We are entering into the month of November which, in the Catholic Church, is dedicated to the souls of those in Purgatory. We should all be busying ourselves with nonstop prayer for the souls of the faithful departed every time we pass a cemetery or have a spare moment to offer a quick prayer for them.
First, let’s be clear on what the Church teaches—there is a Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell and, depending on the state of your soul at death, you will spend eternity in one of two and, possibly some amount of time in the other. The Church’s teaching on this is explicit and is beautifully addressed in Lumen Gentium, n. 48, “Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. Heb 9: 27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where ‘men will weep and gnash their teeth’ (Mt 22: 13 and 25: 30)’.”
The “Gentleman Saint” and Doctor of the Church, St. Francis de Sales, reminds us that during the time we are allotted on earth, we must live in a way that will prepare us for death, “Happy are they who, being always on their guard against death, find themselves always ready to die.”
We must be ready for death, because we have no idea when it will come. To enter Heaven, every single trace of sin must be eliminated, purged from the soul. As we know from what Our Lord suffered in His Passion and Crucifixion, the purging of sin is no small task.
Despite lack of popular usage, the terms “Church Triumphant, Militant, and Suffering” are still completely accurate descriptions of the different states of the Mystical Body of Christ of which we are all a part. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and beloved daughters and sons of the Father. Just as we pray for our earthly family, so, too, must we pray for our spiritual family as it exists in its various stages.
The Church Triumphant can be of great assistance to us in our prayers. They are already in Heaven, face-to-face with the Beatific Vision and can intercede for us, the Church Militant.
We are the Church Militant, because, as the etymology of the phrase tells us, we are the Church on earth, engaged in warfare with the devil, the flesh, and worldly powers of temptation and unrighteousness.
The Church Suffering are those souls who are being purged of any remaining attachment to sin that existed at their separation from their corporal body. It should be remembered that Purgatory is not eternal, it is the threshold to Heaven. St. Augustine of Hippo, Father and Doctor of the Church, in The City of God instructs us that “temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment.”
It is our duty, privilege, and honor as Catholics to pray for those who are being purged of their last attachment to sin. We pray for their deliverance so that, as the Church Triumphant, they may pray for us.