Structural question about purgatory

So when you die, you are judged to either go to heaven or hell, and if you are judged to be in God’s graces, but not yet perfect (or 100% holy), my understanding of Purgatory is that if you must go through a purging process by which all of the “bad” stuff is burned up.

So obviously, if one has committed a mortal sin, that would cause him or her to end in hell, should they die with the unrepentant mortal sin. If one has not committed a mortal sin, but is unperfect, they go to purgatory. If one is a saint, one can supposedly, go straight to heaven.

I am clearly not a saint (but I’m working on it…) but I don’t believe I have any mortal sins on my soul. I go to confession regularly and do my best to make a valid confession. Should I go to confession one day in the future, and immediately walk out of confession and get struck by a meteor and die, without having committed any type of sin, mortal or venial, would that then be cause to go straight to heaven, since all sins are wiped clean during confession?

If that is the case, who goes to Purgatory? Is it those who have venial sins on their soul? If the Eucharist cleanses all venial sins, if someone were to die immediately after taking the Eucharist, would they go to heaven directly?


Congrats on deciding to aim for Sainthood! Excellent choice!

Souls in Purgatory have not died in mortal sin, but are there to burn away as you said, venial sins and the stain or temporal punishment of forgiven sins. You can remove the temporal punishment here on Earth through indulgences.

Purgatory is, like all good doctrine on the afterlife, very limited in its statements.

However, it would seem to me that in order for God’s grace to be made perfect in you, if you had only just walked out of Confession, you would still have a ways to go before you could be called perfected.

But, of course, Catholics readily admit we don’t know everything about the afterlife.

I think we should try to atone before we die, specifically starting now.:smiley:
“Now is the acceptable time - NOW is the hour.”

Ah, so the temporal punishment is likely the key to filling this “understanding gap” I have. It makes sense, because in order for God to be a Just God, He would need to apply exactly the amount of justice (punishment) in order to be perfect. And if I confessed doing something mortal (e.g.: killing someone (which I have not done by the way, just using an example)) and did so validly, but then died immediately afterward but served no punishment here on earth, I would have to do so in Purgatory.

Makes sense.

Think too in terms of “purification” of those temporal effects of sins…

Oh by the way regarding the term “saint”

Persons who die in a state of grace, but with any of the following:

  • temporal punishment still due for past repented mortal sins
  • temporal punishment still due for past repented venial sins
  • unrepented venial sins (includes the temporal punishment due)
    go to Purgatory prior to entering eternal life in Heaven.

If you receive Last Rites at the hour of death (Confession, Communion, Extreme Unction), validly and devoutly, this reception remits some temporal punishment, and in particular cases might remit all temporal punishment. It is therefore possible for someone who has sinned much in their life to still go directly to Heaven. But even if such a person does not go directly to Heaven, his time in Purgatory is greatly reduced by Last Rites.

Thanks everyone! All of the answers have been helpful!

I think what you intend for me to pick out of that thread is how sainthood is not reserved for the elect few. This is true and something I’ve learned through several Catholic authors who I like to read. There is a great book by John R. Wood called “Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission”, and another “I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But It’s Okay” by Chris Padgett which talk about this. They are both by Dynamic Catholic.

Yes that is true. But actually my point was that someone who is baptized…who is in true life in Christ is a saint already…

Saint has various uses. One of which applies to all the baptized…

(not only those who are in heaven …or who are high examples of holiness)

Even when forgiven of sin, you may still have Purgatory arising from it.

Another way to think about Purgatory is that death, per se, does not remove sin, only the means of committing it (the human body). When you come out of death, the attachments you formed while living remain with you, and may hinder the reception of everlasting life. These would require purging off.


As I understand it, the sacrament of Confession removes all eternal punishment due to sin but does not necessarily remove all temporal punishment. See Part III, Question 86, Article 4.Summa Theologica,

Think of it this way. You come over to my house open my fridge pull out a carton of milk and spill it on the floor. You apologize and of course I forgive you. But yet there is still milk on the floor that needs to be cleaned up. You are forgiven but you still need to clean up the mess. And perhaps replace the milk. Welcome to purgatory!

When I explain that to my protestant friend he believes the fridge owner cleans up the milk and he doesn’t need to apologise and be forgiven because that was done in the past.


