Why can't the souls in purgatory pray for themselves?

So, there I am on the Titanic with one of the early Christians from Japan named Miyuki and St. Felicity. Both Miyuki and Felicity are quite gracious and enjoying mugs of Italian roast coffee and I have my usual espresso. All of us are savoring chocolate cake with whipped cream. Try the cake I’ve posted. You supply the coffee.

The ladies are quite gracious and fascinating witness to our holy faith. I ask them, “Why can’t the souls in purgatory pray for themselves?” Miyuki said, “Just ask Fr. Xavier. He knows everything.” Felicity responded, “Well, I usually ask someone who knew one of the Apostles when I have a question.” I can do neither so I decided on the next best option, the CA forums.

Why can’t the souls in purgatory pray for themselves?

They’ve lived their lives and accomplished their meritorious deeds during their lifespan, right? If I commit an evil action on earth— lying about someone, ignoring someone in need, withholding forgiveness from someone who requests it— I still have the ability to go back and make amends for it. We have the ability to grow spiritually, from people who are closed-off and self-centered, to people who work hard to cultivate grace. If we suffer, we have the ability to unite it to Christ’s suffering and gain merit, and we have the ability to unite ourselves to God’s will for us.

But once you die, your soul is in a particular state. You can’t earn merit for yourself anymore. Your sufferings are no longer opportunities to discard our rebellious nature and unite ourselves to Christ’s suffering. We’ve seen God face-to-face and had our particular judgment. If we’re in purgatory, it’s because we don’t want to be in God’s presence, impure, and want to rid ourselves of every attachment to sin that keeps us from permanently enjoying the beatific vision. Our job changes to humbly submitting to the process of purification. We can help others in the meantime— but not ourselves.

Someone made the analogy once that we are able to pay our debts for pennies while on earth, but after we die, we need to pay the full amount of anything left outstanding. Being able to grow, earn merit, and pray for yourself are several things that make the difference.

They can pray for themselves and for other souls in Purgatory and on earth. That is one way that they obtain purification in Purgatory.

But they cannot merit for themselves. Their sufferings and prayers are atonement for the temporal punishment due to them, therefore these prayers and sufferings are not meritorious.

I don’t think the essence of my question has been answered.

  1. So there I am in Purgatory. I have received my particular judgement. Jesus is purifying me. Why can’t I pray for myself, for the others in Purgatory and for those on earth who need to turn from sin and detach themselves from their disordered attachments?

Why aren’t my prayers efficacious?

Have another slice of cake. Enjoy the coffee you have from my original post.

I think Ron Conte answered the question. They can pray for themselves and others. But they cannot merit for themselves. Their sufferings during life would merit for a reduction of temporal punishment for sin. But in purgatory they are simply experiencing that temporal punishment for sin. Others still living can merit for them.

When I die, I would like to have a statement that in lieu of flowers, please offer Masses and prayers–lots of them!

I re-read both midori_'s and Ron Conte’s answers several times.
I’m truly attempting to penetrate past my not knowing to knowing.

I now on this earth experience the temporal punishment (effects) of my past sins.
I now on this earth pray for myself and others hoping to merit a reduction of this punishment. I want my will to be one with Jesus’ will.

In Purgatory I carry with me any disordered attachments and still suffer for these disordered attachments. I suffer in time and out of time? I may merit in time.

Why can’t I merit out of time?

Because you’ve already had your particular judgment.

There’s the old Baltimore catechism that talks about earning merit—

  1. How can we make our most ordinary actions merit a heavenly award?

We can make our most ordinary actions merit a heavenly reward by doing them for the love of God and by keeping ourselves in the state of grace.

(a) Supernatural merit is the right to a heavenly reward given to us by God for good actions in the supernatural order, provided we are in the state of grace.

(b) We can merit in this life only when we are in the state of sanctifying grace and perform good works freely.

© After death merit cannot be gained in heaven, hell, or purgatory.

(d) By mortal sin a person loses the merit of his good actions.

Scripture: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31)

So, even on earth, we can’t just earn merit by accident, or under certain conditions. Certain elements need to be present for merit to be earned.


a restatement is not an explanation. an explanation makes known that which is unknown. i believe each of those bottom line statements. except for the one about purgatory. i am uncertain about it.

please explain the process of thought that arrives at the conclusion regarding purgatory


Modern Catholic Dictionary:

MERIT. Divine reward for the practice of virtue. It is Catholic doctrine that by his good works a person in the state of grace really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God. “The reward given for good works is not won by reason of actions which precede grace, but grace, which is unmerited, precedes actions in order that they may be performed meritoriously” (II Council of Orange, Denzinger 388).

Certain conditions must be present to make supernatural merit possible. The meritorious work must be morally good, that is, in accordance with the moral law in its object, intent, and circumstances. It must be done freely, without any external coercion or internal necessity. It must be supernatural, that is, aroused and accompanied by actual grace, and proceeding from a supernatural motive. The person must be a wayfarer, here on earth, since no one can merit after death.

Strictly speaking only a person in the state of grace can merit, as defined by the Church (Denzinger 1576, 1582).

Merit depends on the free ordinance of God to reward with everlasting happiness the good works performed by his grace. On account of the infinite distance between Creator and creature, a human being alone cannot make God his or her debtor, if God does not do so by his own free ordinance. That God has made such an ordinance is clear from his frequent promises, e.g., the Beatitudes and the prediction of the Last Judgment.

