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What is a Saint? – Purgatory, Part 2

The reader obviously notices that I use the word “deceased person.” There are no living saints, in spite of the fact that a living person practices virtues to the “heroic degree.” A person must be deceased to be considered for sainthood.

I would imagine one may ask “why can’t a living person, who is living an exemplary holy life, be considered a saint.” The reason is that a person must die first in order to proceed to heaven, provided at the point of death they were not alienated from God by serious sin. It is important to understand that at the last moment of a person’s life the temptation of the devil could overtake him or her with the sin of despair and they reject God. Likewise, the grace of the Holy Spirit could be accepted by a sinful dying person to seek God’s mercy and love at their last breath. God only knows who deserves to enter heaven at the point of death. We could rightly assume that the loving grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus would be with a person who did their best to follow God’s commandments up to the point of death.

At this time, I think it is necessary to explain the doctrine of “purgatory.” A person’s soul, at death, may proceed directly to heaven, because they lived a life of heroic holiness and their soul is deemed fit by God to immediately enter heaven. However, at death, God may direct one’s soul to purgatory to receive further cleansing in order to be deemed fit by God to enter heaven and be with Him for all eternity.

Purgatory is an intermediate state of purification between death and heaven that provides for the removal of remaining personal obstacles to the full enjoyment of eternal union with God. According to Catholic doctrine, such purification continues and completes the process of sanctification that makes immediate union with the triune God possible for persons justified and reconciled in Christ. The obstacles in view here are both venial sins, unrepented at the time of death, and any enduring dispositional consequences of the repented and forgiven serious (mortal) sins committed during earthly life. (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, General Editor; Harper San Francisco, Page 1070, Purgatory.) It is important to understand that purgatory is not an opportunity to conversion where one did not exist during earthly life. Mortal sin cannot be purified in purgatory. Therefore, those who die in the state of grace free from mortal sin and proceed to purgatory upon death and after the initial judgment will eventually achieve their eternal reward in heaven and experience for eternity the Beatific Vision: seeing God “face to face” (1Cor13:12) in all His glory and know God as God. The doctrine of purgatory advances the basic assumption of unbroken Church liturgical tradition of intercessory prayer for those who died, and we pray to the saints for their early release, be it the will of God. This tradition was later formulated into Church doctrine at the councils of Florence (1439), and Trent (15630, and Vatican 2 (1965: Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, nn. 49 – 50.) Through prayer, the pilgrim Church on earth affirms its solidarity with the Church on the threshold of glory. (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Purgatory Pg 1079.) Thus, those who achieve heaven after their purgation period are also saints known most probably only to God.

There are degrees of suffering in purgatory according to how one lived their lives on earth. If people lived good lives, and confessed their transgression that alienated them from God’s friendship, their time in purgatory would be shorter than those who committed serious sins continually throughout their lives, though confessed, would require a much longer period of purification of their souls to be ready for their reward in heaven, This is also true with those in heaven, There are degrees happiness, Though all who enter heaven receive the special grace to the Beatific Vision: to see God “face to face” and to known Him as God and experience Him in all His glory, yet, the degree of happiness received is based on one’s earthly experience. However, the degree of happiness is unknown among those in heaven. All have perfect happiness. This is a wonderful and glorious mystery of our faith in God’s plan for all humanity.

There is immortality and eternity for all humanity upon death. However, those who die rejecting God by an act of their free will receive the punishment of total separation from God for all eternity (never ending) at the initial judgment at death. No prayers can save those poor souls!

This is something we all must ponder very seriously, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof.


What is a Saint?
Continue Reading:

Part 1: What is a Saint? – Understanding God’s Love

Part 3: What is a Saint – The Ordinary Phase

Part 4: What is a Saint – The Ordinary Phase Continues



Resources for “What is a Saint?”

The Jerusalem Bible – Reader’s Edition, with abridged introductions and notes, Doubleday, Division of Random House Inc., March 2000, General Editor – Alexander Jones, Nihil Obstat – Lionel Swain S.T.L., L.L.S., Imprimatur – John Cardinal Heenan, Westminster 4 July 1966.

Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, General Editor, Harper San Francisco.

Making Saints, Kenneth L. Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Dogmatic Constitution of the Church

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