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The Fiery Prison of Purgatory and How to Avoid It

The common teaching of the saints and doctors is that the slightest pains endured in the terrible fire of Purgatory will be more painful than all the pains of the present life. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “[St.] Augustine (Enarration on Psalm 37, no. 3) speaks of the pain which purgatorial fire causes as more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life (P.L., col. 397). [Pope St.] Gregory the Great speaks of those who after this life ‘will expiate their faults by purgatorial flames,’ and he adds ‘that the pain be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life’ (Ps. 3 poenit., n. 1). Following in the footsteps of Gregory, St. Thomas teaches (IV, dist. xxi, q. i, a.1) that besides the separation of the soul from the sight of God, there is the other punishment from fire … and St. Bonaventure not only agrees with St. Thomas but adds (IV, dist. xx, p.1, a.1, q. ii) that this punishment by fire is more severe than any punishment which comes to men in this life[.]”

St. Thomas also teaches the fire of Purgatory is one and the same as the fire of Hell, the difference being in the way the fire operates on those who die in grace with only venial sins remaining, who can still be purified, and in those who die in mortal sin and dead to grace, who are irrevocably, eternally lost: “Even as in the same fire gold glistens and straw smokes, so in the same fire the sinner burns and the elect is cleansed.” Therefore, “the fire of Purgatory is the same as the fire of Hell: and hence they are in the same place.”

5 Practical Steps to Avoid or Minimize Purgatory

Granted the dogmatic truth of Purgatory, its reality, and its importance, we must all ask ourselves two questions: (1) What am I doing to ensure that I and my loved ones avoid Purgatory? (2) How can I succor the souls already there?

By the Grace of God, Holy Mother Church offers us vast and abundant treasures for both of these.

The First and Greatest Means of All: Assist at and Have Offered Many Masses for the Poor Souls

Holy Mass, especially the Tridentine Mass, is the treasure of treasures for the holy souls in Purgatory. We can never have too many holy Masses offered up for the holy souls, and we must resolve to ask our pastors, shepherds, and priests to offer many Masses for the souls in Purgatory. We must also remember to offer the sacrifice with the priest for the holy souls, especially during the Offertory.

And so, as we read in the Pietà prayer booklet, Holy Mass has these superabundant blessings:


At the hour of death the Holy Masses you have heard devoutly will be your greatest consolation. Every Mass will go with you to Judgment and will plead pardon for you. By every Mass you can diminish the temporal punishment due to your sins, more or less, according to your fervor. By devoutly assisting at Holy Mass you render the greatest homage possible to the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord. Through the Holy Sacrifice, Our Lord Jesus Christ supplies for many of your negligences and omissions. He forgives you all the venial sins which you are determined to avoid. He forgives you all your unknown sins which you never confessed. The Power of Satan over you is diminished. By piously hearing Holy Mass you afford the Souls in Purgatory the greatest possible relief. One Holy Mass heard during your life will be of more benefit to you than many heard for you after your death. Through the Holy Mass you are preserved from many dangers and misfortunes which would otherwise have befallen you. You shorten your Purgatory by every Mass.

The Second Great Means: Daily Morning, Hourly, and Perpetual Offerings of the Precious Blood

A favorite prayer of the saints are those of the form Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught to St. Gertrude the Great: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Precious Blood of Your Divine Son Jesus, in union with the holy Masses said throughout the world today [or this month], for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, sinners in the universal Church, especially those in my own home and family. Amen.” The saint saw 1,000 souls go to Heaven as she prayed the prayer, and we may well hope a few souls are released from that dreadful prison even when we non-saints pray it.

The one-year and twelve-year prayers Our Lord Jesus taught to another great sponsa Christi, St. Bridget, also respectively have these express promises: “I will deliver 15 souls of his lineage from Purgatory.” And “the soul who prays them will suffer no Purgatory.” The prayers offer the Precious Blood of Jesus.

St. Margaret Mary, the beloved apostle of the Sacred Heart devotion, who taught us the secrets of that ever-loving, glorious, and adorable Heart, gave us the Heroic Act that will be treated in #5.

As the Precious Blood and Water that flowed from the Sacred Heart of our pierced Savior on the Cross falls on the holy souls, more and more of them will happily and speedily go to enjoy the glory of the beatific vision forever.

The Third Great Means: The Holy Rosary and the Scapular

The Holy Rosary of Our Lady and Queen is another great means, for the intercession of the Immaculate is unfailingly efficacious before the throne of God for the release of all souls. St. John Marie Vianney dares to have Our Lord say to His Mother, “If hell could repent, you would obtain its pardon.” There is no repentance in Hell, but the souls in Purgatory can still happily be purified. The rosary of our Mother bears the amazing promise, “I will deliver from Purgatory those who are devoted to my rosary.” The rosary also has amazing indulgences that can be applied to the holy souls. For example, every 15 decades, the complete rosary, have a plenary Indulgence. Every five decades have a plenary indulgence if recited in a church or as a family. Otherwise, it is partial.

