PurgatoryThis is the third article in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5:
Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Purgatory is the state in which we make reparation for all of our sins which have not been satisfactorily atoned for during our earthly life. The punishment of purgatory is avoidable to varying extents based on how we atone for our sins in this life. Indeed, it is even possible to remove all temporal punishment for our sins before we die and immediately join our Lord in Heaven upon our death. Not only is this possible, but it should be our goal.

How is it possible to reduce or eliminate the pains of purgatory? There are several ways, which when combined, practically assure us of removing most if not all of the debt we have incurred for our sins. If we strive to achieve all of these goals, we will certainly enjoy eternal reward at the moment of our death. I have listed 8 specific ways to avoid Purgatory.

1. Avoid Sin

The first and best way to avoid Purgatory is to avoid the thing that causes us to find ourselves there in the first place: Sin. This is an incredibly difficult proposition, and is not entirely possible, since we are imperfect creatures. We can reduce the number and severity of the sins we commit through concerted effort to live by the commandments and by asking for the assistance of Divine grace.

It is not possible to completely avoid venial sins. On the other hand, it is possible to totally eliminate mortal sin in our lives. If we die in a state of mortal sin, we will suffer eternal damnation in Hell. If we die with confessed mortal sin that we have not done sufficient penance for, we suffer the most severe punishment in purgatory. We must strive to eliminate all mortal sin in our lives.

The next most dreadful cause of Purgatorial suffering is venial sin that is committed deliberately. The only thing separating deliberate venial sins from mortal sins is the severity of the sin. Deliberate venial sins show callousness toward God’s law and the people harmed by those sins. Similarly, we must strive to eliminate lesser venial sins, because punishment will be given for them as well. While we cannot completely eliminate venial sins, we can drastically reduce their frequency in our lives by avoiding near occasions of sin and making better decisions when tempted. The graces given to us by the reception of the sacraments are very helpful in reforming our lives.

2. Do Penance

The second way to lessen our punishment in purgatory is to do penance. Penance most commonly involves fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The more healthy penance we are able to do in this life, the less punishment we will suffer in purgatory. We can make any unpleasant experience into a penance by offering our pain, discomfort, or stress to God.

Penance helps us in 2 ways. First, it repays the debt incurred by our sinfulness. It is believed that the penance we do while still alive will be easier than the penance required of us after death.  Secondly, it helps us to comprehend the severity of our sins and thereby focuses us on avoiding sin the next time we are tempted. Why not be proactive and make penance a part of our daily routine?

3. Embrace Suffering

The third means to avoid purgatorial punishment is to embrace our suffering. This does not necessarily mean we should seek it out, but we should accept the suffering that we cannot avoid and bear it without complaint. Everyone has to face many and varied sorrows and pains in life. These result from both physical pains as wells as emotional distress.

We all have our crosses to bear. These pains are God's greatest graces, which so many of us neglect to embrace and in doing so, lose many of the graces offered to us. They are an opportunity for us to share in Christ’s Passion in our own way, however small and dissimilar to the agony He endured for our salvation.

4. Receive the Eucharist Worthily and Confess Your Sins

The fourth method of reducing or eliminating our time in purgatory is by making frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist. We should confess our sins on a regular basis, not just when we have a mortal sin on our soul. Frequently confessing our sins provides us with grace to avoid those sins in the future.

We should strive to receive the Eucharist every day at mass in order to receive the graces that it bestows upon us. These graces cleanse us of our venial sins and also dispose us to avoid evil. Attending daily mass is easier for some than others due to working schedules and the availability of the sacrament, but the more we receive the Eucharist, the more graces we receive from God to live in more perfect conformity with His Will for us.

5. Ask God Specifically to Save You from Purgatory

The fifth way to avoid purgatory is to specifically pray to God for that purpose. Asking God for the grace necessary to avoid purgatory and be happy with Him in Heaven is an especially powerful method. When asking for this grace, if we do so with faith and perseverance, we will receive it. We should therefore pray daily that God will free us from purgatory. We ask God for so many other things, why not ask Him for something as important as avoiding the fires of Purgatory?

6. Resign Yourself to Your Own Death

The sixth way to avoid purgatory is by resignation to death. Pope St. Pius X granted a plenary indulgence to those who after receiving the Holy Eucharist at the hour of death, say the following prayer: “Eternal Father, from this day forward, I accept with a joyful and resigned heart the death it will please You to send me, with all its pains and sufferings.” The usual conditions of course apply to this plenary indulgence: Confession, prayer for the intentions of the Pope, and detachment from all sin. What better way to exit this life than with a “Get out of Jail Free Card” for the punishments in Purgatory.

Beyond the obvious impact of the plenary indulgence, resignation to death is something we should be living with anyway, since we will more carefully consider our actions if the reality of our own death is always present in our consciousness.

7. Receive the Anointing of the Sick (Last Rights/Extreme Unction)

The seventh means of reducing our suffering in purgatory is to receive the anointing of the sick (also known as Last Rights or Extreme Unction). This sacrament prepares us to bypass the pains of purgatory and immediately enter Heaven. We must properly prepare for the sacrament so that we can receive it while we have full use of all of our faculties. We must understand exactly what we are receiving to obtain its full graces. This is why it is important that others know of our desire to have the Anointing of the Sick when the end of our life is in sight.

8. Gain Indulgences

The final means of avoiding Purgatory is to make use of the generous indulgences that the Catholic Church has made available to us. Indulgences are specific ways to directly reduce or remove our suffering in Purgatory. There are two types of indulgence: partial and plenary. Partial indulgences remove part of the suffering due for our sins in purgatory, while plenary indulgences remove all of our due suffering. We should strive to make use of these opportunities for grace before we face the punishment of purgatory. Indulgences will be covered in the 5th article in this series.

 

Other articles you may like:

How Often Should Catholics Go to Confession?

Matthew 10 and a Kick in the Pants for the Soldiers of the New Evangelization

Top 10 Emotional Reasons People Don't Go to Confession and Why You Should Consider it Anyway