Isn't he already in Heaven?
My son died unexpectedly. It took him completely by surprise. Because of that, he did not have a chance to prepare or to do penance for his sins. That is where purgatory comes in and where I, as his mother, can do for him what he can no longer do for himself! It gives me joy to be able to help him this way.
The following is from "Good Catholic - The Four Last Things:Journey of a Soul" - A study of God's revealed truth on the journey of a soul from death to eternity. It is excellent!
Church Teaching on Purgatory
All who die in the grace of God, yet still have sinful attachments at the time of their death, must have their souls completely cleansed by Christ before entering heaven.
The graces we receive through the sacraments transform our souls into a new, perfect creation. God wants His redeemed children on earth to be pure of soul just as the angels are in heaven. This is why Christ has commanded us in Scripture to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
We often fail to respond to the grace that He gives with the full strength of our hearts, minds, and souls. Many times we choose to follow our own will instead of His.
But in His mercy, Christ provides for every weakness so that we can still enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven. If we die in God’s grace but remain imperfect, He will complete in our soul the work that He began on the Cross. This is purgatory – Christ’s purification of our souls after death which prepares us for eternity in heaven.
Church Teaching on Purgatory
Today, many Christians disregard belief in purgatory, but it remains an infallible doctrine of the Church rooted in Scripture and Apostolic tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this teaching as follows:
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
It is true that Christ provides us with all that we need to lead a holy life that is pleasing to Him: His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3).
But it is up to us to cooperate with the graces that He gives us.
Those who die in the love God, yet fall short of holiness, must be purged of their imperfections and sinful attachments before joining the other saints in heaven. Purgatory is necessary to complete in our souls any work of sanctification that we did not finish during our life. This purging has been referred to by the Church as a cleansing or refining fire that burns away sin from our souls:
Among [the suffering of Purgatory] is also the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled enters – Council of Florence, 1431-1449 A.D.
The Two Consequences of Sin
In order to fully understand why purgatory is necessary, it is important to know that every sin has two consequences: guilt and punishment.
Let’s use the relationship between a parent and child as an example:
Suppose that a child is caught stealing, and afterwards he feels remorse and asks his parents for forgiveness. The parents forgive the guilty child, yet the child needs to return what he stole - and the parents must still provide some fitting punishment for the wrong that he committed. The punishment is needed to correct the bad behavior: without it, the child would not understand that there are real consequences for his actions.
It is the same with sin. All sin is a kind of theft against God. When we sin, we withhold from Him some love or obedience that He is due.
When we confess our grave sins in sacramental confession, with true contrition and a firm purpose of amendment, we are indeed forgiven and our relationship with God is restored. The guilt of our sin is removed and we are saved from eternal punishment in hell.
But although we receive God’s forgiveness, the priest also gives us a penance. Why? Because there is still a temporal punishment that we must receive for our sins, even if we have been freed from an eternal one.
“The faithful must be fully aware that sin and its eternal punishment are remitted by the Sacrament of Penance if one makes proper use of it; however the entire temporal punishment is very seldom taken away. This must be removed either by satisfactory works in this life or by the fire or Purgatory after death.” – Pope Benedict XIV
The Necessity of Penance
The Church commands all Christians to do penance for their sins, in addition to the penances received in sacramental confession. Penance purifies us by healing our souls from the harmful effects of the sins we have committed.
Christ gives us the opportunity to do penance in this life through the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, the Church laws of fasting and abstinence throughout the year, and through the daily crosses that He sends us. If we do insufficient penance for our sins in this life, purgatory will complete it in the next.
“If [souls] have died repentant for their sins and having love of God, but have not made satisfaction for things they have done or omitted by fruits worthy of penance, then their souls after death, are cleansed by the punishment of Purgatory.” – Council of Florence
Didn’t Jesus Die for Our Sins?
Many people struggle to understand how purgatory fits in with Jesus’ atonement for sins on the Cross. If Jesus died for our sins, why do we still have to be punished for them?
Purgatory does not deny that Christ’s sacrifice for us on the Cross is sufficient to save us. It is our own response to His grace that is insufficient.
Christ died on the Cross to save us from sin by purifying us from sin. That is, by actually removing, one by one, all the sins and all their effects that we have accumulated in our souls.
Purgatory is for those who have resisted, to one degree or another, the purifying effect of the sacraments in their lives. At the time of their death, they did not reach the level of perfection that Christ gave them the grace to attain.
In His mercy, Christ finishes the work for us after death, when we are no longer able to sin. In purgatory we can no longer resist the full strength of His grace that will cleanse our soul entirely from sin.
Here is another way to explain why purgatory does not take anything away from Christ’s work on the Cross:
Jesus died to save everyone, yet Scripture teaches us that not everyone will be saved. Some will reject Him and spend eternity in hell. Does this mean that Jesus’ death was insufficient to save them? No. The fault is with the sinner who did not accept the grace of salvation.
The same is true for Purgatory. Jesus did not only die to save us, but to make us perfect as He is perfect. Yet many Christians still commit sins. Does this mean that Jesus’ death was insufficient to make them holy? No. The fault is with the Christian who failed to cooperate with His grace.
However, the imperfect Christian who nevertheless dies in God’s grace will not go to hell – rather, they go through a process of purification for heaven.
There will be no sin and no imperfection in heaven. Purgatory, then, is not about “earning” our way into heaven; it is about removing all traces of sin and its effects from our souls so that we will be worthy of heaven.
Purgatory is Mercy
God knows that following His will for our lives is difficult. That is why He gives us the opportunity to be purified of our sins after death.
He does not condemn us to hell when we fail to be the perfect image of Christ; rather, He makes up for our lack.
Purgatory is a great mercy of God who lovingly purifies our souls from the effects of sin. Those who are in purgatory know that they are present with the Lord, because they can feel the fire of His love burning away their sins. However, they cannot see Him face to face until their hearts are pure. Christ taught us that only the pure of heart will see God (Matthew 5:8).
Purgatory is temporary, and the soul will be admitted into God’s presence as soon as its purification is complete.
The Souls in Purgatory are Holy
Souls in purgatory are precious in the sight of God. Being removed from this world, they can no longer sin, and they now love God with a purer love that those of us on earth. For this reason the Church piously calls them “faithful” and “holy.” They have died in God’s grace and will one day be among the saints in heaven.
Yet the Church also calls them “poor souls.” They can no longer sin – but they are not able to pray for themselves or merit anything that could lessen their punishment. Once a soul passes from this world into purgatory, they are entirely dependent on the prayers of the living to ease their sufferings and help them attain heaven more quickly.
This is where their loved ones come in! We can help our loved ones with our prayers, sacrifices, offering of suffering, offering our daily duties, etc. for them. This is so healing to a grieving heart! It gives us something concrete and effective to do with the intense emotions we experience. As we pray for them, we can ask them to pray for us and God will answer those prayers so fast! This creates new memories; we don't have to cling to past memories only. I have experienced many blessings from my son's prayers and I know I am helping him too!