All Souls Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the Month of the Holy Souls. There are often many misconceptions about life after death, especially the concept of purgatory. The Most Rev. Donald Hying, Bishop of Gary, Indiana, spoke to Morning Air® about purgatory, what it is and why it’s important.
“Purgatory is really an act of mercy on the part of God. I think when you look at it theologically, none of us are worthy of heaven. We like to think that most, if not all of us, are not worthy of hell. So what does God do with us at the point of death? We still need to be cleansed of the residue of our sin,” says Bishop Hying. “We think of the parable where the man is cast out of the wedding feast because he’s not dressed in the wedding garment. It would be impossible for us to go into the awesome infinite perfect complete presence of God with any residue of sin on our souls. Purgatory becomes that process where anything that is not of God is taken away from us so that we are ready to enter into the wedding feast forever.”
Often, non-Catholic Christians have a hard time accepting the concept of purgatory. Bishop Hying recommends reading the Book of Maccabees, “where it talks about the concept of praying for the dead. There’s really no point in praying for the dead if they’re already at their final destination. So the whole significance of praying for the dead implies that they’re still in process and in need of our prayers.”
Plenary indulgences are another possibly confusing topic that are associated with purgatory. “A plenary indulgence is a full remission of our sins if certain conditions are met. Usually it’s connected to a holy year or special feast or visiting all four of the major basilicas in Rome. Also with it is the reception of the Eucharist at Mass, the confession of sins, and usually prayers for the Holy Father. It’s an extension of God’s mercy mediated through the Church. They’re special moments, they’re precious opportunities for us to really start anew and allow God to really wipe the slate clean.”