One night in the year 1922, St. Padre Pio was confronted by a poor soul. The man had come to the place where he had died hoping that prayers might be offered for his release from purgatory. Padre Pio promised the man he would say a Mass for him and led the poor soul to the door. The man then vanished. The following day, Padre Pio offered his Mass for the soul who had visited him, and that night, the man returned, his entire body glowing with heavenly splendor. The soul fervently thanked Padre Pio, for he was now in heaven.

The act of praying for those who have died has a long history in the Church. The Church has always encouraged it, and there is obvious proof in the Old Testament that prayers were offered for the dead even before the time of Christ.

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they might be loosed from their sins.

2 Maccabees 12:46

It is clear that the Jews, the chosen people of God, knew that there was a place of purgation after death. The Church calls this place purgatory, and its existence is firmly grounded in scripture. Souls that are destined for heaven but still have the stain of sin – in other words, not having completed the temporal punishment due to sin – cannot enter paradise until they have been purged. This purgation is torturous and extremely slow. The answer Our Lady of Fatima gave to Lucia concerning a girl who had recently died shows how very long a soul’s time in purgatory can be: “She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.”

Many saints and mystics have told us that the souls in purgatory are cleansed by fire and that the fires of purgatory are the same as the fires of hell. The difference between the souls in hell and the poor souls in purgatory is that those in hell curse God for damning them, while those in purgatory bless God for allowing them to one day enter heaven. Yet they suffer the same torments.

The souls of those that die without completing their temporal punishment must finish their expiation in purgatory before entering heaven. We know this is true both from the teachings of the Church and from Holy Scripture. The Church teaches that our prayers and sacrifices can help, console, and purify the souls in purgatory. It is the duty of Christians to assist those who are in need and unable to help themselves. Praying for the poor souls in purgatory is an example of this, so we should take every opportunity to assist them.

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41

As Job’s sacrifice purified his sons, so also do our offerings and prayers purify the souls in purgatory. As Christians, it is our duty to help them, and we should not hesitate to offer our prayers and sacrifices for them. Like Padre Pio, we will earn their gratitude, and when they reach paradise they will pray for us in turn, assisting us on our way to heaven.