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On Purgatory - Part III

The Torment of the Senses in Purgatory

Dr. Remi Amelunxen
In addition to the pain of loss, which we dealt with in the last article, there is also the pain of the senses, that is, the physical pain of Purgatory. As stated, the pain of loss is deprivation of the sight of God and is a suffering that torments the soul.

The pain of the senses is similar to that which we experience in our flesh. It is the universal opinion of the Church Doctors that it consists of a special type of fire that produces in the soul a suffering similar to what we suffer in our flesh in this earth. Besides the fire, there are also other types of sufferings.

fire purgatory

The fire of Purgatory is a real fire, teach the Church Doctors

To have some idea of the intensity of the suffering, it is enough to know that the fire of Purgatory is that of Hell. “The same fire torments the damned and purifies the elect,” says Pope St. Gregory the Great. St. Robert Bellarmine instructs the same, “Almost all theologians teach that the reprobate and the souls in Purgatory suffer the action of fire.” (1)

As for the other sufferings, they are inflicted by Infinite Justice and are proportioned to the nature, gravity and number of sins committed.

Debts vary greatly in gravity and quantity. Some have been accumulated during a long lifetime of neglect, while others are a lesser number that have not been expiated on earth. What is certain, writes St. Bellarmine, is that "there is no proportion between the sufferings of this life and those of Purgatory.” (2)

St. Augustine begs Our Lord to give him sufferings in this life rather than suffer the terrible torments of Purgatory: “O Lord, chastise me not in Thy anger. Purify me rather in such manner in this life that I need not be purified by fire in the next. Yes, I fear that fire which has been enkindled for those who will be saved, it is true, but yet by fire. They will be saved, no doubt, but only after the trial of fire, but that trial will be terrible.” (3)

Thomas a Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, explains this doctrine of Purgatory by a most striking comment: “There [in Purgatory], one hour of torment will be more terrible than 100 years of rigorous penance done here.” (4)

In her Treatise on Purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa says the souls in Purgatory “endure a torment so extreme that no tongue can describe it, nor could the understanding conceive the least notion of it if God did not make it known by a particular grace. “ She continues, “No tongue can express or mind form any idea of what Purgatory is. As to the suffering it is equal to that of Hell.” (5)

Consolation amid the pain

Notwithstanding the intense physical and moral pain, in Purgatory there is still an immense consolation that souls enjoy amid their suffering. St. Francis de Sales tells us this, “We may draw from the thought of Purgatory more consolation than apprehension. The greater part of those who dread Purgatory so much think more of their own interests than of the interests of the glory of God.

proud purgatory

Dante depicts the proud carrying heavy stones as their punishment in Purgatory

“This is because they think only of the sufferings without considering the peace and happiness that are enjoyed there by the holy souls. It is true that the torments are so great that the most acute sufferings of this life bear no comparison to them. But the interior satisfaction enjoyed there is such that no prosperity nor contentment upon earth can equal it.” (6)

The Poor Souls wish to be in Purgatory because that is the desire of God. They cannot sin, experience the least impatience or commit the slightest imperfection. They love God with a perfect, pure love. They are consoled by the Blessed Mother, the Angels, the Holy Sacrifices of the Masses and suffrages of the faithful on earth.

Most of all, they are assured of eternal salvation. The bitterest anguish is soothed by a profound peace in this knowledge. Thus, while purifying the Souls in Purgatory by fire, God tempers the flames by ineffable consolation.

The duration of Purgatory

Faith does not reveal the precise duration of the pains of Purgatory. What we know is that the duration is measured by Divine Justice and that, for each individual, the pains are proportional to the number and gravity of the faults that have not been expiated.

God, however, may shorten these sufferings by augmenting their intensity. The Church Militant – those who are still living – may also obtain their remission by the Holy Sacrifices of the Mass and suffrages offered by the faithful for the departed.

Our Lady of Carmel

Our Lady offering solace to poor souls

According to the common opinion of the Church Doctors, the expiatory pains of Purgatory are of long duration. St. John Bellarmine tells us: “The pains of Purgatory are not limited to 10 or 20 years, and they last in some cases entire centuries.” Then he asks, “Shall we, then, find any difficulty in embracing labor and penance to free ourselves from the sufferings of Purgatory?” (7)

Even those who apply themselves most perfectly to the service of God commit a great number of faults daily. Going on the principle that “the just man falls seven times a day,” one can say that even those dedicated to the service of God commit a great number of faults in the infinitely pure eyes of God.

Suppose such a man committed about 10 faults a day. After one year, the sum is 3,650 faults. After 10 years, the total is 36,500 faults. Now suppose that each fault requires one hour in Purgatory. The total time in Purgatory for just these 10 years would be more than three years for this quite lenient calculation…

Let us close with the revelation of St. Lutgarda regarding the Purgatory of Pope Innocent III, who presided at the celebrated Lateran Council in 1215 but, nonetheless, had too great an attachment to his family.

Pope Innocent III died on July 16, 1216. The same day, he appeared to St. Lutgarda in her monastery at Aywieres in Brabant, today’s Belgium. He told her that he was making expiation for faults that might have caused his eternal perdition, but for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He told her that his suffering would last for centuries and asked, in the name of Mary, who obtained for him the favor of appealing to St. Lutgarda, for her assistance to mitigate his punishment. (8)

From this we can realize the seriousness of sin, the severity of Divine Justice and importance of devotion to Our Lady, who is our most powerful intercessor before God on our judgment day. We can also see the importance of correcting our faults and making expiation for our sins while we are still living, a subject that is unfortunately rarely mentioned from pulpits after Vatican Council II.

  1. In Ps. 37 and De Purgat. I.2, cap. 6, apud François Xavier Schouppe, Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints, Rockford: TAN, 2006, p. 25
  2. De Gemitu Columbae, lib. 2, cap. 9, apud ibid.
  3. Sentiments du B. Lefevre sur le Purgatoire Mois du Sacre Coeur, Nov. 1873., apud ibid., p. 25
  4. Imitation, lib. I, chap 24, apud ibid., p. 26
  5. F.X. Schouppe, Purgatory Explained, p. 28
  6. Ibid., p. 26
  7. De Gemitu, lib. Ii, c.9, apud ibid., pp. 68-69
  8. Ibid., pp. 72-73.

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Posted January 3, 2013

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