For whatever reason, (and there are many) Hell is a topic we don’t hear much about during homilies at Mass. Sadly, Purgatory and its necessary role in our salvation, is teetering on the edge of that slippery slope. While Heaven is our goal and should be our primary focus, humanity is often motivated by both the carrot and the stick. To speak exclusively of God’s mercy, without mention of His justice, is to render Him impotent. (Similarly, to speak exclusively of His justice, without mention of His mercy is to render Him ruthless.) Both are inconsistent with who God really is. The locus of truth is found, not in the extremes, but right in the middle.
A couple of years ago in my travels, I had the opportunity to attend daily Mass in another Diocese. As it turned out it was a funeral Mass for a local parishioner. By all accounts Edna was a wonderful Christian woman; loving wife, mother and grandmother; a lifelong faithful and active member of her parish. She was also, according to the celebrant of the Mass, a Saint. That is, she now resides in Heaven, her eternal reward fully assured.
These words, spoken by the priest in his homily, likely brought tremendous comfort to Edna’s family and friends. There was a perceptible and collective sigh of relief with the pronouncement of these words. It was almost as if the sacramental principle of “ex opere operato” or “by the words themselves” were in effect here.
Edna’s priest did her and her family a huge disservice. He gave the family, not false hope, but worse, false assurance. He also likely extended Edna’s stay in Purgatory, (that is, assuming she was not judged immediately worthy of Heaven). How so? What sane person will pray for Edna’s soul “knowing” she is already in Heaven?
I pray that Edna entered into her eternal glory the moment she died. I just cannot know that she did for certain. And until she is declared a saint, no one else can either.
Praying for the souls in purgatory is not a “nice thing” for us to do. It is our duty, our obligation to do so. Yet, it is our duty to pray for our brothers and sisters who are part of the Church Suffering. If we only knew the power they possess to help us on our journey toward Heaven, we would be praying for them unceasingly.