We get the answer from the Baltimore Catechism that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” God created man that he might possess his Creator forever in the beatific vision. Those who die in the state of enmity toward God are deprived of this happiness. Between these extremes are people who are neither estranged from God nor wholly dedicated to Him when they die. They are the poor souls in purgatory. According to the new catechism the souls in purgatory are: “all who die in God’s grace and friendship but 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.”
Is there a purgatory? The Protestants deny that there is a purgatory, they believe only in heaven and hell. We are not certain whether purgatory is a place or a space in which souls are cleansed. The important thing to understand is that it is a state or condition in which souls undergo purification. St. Catherine spoke beautifully of the fire of purgatory as “God’s love burning the soul until it has wholly aflame with the love of God.”
We believe that God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, that the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of iniquity. We hear our Lord saying that it’s the Father’s will that he should lose nothing of all those given him. We hear him praying, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” We believe Jesus died and rose so that the gates of heaven would be flung wide open for humanity, and that the Holy Spirit is at work in every human heart to connect us with the Paschal mystery. We believe that all in Christ, living on earth, seeing God face to face in heaven, or being purified after death, form one body (communion of saints), one family, and that love and prayer have no boundaries. So in every Mass the Church prays for all who have died in God’s mercy, all those marked with sign of faith, all whose faith is known to God alone.
“The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death – this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon?” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi )
“We pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them -for this reason, that all those who die in the grace of God, and consequently in the number of the elect, do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory, where they suffer a temporal punishment, from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.” St. Francis de Sales