PURGATORY  (and visions of it)

The Catholic Church does not provide much official information about the characteristics, environment, or types of sufferings in purgatory. It is important to understand, though, that only those who die in a state of grace and are on their way to heaven go to purgatory. It is the process by which the saved people who still have any imperfections on their soul (that’s most of us) at the time of death, will have those imperfections burned off of us so that we are worthy to experience the Beatific Vision – the vision of God in all of his glory.


The only information provided by the Catechism is the following:



1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.


1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608


1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611


However, thousands of saints, mystics and holy nuns – and even some regular people – have had reported remarkable visions and visits to purgatory. They all seem to describe the same place. Others, despite no visions of purgatory, have been visited by souls in purgatory and thus, some even having the opportunity to ask questions. As souls come down to beg for assistance in the form of Masses, prayers and charitable acts, they often provide information on the experience of purgatory.


Time after time, visitors from purgatory say there are three main parts to purgatory. The largest is the middle part where most of the people are suffering their painful purification. The top part is closest to heaven where the principle pain is absence and longing for God. The lowest, darkest part is closest to hell, inflicting the most pain and resembling hell the most; in fact the demons are permitted to taunt the people there.


And within those three parts of purgatory, there are countless degrees of variation – perhaps seven main general ones, but almost an infinite number of smaller divisions. Many have said that the average person suffers 30 or 40 years in purgatory. Some stay just an hour; others until the end of time. Residents of purgatory commonly report that the Blessed Mother visits purgatory on her feast days, and that St. Michael the Archangel visits periodically. Souls do not see God in all his glory until they reach heaven, but in purgatory they increase in knowledge of God and His awesome love.



Sister Marie De La Croix:   Alright, let’s take a look at the different levels of purgatory described in the Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory, which was written in the 18th century by a holy nun named Sister Marie De La Croix. The French nun, while living, was visited repeatedly by a deceased nun who was suffering in purgatory. The living nun is often identified as Sister M. de L. C. in an effort to keep her identity private since she was alive at the time of the apparitions. The deceased nun told the writer the following: 


 “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, it is like a temporary hell, and here there 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.

“Next to these come the souls, who though they did not commit great crimes like the others, were indifferent to God. They did not fulfill their Easter duties and were also converted at the point of death. Many were unable to receive Holy Communion. They are in Purgatory for the long years of indifference. They suffer unheard of pains and are abandoned either without prayers or if they are said for them, they are not allowed to profit by them. There are in this stage of Purgatory religious of both sexes, who were tepid, neglectful of their duties, indifferent towards Jesus, also priests who did not exercise their sacred ministry with the reverence due to the Sovereign Majesty and who did not instill the love of God sufficiently into the souls confided to their care. I was in this stage of Purgatory. 

“In the second Purgatory are the souls of those who died with venial sins not fully expiated before death, or with mortal sins that have been forgiven but for which they have not made entire satisfaction to the Divine Justice. In this part of Purgatory, there are also different degrees according to the merits of each soul. 

“Thus the Purgatory of the consecrated souls or of those who have received more abundant graces, is longer and far more painful than that of ordinary people of the world. 

“Lastly, there is the Purgatory of desire which is called the Threshold. Very few escape this. To avoid it altogether, one must ardently desire Heaven and the vision of God. That is rare, rarer than people think, because even pious people are afraid of God and have not, therefore, a sufficiently strong desire of going to Heaven. This Purgatory has its very painful martyrdom like the others. The deprivation of the sight of our loving Jesus adds to the intense suffering.” (To read the text of the entire manuscript, see
this link.



Sister Maria Serafina   We now move on to a Belgian nun, Sister Maria Serafina, whose father appeared to her after his death in 1870. He appeared surrounded in flames and sadness. He begged his daughter for Masses, prayers and indulgences to be said for the purification of his soul, and lamented, “Oh! If people knew what Purgatory is, they would suffer anything to avoid it and alleviate the suffering of souls here.” After three months of prayers and penance, Sister Maria Serafina had a vision of her father’s face shining like the sun.

           Sister Maria Serafina had the opportunity to ask her father many questions about purgatory. Her experience is recorded the volume, Apparitions of a Soul in Purgatory.


