In Catholic theology, the term “hell” is used for three different places of the dead, none of which is the same place. These include:
- Limbo of the fathers (where Jesus’ soul descended after He died, as we read in the creed: He descended into hell);
- Gehenna (eternal flames, lake of fire, place of darkness where the devil and his angels await Judgmen Day; it is where those who reject God (are damned) spend eternity in absolute torment)
- Purgatory (temporal punishment, prison of the deceased; it is where the souls who have died in God’s favor but still have sin go to be purged of their filth so they can enter Heaven; Purgatory is sometimes referred to as a pit-stop to Heaven, because those who are saved yet still need purification go there to be purged)
Limbo, Gehenna, and Purgatory are called “hell” because they all have one thing in common: loss of God. Those in Limbo were the righteous souls (“fathers”) who died before Christ’s death, and who could not enjoy Heaven because of original sin, but whom Christ descended to in order to preach the gospel to them and lead them into Heaven, which He had reopened for all mankind by His death (Limbo is now empty). Those in Gehenna are the unrepentant sinners, the damned who hate God and reject Him, and just as the angels who rebelled against God cannot repent of their sin, so too the damned cannot repent, for they have chosen not to repent; their wills are eternally set in evil and turned against the Lord (hence, they cannot be saved). Those in Purgatory are the holy souls who belong to the triune Church, and they belong to the Church because they among the saved, although they are still in need of purification before entering into the glory of Heaven; the Church on earth can help the holy souls by praying for them. Purgatory, while seen as a place of suffering, is actually a gift of God’s Mercy, just as Limbo was, for He has given to man a way of salvation which goes beyond our imaginations.
Those who die in mortal sin are spiritually dead, for mortal sin kills the soul; hence, those who die unrepentant suffer the second death (damnation). Those who die in venial sin are spiritually wounded, for venial sin weakens the soul; but the soul is not dead to Christ - as it would be in the state of mortal sin, that is, if it had but one mortal sin on itself - so, if it repents, God saves the soul, though it still needs to clensed of sin before going to Heaven, so it goes to Purgatory beforehand. Those who die in the state of grace - that is, with sanctifying grace - are living in Christ, and so, they accquire eternal life (salvation), going straight to Heaven to live and reign with the Lord for eternity. God’s Mercy is infinite, so even if a soul were black as sin, it could still hope for Heaven, if only it repents, begs for Mercy, and trusts in God. The living and the dead, who we read of in the creed, are those who are spirituall alive and dead in Christ at Judgment Day and those whom are physically alive and dead when Christ comes again in glory.
If you have any more confusion over Catholicism, let me know and I’ll be happy to explain the teachings of Holy Mother Church.