At many funerals, priests claim the soul of the deceased person is "with the Lord," a somewhat confusing phrase. Many people are led to assume the person's soul is already in Heaven, but this is a terrible injustice to the soul that may be languishing in Purgatory.
The Catholic Church teaches that when a person's soul is separated from his body, he is judged in what's called the particular judgment and then it goes to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.
If a person dies with even one unrepentant mortal sin on his soul, Hell is his eternal destination. But if he dies in the state of grace, he may still have to pass through Purgatory for purification but will eventually spend eternity in Heaven with God.
Purgatory is necessary because even if a soul is in the state of grace, only the perfect can enter Heaven. While God is merciful, people must atone for their sins either in this life or in Purgatory.
In her Treatise on Purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa describes how a soul with even the smallest amount of sin would react in the presence of God if it was not completely purified in Purgatory:
To see God when full satisfaction had not yet been made Him, even if the time of purgation lacked but the twinkling of an eye, would be unbearable to that soul. It would sooner go to a thousand Hells, to rid itself of the little rust still clinging to it, than stand in the divine presence when it was not yet wholly cleansed.
Redemptive suffering is the way people can atone for their sins while on earth. But suffering after death is far more intense. Several saints and holy writers have commented that the suffering souls endure in Purgatory is far worse than any suffering a person endures on earth.
Saint Catherine reveals that souls in Purgatory "endure a pain so extreme that no tongue can be found to tell it, nor could the mind understand its least pang if God by special grace did not [show] so much."
While the holy souls suffer more intensely than the mind of man can imagine, their consolations are also great.
Despite unimaginable suffering, Purgatory is also a place of consolation. According to the book Purgatory Explained, St. Francis de Sales revealed that thinking about purgatory should inspire people with consolation rather than terror.
He even claimed the contentment of the holy souls is greater than any contentment that can be offered on earth. There, souls can no longer push themselves away from God by committing sins. At every moment in Purgatory, they will only get closer to God by being purified.
Praying for the holy souls not only alleviates their suffering, but it also allows a person to contemplate where his own soul will dwell after death.
"Your time here is short, very short; take another look at the way in which you spend it. Here is man today; tomorrow, he is lost to view; and once a man is out of sight, it's not long before he passes out of mind," the book reminds its readers.
Learn more by watching The Download—Holy Suffering Souls.