Saint Catherine of Genoa  (1447-1510) was another mystic who saw scenes of purgatory. Among her observations contained in her Treatise on Purgatory are:  their knowledge of offending God while on Earth is what causes the most suffering to souls in purgatory; that a divine fire works on the soul until every imperfection is burnt away; the souls in purgatory desire complete cleansing before being united with God;  souls cannot acquire additional merit (holiness) once in purgatory . . . merit can only be increased while on Earth.


Sister Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II, had visions of purgatory that are included in The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul" (By the way, this is no ordinary diary – it contains the text of countless conversations with Jesus.


St. Faustina on purgatory:    The saint wrote: “ ...I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames, which were burning them, did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call Her “The Star of the Sea”. She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice which said] ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls’” (Diary, 20).


Maria Simma (1915-2004): The fascinating thing about Maria Simma of Austria is that she received her information about the afterlife directly from the souls who appeared to her from purgatory. The souls visiting Maria always wanted something from this holy woman – namely prayers, sacrifices, and suffering on their behalf to gain their release from purgatory (p. 183). Maria, a widow, devoted her life to helping them.


While the souls were in her home, Simma took the opportunity to ask them questions – questions about everything from what happens just after death to which sins earn the most time in purgatory. Simma, who lived in the mountainous village of Sonntag, Austria, had the support of her bishop – Bishop Bruno Wechner (1908-1999) of Feldkirch, Austria – in her ministry.


The visits began in 1940 and were still continuing in 1991 – the period in which author Nicky Eltz visited her home. The countless souls who appeared her in her home share with her fascinating stories and facts they learned in purgatory. To read her whole story, read Get Us Out of Here!! (2002) by Nicky Eltz who interviewed Simma for the book on Jan. 1, 1991.


Asked which sins earned the most suffering in purgatory, Simma cited “sins against love, meaning hostility, hard-heartedness and divorce” as well as “lack of active faith” and “immorality.” Which sins were responsible for putting nuns in purgatory? Lack of humility, lack of modesty and disobedience.


Asked if she had ever been visited by souls who had been Jews or Moslem on Earth, Simma replied, “Yes, and they are happy when they appear to me, understanding things now much better than they did before…” (p. 96). Simma added that although the Catholic Church benefits a soul on Earth the most, unchurched individuals who lived by a clean conscience, always loved and assisted neighbors, and protected life, are loved and blessed by God.


Asked what the souls in purgatory stated about divorce, Simma answered, “They have said it is one of the greatest of all sins against God himself. It hurts everyone tremendously, and of course, the innocent ones the most. It is nothing less than spiritual, emotional, and mental murder . . . .” (p. 153). Asked what the souls said about annulments, Simma said, “they have told me that the Church grants far too many annulments today…” (p. 153)


Other insights from Simma . . . President John F. Kennedy entered heaven not long after his assassination, but Hitler is in hell. Pope Paul IV, who had died in the 16th century, appeared to Simma from purgatory, still there in the 20th century because he had not done enough as pope (p. 26). One of the most ancient souls who appeared to Simma was a priest from Cologne who had died in 555 A.D.


Souls also told Simma that sixty percent of all cases of depression could be eliminated if everyone went to Confession, and that the most spiritually healthy continent currently is Africa (America and Western Europe are the worst). Do guardian angels stay with a person when in purgatory? Yes, but the person does not get to see their angel all of the time. How often should people go to Mass? Every day. Why do so many souls appear in their work clothes? Simma said this is “because our duty here is the most important . . . Our daily work is our mission.”


Do people who had disabilities on Earth appear disabled from purgatory? No. Simma added, “Wheelchairs are gone. Deformations and scars are gone. Once, however, a soul came with a large goiter. Yet this was only so that the family would believe me when I told them that their relative had appeared to me” with instructions for the family. Simma adds that the souls she had seen were mostly from the higher level of purgatory, and that others had seen wounds and sufferings on souls in the lower levels, but not that same wounds from the Earthly lives.


Do aborted and stillborn babies go to heaven? Yes, but first they go to a temporary children’s heaven of sorts since they were not baptized. The babies are so happy there that they do not even realize they are not in heaven. It is only in the real heaven in which we behold the Beatific Vision.


