Suffer! How long?
"Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice." - De profundis
How long does a soul suffer in Purgatory? This is a profound mystery. What is certain is that each soul remains a time proportioned to the number and gravity of the faults to be expiated, and the duration of it is generally long, for Cardinal Bellarmine vvislies us to pray always. Long before him, Saint Augustine had said: "Let nobody ever think of placing the limit of the sufferings of Purgatory on this side of the final and formidable day of general judgment!" For twenty years he had prayed, practised morti- fications, and offered sacrifices for his deceased mother, Saint Monica. Another author dared to form this proposition: "A soul shall not pass more than ten years in Purgatory." Immediately the Chair of Saint Peter interfered, and spake by the mouth of the wise and virtuous Pontiff who then occupied it. Alexander VII solemnly condemned the bold, audacious proposition; and the duration of the pains of Purgatory continues to remain a secret between God and the souls who suffer there.
However, if we consider some visions and revelations which Venerable Bede, Saint Dionysius, the illustrious bishop of Carthage, and many other holy and wise persons have not feared to relate and authenticate, we shall learn by evidences from Purgatory that there are souls who will positively dwell in its sufferings till the end of the world.
Cardinal Bellarmine says there are souls condemned to burn in Purgatory till the day of Judgment; and this agrees with what Tertullian says, that in this subterranean prison many souls will be punished for some fault till the time of resurrection. Saint Cyprian also speaks of the length of these pains, when he says it is one thing to burn a long time for the expiation of sins, and another to atone for them by penance.
Bellarmine - Innocent III in Purgatory until the general Judgment
Pope Innocent III, having died after he had presided over the Council of Lateran, appeared to Saint Lutgard, who, astonished to see him surrounded by flames, asked him who he was. "I am Pope Innocent," he replied. "What!" she exclaimed, "is it possible that our common father is so horribly tormented?" "I suffer this pain for three sins which would have caused me to be condemned to the eternal fire if, at the point of death, I had not received the grace of true repentance, through the intercession of the holy Mother of God, in whose honor I had founded a monastery. Therefore I have escaped eternal death; but I should burn in Purgatory till the day of Judgment if the Mother of Mercy had not obtained for me from her Son the favor of coming to ask the help of your prayers." Having said this, he disappeared. Saint Lutgard made known to her sis- ters the pitiable state of the Pope, and exhorted them to help him. For this object she herself practised very severe mortifications.
All this has been extracted from her life. "I acknowledge," continues Bellarmine, "I acknowledge for myself that this example has often caused me to tremble with fear; for if a Pope who had had a reputation not only of honesty and wisdom, but even of sanctity, and whom we look upon as a model of virtue, has narrowly escaped damnation; if his Purgatory ouglit to last till the end of time, is there, in the world, a prelate (and we ourselves add: still more so, is there a Christian) who has not reason to tremble, who should not enter within himself and seriously examine his conscience? Let us at least learn from this terrible history to watch over our interior, for fear that, flattering ourselves too much or lending ear to flattery, we might fall into illusion, and from illusion into sin."
Make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in order to ardently solicit the relief and deliverance of the souls in Purgatory.
Hail, O Queen of Mercy! our life, our sweetness, and our hope not only in this valley of tears, but also in the place of expiation, hail! To thee do we cry, O comforter of the afflicted; we sigh and lament for our brothers suffering in Purgatory. Turn, O our advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards them; show unto them the blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. This is what we earnestly implore for them, O clement, pious, and sweet Virgin Mary.
Blessed be the holy and Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin Mary.
- text taken from by Father Celestin Cloquet, translated by a Sister of Mercy, with the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, Archdiocese of New York, 18 October 1886