Q. My parents have been dead for quite a few years. I have prayed for them daily that, if they are in purgatory, my prayers might mitigate any lesser sins they may have had on their souls at the time of their death. Can we ever know when they are released from purgatory?
A. Thank you for asking this question. Almost all Catholics think about this reality when close loved ones pass away. We want to do everything in our ability to make sure that they are with God in heaven.
As Catholics, we believe purgatory is a very scripturally-based truth and doctrine—2 Macc. 12:39-46; Habakkuk 1:13; Matthew 5:24-25; Matthew 12:32; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; Rev. 21:27—as well as the witness of early Church fathers, such as Tertullian and the Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1030.
It is an incredible act of charity to pray for the spiritual needs of that deceased person.
Purgatory is not a physical place, but rather a state of being, or condition, because it belongs to the realm of the eternal, of which there is no time or space. Time and space measure our human existence on this earth.
Because time and space are not relevant in eternity, one’s experience of or duration in purgatory may be intense and quick. Could St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15: 52-53 be referring to this when he says, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet (my emphasis in italics). For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
No one knows—except God—how long one’s experience of purgatory will be as measured by our earthly terms.
I commend you for your diligence in praying for your parents and encourage all readers to pray for those in purgatory every day.
On a side note, according to pious legend, St. Gertrude, a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived between 1256-1302, supposedly received a private revelation from the Lord including a prayer that, when prayed, would release 1,000 souls from purgatory. A private revelation is not part of Church teaching, nor can we put faith in it, but if we wish, we can have a personal opinion about it. That prayer is published below this answer. St. Gertrude’s feast day is Nov. 16.
The Prayer of St. Gertrude
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.
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.