast three different temporal modalities—the ordinary flow of events we experience here on earth, called "time;"; the perpetual present that God experiences, called "eternity;" and the middle, less well understood state experienced by those in the afterlife, known as "aeviternity." So the Church has never said that purgatory involves the same kind of time as we experience here on earth, or even time at all. Thus Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, no theological liberal, writes that purgatory may involve existential" rather than "temporal" duration (cf. Ratzinger's book It may be something one , but experiences in a moment, rather than something one endures over time.

This teaching of the midpoint between time and eternity (aeviternity) can cause confusion if Catholics state that purgatory is a "middle state." According to Catholic teaching, this is false. Again Mr. Akin clarifies this:

Purgatory is not a middle destiny! First, you should explain that purgatory is a middle state between heaven and hell. This encourages the Protestant to think of it as not only a distinct region of the afterlife (something the Church does not teach) but, even worse, that purgatory is a middle between heaven and hell. This it false, and you should emphasize quite strenuously to the Protestant that everyone who goes to purgatory goes to heaven. In fact, the one goes to purgatory is so that one can be fitted for life in heaven. Purgatory thus constitutes the cloakroom of heaven, the place you go to get spiffed up before being ushered into the Throne Room. For this reason, you should totally avoid any language like, "Purgatory is where you go when you aren't bad enough for hell but not good enough for heaven." This language, besides sounding legalistic, is also going to get a Protestant thinking that purgatory is some kind of middle destiny rather than a temporary phenomenon

Here is the link to Jimmy Akin's Article, How to Explain Purgatory to Protestants (Jimmy Akin is an official Catholic expert for EWTN online Questions and Answers Forum in which the public can "Ask an Expert" and get a truthful answer according to Catholic teaching)

Catholic teaching also tells us that purgatory is a place of joy for the soul. In this article by Mr. Akin, he quotes 
St. Catherine of Genoa:

In fact, the souls in purgatory have a large number of reasons for joy: (a) freedom from the committing of sin, (b) freedom from the desire to sin, (c) closer unity with God and Christ, (d) certainty of one's final salvation in a way not possible in this life, (e) a final and full appreciation of just how gracious God has been to one, (f) a final and full appreciation of just how much God loves one, (g) the at last unencumbered and pure love we will feel for God and for others, (h) partial rewards which may be given in anticipation of one's entrance into the full glory of heaven at the end of purgatory.

If you wish to read more about this subject, there is a book by former Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) 
entitled Eschatology. You can purchase it on Amazon:

St. Thomas Aquinas on Aeviternity

As secular Carmelites, let us follow the teaching and example of St. Therese, the Little Flower. She stated that one does not have to go to purgatory if they love. Let us ask God to purify us in this life, so that we may immediately see him face-to-face when this life of time is ended. May he welcome us to praise him for all eternity in heaven. And may we pray on a daily basis for all those in urgatory. May God quickly purify them and welcome them into his Kingdom.

May all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, OCDS

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