§ 14. The Duration of Purgatory.
53. At the Last Judgment the condition of purification comes to an end for all souls in Purgatory. This is the belief of the Church, founded on the doctrine of that final event. "And these" (the wicked) "shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting." (Matth. xxv. 46.) Hence St. Augustine remarks: " The Christian is therefore to hold that there is no Purgatory, except before the last and tremendous judgment." Those that die shortly before the Last Judgment will have to suffer greatly by the occurrences preceding it, which God will perhaps reckon for their punishment. Moreover the holy Fathers declare that God may so increase the intensity of their punishment that they atone for their faults in a short time. It is certain, then, that the punishment of Purgatory is not everlasting, for in this case there would be no difference between it and hell. It is certain also that the duration of Purgatory will not last beyond the final judgment, for after it there will be only heaven and hell. Finally, it is beyond doubt that the torments of Purgatory will not be of the same duration, nor of the same intensity for all souls; for justice admits not of equality of punishment where there is no equality of guilt.
54. It is difficult, or rather impossible, to demonstrate how long the' punishment of particular souls will last. St. Augustine teaches that the duration of punishment in Purgatory for a soul is fixed according to the measure of sin and penance of each individual. The duration may be measured by days, and yet, on account of the intensity of pain, it may seem much longer.
Brother Constantine of the Redeemer appeared after his death and said, "I suffered three days, and they seemed to me to have been three thousand years.' 9 For certain souls Purgatory, not abbreviated through the intercession of the faithful, may last until the end of time; for our Judge is just, and "it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebr. x. 31.) It is only by the special favor of the goodness and mercy of God that we are permitted to shorten the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory. When, therefore, souls suffer a long time in it, it is in great part the fault of surviving Christians, who are either careless and lukewarm in their prayers for them, or have too high an opinion of their virtues. Another reason for the long duration of the suffering of some souls is their inability to do anything for themselves, the great number of faults and negligences of which they have been guilty, and particularly their neglect and want of charity during life for the sou s of the faithful departed; finally, the immaculate purity required of those that enter heaven. We append a few examples of long suffering in Purgatory, taken from the revelations of saintly persons.
According to Venerable Marina of Escobar some souls are sentenced to a punishment of twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years and more. One soul told her that it had been sentenced for a period of almost inconceivable duration, but by the aid of suffrages the time had been shortened. The Venerable Sister Frances of the Blessed Sacrament relates: Some pious Carmelite Sisters had to suffer for twenty, forty and fifty years, and still their deliverance was delayed. A pious bishop was in Purgatory ninety-five years for some negligences; a priest forty years for similar reasons ; a nobleman sixty-five years on account of his fondness for gambling; another soul had suffered for eight years when it appeared to Frances. The Venerable Catherine Emmerich, a great friend of the Suffering Souls, mentions souls that were in Purgatory for centuries. She relates: "I was led to the various abodes of the souls, and remember being transported to a mountain whence a soul advanced towards me, wearing a chain and surrounded by a red blaze. It had been there for a long time, abandoned by everybody, remembered by and prayed for by no one. It was the soul of a man whose education had been neglected, and it seemed to me, by the fault of his mother. He had retained a kind of dread and respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Once, when passing an image of the Blessed Mother, he was tempted to destroy it, but refrained from doing so by some emotional impulse. After this he was attacked by a malignant fever, and desired to make his confession, but became unconscious before he could do so. Yet, he had the grace to make an act of perfect contrition before his death, and thereby was saved. He said that Holy Masses would be of particular assistance to him, and that his term of punishment would be shortened greatly by suffrages of every kind." (Schmoeger, Revelations of Catherine Emmerich.)
Faber, speaking of the duration of the punishment in Purgatory, says: "If Sister Frances beheld the souls of many pious Carmelite Sisters, some of whom had been favored with the gift of miracles during life, still suffering in Purgatory ten, twenty, thirty and sixty years after their death, and even then not near their deliverance, what must become of us and ours?"