Lol and I believe that is a rude guest who won’t be invited over again…

An Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory

Excerpt :

I can tell you about the different degrees of Purgatory because I have passed through them. In the great Purgatory there are several stages. In the lowest and most painful, like a temporary hell, are the sinners who have committed terrible crimes during life and whose death surprised them in that state. It was almost a miracle that they were saved, and often by the prayers of holy parents or other pious persons. Sometimes they did not even have time to confess their sins and the world thought them lost, but God, whose mercy is infinite, gave them at the moment of death the contrition necessary for their salvation on account of one or more good actions which they performed during life. For such souls, Purgatory is terrible. It is a real hell with this difference, that in hell they curse God, whereas we bless Him and thank Him for having saved us.

This seems a good explanation. Ste Therese of Lisieux opined that all souls in purgatory are volunteers. They volunteer for it because, notwithstanding their state of grace, they, having seen their sins with total clarity in their Judgment, cannot bring themselves to present themselves to a God who is all good. But for the availability of purgatory, they would cast themselves into hell. But, having the alternative of purging themselves from all attachment to sin and the defects that cause them to have an attachment to sin, they choose that.

We don’t know what purgatory is. But if it is a process of purging oneself from all attachment to sin and the personal defects that cause the attachment, it cannot be anything but painful in at least a psychological sense. It cannot be anything other than a painful ridding oneself of one’s pride and wilfulness. In a way, that doesn’t seem so hard, but in another way, it can seem very arduous indeed.

I, for one, have some insights into my own attachment to sin; my pride, my spiritual sloth, my lack of charity. But I doubt I really know 1/1000 th of it. I, like probably most, am very practiced at self-deception and am a long, long way from being a saint. I think getting there would be a tough journey from where I am today.

Is purgatory truly like hell? We don’t know that either, but besides hope there would be a very big difference. In hell, Ste Therese says, we are “cocooned”, so to speak, in ourselves, engaging simultaneously in self-worship and hatred for God who told us the truth about ourselves and asked that we repent and accept His love.

In purgatory, it seems then, it’s the other way. We find ourselves in a cocoon of self and try to undo it; to take ourselves out of a self-regard and self-deception we have spent a lifetime weaving. But we do have some aids in that. We will also see with total clarity those things we did right. We’ll recall the time we helped support some poor person in Haiti. We’ll recall when we walked through the cold to get to Mass. We’ll recall when we invited some teenage neighbor to go to Stations with us. We’ll recall when we stayed up all night with a sick person or comforted a person with a terminal illness. We’ll even remember sharing candy with some other kid when we were small, or protecting some person from a bully at school. Those recollections will provide “guideposts” for us, small though they were. We’ll see the grace in them and want to expand them within ourselves.
And we’ll see the grace of the prayers we said and that were said for us. Even the gratitude will be both painful and joyful. We don’t accept love very well on this earth or from heaven either, but we’ll want to learn.

This is so very true, so very true indeed, for me. And since I know such, I and pray that those deceptions are released from my mind, body and soul, and I work hard to fight them knowing that doing God’s will is true freedom, so any deception I may have is only moving me farther from God. However, I’ve been sort of in a spiritual rut lately, feeling like I haven’t been progressing. I felt as though I was on a positive upward trend for so long, and now not so much… it is hard work trying to be a saint, yet all it is a free will choice (however so dichotomous!)

I think it is a good plan to get a plenary indulgence as often as possible, preferably daily in Adoration. In addition to removing all time in purgatory, it removes punishment for sin in this life. It is possible to gain 1 plenary indulgence per day.

All that you need for a plenary indulgence (FULL remission of temporal punishment and time in purgatory as a result):

Go to Confession that week (I think it is actually within 2 weeks, but I would say that week just to be certain. Weekly confession is good for trying to be a Saint, regardless.)
Receive Holy Communion that day
Intention to gain the indulgence
Say one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the intentions of the Pope
Spend half an hour in Adoration
Have no attachment to venial sin

Pretty easy to do for such a great mercy from Almighty God. The only part that we will struggle with is attachment to venial sin. Nothing is impossible with God, though!

There are ways other than half an hour in Adoration, but that is easiest in my opinion and can be done any day.

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