The scapular, beside the great promise of final perseverance in grace to all who wear it devoutly and reverently, also has the Sabbatine Privilege: “As a tender mother, I will descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death and will deliver them and bring them to the holy mountain, into the happy sojourn of life everlasting.” Even the very act of kissing the scapular brings more indulgences!

The Fourth Great Means: Indulgences, Indulgences, Indulgences!

The most direct means to aid the holy souls is to gain the abundant Indulgences Holy Church grants us precisely for those reasons. While Confession forgives the guilt of mortal sin and its everlasting pains, indulgences are instituted precisely as a merciful remission of temporal penalties. Now, those penalties must be undergone either in this life by penance or in Purgatory.

The pre–Vatican II tradition of referring indulgences in terms of days and years is more defensible because, e.g., a 300-day indulgence and a seven-year indulgence are not the same thing, although both are “partial” in so far as they are not plenary. Let the faithful be encouraged to gain thousands and thousands of years’ indulgence, because we don’t know the precise relation between years of Penance on Earth and years of suffering in Purgatory. It may well be that failure to perform a ten-year penance on Earth leads to a hundred-year penance in Purgatory or even more. What a tragedy! And it would be almost irreparable without the graces of indulgences.

We will mention just one of several pre–Vatican II Indulgences:

O Lord, my God, I now, at this moment, readily and willingly accept at Thy hand whatever kind of death it may please Thee to send me, with all its pains, penalties, and sorrows. (Seven years every time said. Plenary indulgence at the point of death to all those who at any time of their lives, with sincere love toward God and with the usual conditions, make this kind of act)

The Fifth Great Means: Total Consecration, Heroic Act, Life Offering

Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary as taught by St. Louis Montfort is abundantly enriched with indulgences by many popes.

In addition to this, the Holy Father [His Holiness Pope St. Pius X, consecrated slave of Jesus through Mary] granted a plenary indulgence (on 24 December 1907), under the usual conditions, to be gained on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, and on the Feast of Saint Louis de Montfort, April 28, to those who recite the Montfort formula of consecration entitled “Consecration of Ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, by the Hands of Mary.” This plenary indulgence, which Leo XIII (also a “Slave of Mary”) had granted for only seven years, was now granted “in perpetuum” — in perpetuity.

There is also the Heroic Act for the Holy Souls, which allows one to gain a plenary indulgence each time one receives Holy Communion!

O MY GOD! for Thy greater glory, and to imitate as closely as possible the generous Heart of Jesus, my Redeemer, and also to testify my devotion to the Blessed Virgin, my Mother, who is also the Mother of the Souls in Purgatory, I place in her hands all my satisfactory works, as well as the fruit of all those which may be offered for my intention after my death, that she may apply them to the Souls in Purgatory according to her wisdom and good pleasure. Amen.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

The Heroic Act has been enriched with numerous indulgences by Benedict XIII (1728), Pius VI (1788), and Pius IX (1852). Priests who make it receive the personal privilege of gaining a plenary indulgence for a soul of their choice each time they say Mass (see PRIVILEGED ALTAR). Laymen gain a similar indulgence each time they receive Holy Communion, also each Monday they hear Mass for the departed; in both cases the usual visit to a church and prayers for the intention of the pope are required.

A recent Life Offering taught by the Twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary, with episcopal imprimaturs, can serve the same purpose:

My dear Jesus, before the Holy Trinity, Our Heavenly Mother, and the whole Heavenly Court, united with your most precious Blood and your sacrifice on Calvary, I hereby offer my whole life to the intention of your Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Together with my life, I place at your disposal all Holy Masses, all my Holy Communions, all my good deeds, all my sacrifices, and the sufferings of my of my entire life for the adoration and supplication of the Holy Trinity, for unity in our Holy Mother Church, for the Holy Father and priests, for good priestly vocations, and for all souls until the end of the world.  O my Jesus, please accept my life sacrifice and my offerings and give me your grace that I may persevere obediently until my death. Amen.

With ecclesiastical approbation, Our Lady has promised, “On the day they offer their lives, their loved ones suffering in Purgatory will be released.” Let us not delay the offer, but do so immediately!


During each of the eight days from Nov. 1 to 8, Holy Mother Church grants us special plenary indulgences when we gather near the tombs of our loved ones and pray for their eternal repose. On All Saints’ Eve, on All Saints, and on All Souls, let us resolve not to take part in pagan celebrations as worldlings do, but instead stay home or go to church or chapel for holy hours and Eucharistic adoration. There, we will make reparation for the sins of the faithful departed and pray for their speedy liberation. We can hardly doubt that if the Church Militant succeeds in emptying Purgatory, as St. Padre Pio commanded us to do, then some great grace would be given to the whole world.

What a fitting present to the Mother of God it would be if we could do it for the triumph of her Immaculate Heart! Let us all resolve to dedicate our time and sacrifice our life for this heroic goal.

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