The object of supernatural merit is an increase of sanctifying grace, eternal life (if the person dies in divine friendship), and an increase of heavenly glory. (Etym. Latin merces, hire, pay, reward.)

I’m no theologian, but here’s my guess, whatever it’s worth. I believe the souls in purgatory don’t pray for themselves because they don’t want to. They are all volunteers, Ste Therese opined, who are there to rid themselves of those elements of selfishness that cause them to not yet want to present themselves to God. I can imagine how hard that would be, and so their simply being there is, in a way, a prayer for themselves; for their own purification.

But insasmuch as selfishness is the thing they’re wanting to purge, they would not pray for themselves, but only for others.

Why can’t the souls in purgatory pray for themselves?

That’s a good question. Actually, I am unable to discover the source of this teaching in Church doctrine.

I see where Saints (notably Saint Alphonsus) have said it. I see where respected Catholic books have said it. I see where quasi-official Catechisms such as the Baltimore have said it (the BC was approved for use by American Catholic schoolchildren - it was never intended to be a general-purpose catechism).

The Church clearly teaches that the Poor Souls can pray for us, but I am unable to find a definitive teaching that they cannot pray for themselves.


A short 3 min video Can the souls in purgatory pray for us?
also covered, why they can’t pray for themselves

I wonder. if the souls in purgatory could alleviate the punishment due to them because of their sins, why would they do anything else besides becoming totally focused on themselves and the pains they are suffering due to their sins.

if that were the case, purgatory would seem to result in the souls therein ignoring everyone and everything other than themselves.

I have trouble reconciling such a state with the idea that love is an outpouring of oneself for the well-being of others. the purification process experienced in purgatory results in complete and perfect union with God who is the total outpouring of self.

the souls in purgatory do not have access to the sacraments. they do not have access to alms giving. they do not have access to works of charity other than praying for souls on earth and the souls with them in purgatory. their souls are already suffering penances for their sins and thus they cannot offer up their sufferings or at least diminish their sufferings by offering them up since the whole point of purgatory is to suffer for their sins and results in that suffering purifying the suffering soul.

I do not know the answer other than to rely on the teachings of the Church, but I offer my musings on the subject free. :slight_smile:

Well (and I am just speculating here) perhaps they are able to pray for themselves, but find greater solace in praying for others.

Maybe this is a lesson???

In RCIA a few weeks ago, it was discussed that the souls in Purgatory cannot “get out of Purgatory” without the prayers of others and that they are “stuck” there until prayed out by souls in Heaven or by people still alive on earth. They cannot pray themselves out I was told.

**Is this official Church teaching? **

My understanding is that the Church has defined very little about Purgatory and that it could be a place or it could be a process. I tend to take on Scott Hahn’s understanding in that it is more of a process of being drawn nearer to God (or at least that’s how I understood him to describe it). Therefore, the being “stuck there” teaching seems to lend more toward it being a place than a process :shrug:

I am also intrigued by the Orthodox understanding of it as well although they would not use the word Purgatory to describe this final purification.

Umm, no. All sous in purgatory are “saved” (will go to heaven). THAT is official Church doctrine. Their salvation is already assured, and is not contingent on any of us on earth.

We can (and should) assist those in purgatory to mitigate their experience. But nobody is “stuck” in purgatory waiting for us to do something.


Our prayers can quicken their process of purification, but even if they receive no prayers from us, they aren’t “stuck” in this state, because scripture says this purification after death isn’t permanent. (see scripture passages end of post)

true, a both/and

since there is NO “Orthodox Church”, but individual ethnic independent and autonomous Orthodox “Churches”, each Church to their own, then there is NO ONE Church to speak for all Eastern Orthodoxy. No central authority means the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) for example, which dwarfs in size all the other Orthodox Churches combined, can and does believe differently than the others about life after death issues…

For example:

“toll house” theology is described in many different ways. And also denied with as much vigor within Orthodoxy. Who among THEM then, decides who is right and who is wrong? No ONE can do that.

*] stlukeorthodox.com/html/evangelist/2000/deathtoll.htm

As an aside, Purgatory (not the name but the process) is described very simply in scripture.

] 1 Cor 3: 13 each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day*(“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+3&version=RSVCE#fen-RSVCE-32582b”)] will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
*][/FONT]purification is necessary before heaven because NOTHING unclean will enter it

]OT type of purgatory. God is like a refiner, purifying these OT figures through fire [/FONT] describes a process of one being purified, that is* temporary** but effective.

While none of these sources says “purgatory”, the process sure sounds like it. While there is no clock in the after life, we don’t know specifically then how long in our understanding of time, in a reality outside of time, does this process take for each particular individual.


You left out the verse about the wide gate.

The wide gate refers to hell** NOT **purgatory

Merit can only acquired when living in the body. *Exsurge Domine *says that all souls in purgatory are sure of their salvation and are beyond the state of meriting or of increasing charity.

From the Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520, Exsurge Domine against the errors of Martin Luther:

In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor we can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith. Some of these errors we have decided to include in the present document; their substance is as follows:

  1. The souls in purgatory are not sure of their salvation, at least not all; nor is it proved by any arguments or by the Scriptures that they are beyond the state of meriting or of increasing in charity.
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