55. Many Holy Souls not found sufficiently pure to enter heaven at their death, suffer long in Purgatory because we deny them the aid of our suffrages in the belief that they are high in the glory of heaven, whilst they are helpless in the torments of the middle state. We deem it an act of Christian charity to regard our deceased beloved ones as beyond the need of purification; hence the misplaced phrase, "The dead are at rest; they are better off than we," etc. This is a delusion, by which satan but too often succeeds in causing us to neglect our dead. For though the souls in Purgatory are assured of their salvation, and are no longer subject to temptation, they are yet deprived, as long as they are detained in Purgatory, of giving that glory to God which He receives by the adoration and praise of perfectly pure souls. By thus influencing persons to refrain from praying for their deceased friends, the devil evidences his hatred of God and his envy of the Holy Souls, and we, by listening to his suggestions, become instruments of his malice if we neglect, under the semblance of charity, to come to the aid of our suffering friends. In this respect St. Augustine is an example worthy of imitation. It is related of him that for twelve, yea, for thirty years after his mother's death he continued to celebrate Holy Mass himself, and caused it to be celebrated by others, for the repose of her soul, and that he urgently implored the prayers of the faithful for her.
56. The Venerable Cure d'Ars, J. B. Vianney, reckons among the forsaken souls those of bishops, priests and other pious persons who died in the fame of sanctity, or at least had better opportunities of sanctifying themselves than common Christians. According to the rule that much shall be required of them to whom much has been given, such souls are subjected to a severer scrutiny than the generality of Christians. Ecclesiastical writers often dwell on the fact that priests and superiors have to undergo a particularly long and painful purification in Purgatory. Moreover, it is a sad experience that no person is forgotten so easily and so soon after death, as the priest; in some instances the faithful have so high an opinion of his sublime dignity and virtue that they resent the thought of his being in Purgatory; in other instances it is a punishment of his neglect in coming to the relief of the Suffering Souls.
The Venerable Sister Frances had apparitions of two popes, who begged her prayers for the abbreviation of their long Purgatory; of a Cardinal, who suffered thirty years for some negligences; of a Spanish bishop, who had been in Purgatory seven years for seeking his own advancement in his high office, and for neglecting some of its duties; of several priests of Pampeluna, who had suffered forty and fifty years for faults of idleness, of ambition, and of neglect of duty. One priest that appeared to her had to suffer for distractions during the recitation of the divine office, for undue haste in the celebration of Mass, for ambition and for fickleness in his good resolutions.—To these examples might be added a number of others from unimpeachable sources; but we deem them sufficient to fill us with intense pity for the Suffering Souls, and to induce us to reject the practice of praising the deceased for their good qualities and actions, meanwhile forgetting that their debts have to be paid "to the last farthing," which we can and ought to do for them by our prayers. It does great harm to them and to us to believe that they do not need our prayers. Such souls become the most forsaken and forgotten ones, and we expose ourselves to the danger of experiencing the truth of the words of Scripture: "With what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matth. vii. 2.)
57. That Purgatory is of long duration, that it is extended to centuries, and, for some souls, even to the day of general' judgment, can be gathered also from the works of theological writers, and from the prayers of the Church. Some of the holy Fathers explain the difficult passage in the first epistle of St. Peter, where he mentions those as saved "which had been sometime incredulous when they waited for the patience of God in the time of Noe." (I. Pet. in. 20.) Many, they say, seeing the prediction of Noe fulfilled, were undoubtedly converted, and repenting, were pardoned by God. They perished in the waters which covered the earth, and their souls were detained in the prison of which St. Peter speaks, until the Redeemer appeared amongst them after His death, and announced to them their deliverance. Thus they had to suffer in Purgatory many centuries.
The heinousness of mortal sin, the multitude of sins, though pardoned and remitted as to the guilt and eternal punishment, by their very nature demand a long duration of temporal punishment. In her ancient liturgical prayers the Church intercedes for all the departed since the creation of the world.—Another proof of the possibility of a long duration of the punishment in Purgatory is found in the fact that there are so called perpetual foundations of Masses, of Masses to be said as long as the church in which they are founded exists. In the ages of faith this laudable pious custom was very general, and it is most commendable. For who knows but what the souls of our departed ones are among the number of those unfortunates, who, if they are not assisted by our suffrages, see the end of their sufferings only after the lapse of years, so that they, poor children of the Sacred Heart, pine and sigh for relief in their torments? Oh, how few Christians know the true state of their conscience, the actual amount of their indebtedness to divine justice, to be paid after their departure from this world! True, our Judge is merciful, but His mercy does not abate His justice; and this is appeased only by good works in Christ Jesus, our Redeemer: by Holy Mass, prayer, alms-deeds and acts of mortification, or other works for the relief of the Holy Souls.— Christian soul, what have you done, what do you do- for this purpose?