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