Purgatory is one of those Catholic doctrines that calls up storms from critics, and often confusion within Catholic ranks. It’s a logical doctrine, but it takes some thinking through to grasp fully. Our Church dedicates Monday to the Holy Spirit and the Souls in Purgatory. This article will help you understand Purgatory and help you teach this doctrine to children.
Understanding the Doctrine of Purgatory
Purgatory relates to several other teachings: Sin, Confession, Heaven and Indulgences – all aspects of Catholic living which confound protestants (and often Catholics).
By virtue of Original Sin, which Adam and Eve committed at the beginning in defying God’s law, sin entered the world. In Baptism, Original Sin is wiped away, but what remains is concupiscence: a tendency of the soul to favor lower appetites rather than higher-order goods. Those appetites can be conquered by reason and Grace, but the desire for these leave an imprint – an imperfection – in our souls. So, even if you are successful at exercising and controlling your portions, you may have within you that perpetual desire to gluttony.
Sins come in two forms: Mortal (grave sins we commit with conscious knowledge of a wrong and of the consequences for that wrong) and Venial (lesser sins that are not grave in nature). Venial sins can be wiped away by confessing them silently at Mass (“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned by my own fault….”) and by using Holy Water (“By this holy water and by Your Precious Blood, wash away all my sins, O Lord.”).
Mortal Sin requires Confession. Through his priestly office, the priest-Confessor takes on the person of Christ (persona Christi) and forgives sins. Likewise, our entire Church holds “the keys:” “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) With this, Christ empowers his disciples – and those who have received the laying of hands in Apostolic Succession – to forgive (or retain) sins.
Now, even once our mortal sins are forgiven, they can leave an imperfection in us: whether ongoing desire, or simply a scar on our soul that mars our holiness. Purgatory is where we go to work through unforgiven Venial sins and to work through the consequences of our most grievous (and forgiven) Mortal Sins. Purgatory provides purification of our souls to be made whole in holiness so we can stand before God. It is our temporal judgment before the Final Judgment, which comes at the end of time.
You may think, who in the world can go straight to Heaven without enduring Purgatory? Only God knows that, but we do know that frequent Confession, growth in conquering sin spiritually and rationally (through breaking bad and forming good habits) helps.
In addition, indulgences help. There are partial and plenary indulgences. Partial forgive some consequences for sin, and plenary forgive all the consequences of mortal sin. Going to a mission, doing nine-consecutive First Friday Devotions, etc. – there are many ways to access plenary indulgences. Mass and Confession always attend the requirements, usually within a week of the event.
What to Teach Children
Teach them that sin is real, that it makes a big difference in their life on Earth and in their path to Heaven. In our highly psychologically-sensitive age, naming sin has fallen out of fashion. You can name sin without piling up guilt and shaming. It is a fact, and it has a solution: frequent Confession. I say frequent, because we all know that an individual sin comes with a tracking device: a habit that drives us back to that same sin. We need to frequent these sacraments – and work hard to gain self-mastery – to fight the good fight. We all know this is a lifetime of work, which can spill over into the next life in Purgatory.
Teach children the virtues, with heightened attention. Encourage in them – through words and by example – to desire virtue. Work on specific virtues one week or one month at a time.
Encourage nightly Examination of Conscience – reflect on that day’s sins – and make an Act of Contrition each night at bedtime prayers: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen
CCD teachers can create little booklets with the children, for bedtime prayers, which include this process of examining failures that day, seeking God’s guidance and forgiveness, and starting the next day anew, with Grace, to strive in virtue.
Pray for the Souls in Purgatory
This prayer to St. Gertrude can help:
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
Offer Masses for those who have died. And, also, don’t wait for death to offer Masses for those whom you want to encourage in their heavenly journey.
The way those in Purgatory get to their final destination – and the Final Judgment – is through the aid of our prayers. The work of the Church Militant (here on Earth) is vital to aid the Church Expectant (in Purgatory) to aid us all in our journey to the Church Triumphant (in paradise).
Pray for the Souls in Purgatory on Mondays, as our Church guides, and each day. Work with the Graces of the Church to understand and heal your own sins. Look for opportunities for Indulgences to take this further. Strive to conquer bad and acquire good habits. It’s not easy, but it is necessary for our happiness in this life and for our wholeness for Heaven. On our own, we can’t do this. With God’s help, all things are possible. We are created for holiness. Keep it in the center of your awareness and of the children you teach too!