Can a parent expedite the transition of that baby into heaven? Yes, have a Mass said for the baby. Simma also recommends naming the child and accepting the child into one’s family, and of course, asking the child for forgiveness in cases of abortion. The souls from purgatory also told Simma that although a mother will see her aborted child in heaven, she will also “see in Heaven the spot where her child should have been after having lived a full life, but that spot will then be empty.”


What types of funerals do souls in purgatory prefer? Hint: not flashy ones, but read p. 149 for more information. What kind of music do they like? Holy music and blessed church bells.


Why is it so dangerous to consult channelers and mediums? “What happens with spiritists is that they think they are calling the souls of the deceased; but if there is any reaction to their calling them, it is always and without exception Satan and his agents who are responding. Spiritists and channelers are doing something extremely dangerous both to themselves and to the people who go to them for advice. They are living an enormous pack of lies. We are not permitted to call the deceased. That is strictly forbidden. In my case, I never called them, never do and never will,” said Simma, who states in the interview that her apostolate had the blessing of Pope John Paul II.


Simma even learned that certain souls in purgatory had extinguished the fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and had helped shorten the Persian Gulf War.  If you read the book, do not miss the incredible story about Father Joseph Kalosans, the priest who was murdered in the late 1980s (see p. 120-121).


As usual, have caution when reading a book like this. The Catholic Church did not review, much less approve, the thousands of tidbits that this poor mountain woman reports having received from the souls who visited her. It remains possible that her information is tainted with misinterpretations.  During the interview with Eltz, Simma said, “I am obedient to my priest and to my bishops who have said that as long as everything is theologically correct, as it has been so far, to continue with my apostolate.”


Often, one individual would appear to Simma requesting certain prayers or penances for his own deliverance. During the visit, Simma would take the opportunity to inquire about another soul in purgatory and his ro her needs for deliverance. The visiting soul would generally report back later with the answer. Simma wondered how the souls were getting their answers . . .  did they need to run around purgatory to find the mentioned individual? No, a soul explained,  all of the information came straight from the Blessed Mother. One day Bishop Wechner summoned Simma to ask her the same question – where the souls received their information. Simma already knew the answer.


What does Simma say she learned from all of the souls over the years? That the only purpose of this life is to get to heaven.          A video of a speech by Maria Simma is here



Saint Padre Pio: This Italian priest who bore the stigmata once stated to Bishop Alberto Costa that he had seen so many souls from purgatory that they did not frighten him anymore. He also stated, “More souls of the dead than the living climb this mountain to attend my Masses and seek my prayers.” Some of his interesting encounters with purgatorial visitors to Earth are at this link, this link and also this link.


Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi (1566-1607): This Carmelite mystic had detailed visions of humans suffering in purgatory, including punishments such as immersion in a lake of molten lead or pool of ice (depending on the types of sins).


St. John Bosco (1815-1818) also had visions of purgatory, as well as heaven and hell, which are contained in the book The Forty Dreams of St. Bosco.


St. Margaret of Cortona (1247-1297) offered many prayers and sacrifices for souls in purgatory, many of whom appeared to her suffering in fire. On her deathbed, St. Margaret was shown a vision of an army of beautiful souls in heaven. The Lord told her that the saint’s prayers and penances had paid off their purgatory.    EWTN article on St. Margaret of Cortona



Great quote on ghosts (ghosts from purgatory, heaven and hell) from Peter Kreeft’s book, Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven:   After offering reasons as to why we are prohibited from summoning spirits, Kreeft goes on to say:  “Nevertheless, without our action or invitation, the dead often do appear to the living. There is enormous evidence of “ghosts” in all cultures. What are we to make of them? Surely we are not to classify the appearances of the wives of C.S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken, just to take two Christian examples, as demonic? We can distinguish three kinds of ghosts, I believe. First, the most familiar kind: the sad ones, the wispy ones. They seem to be working out some unfinished earthly business, or suffering some purgatorial purification until released from their earthly business. These ghosts would seem to be the ones who just barely made it to Purgatory, who feel little or no joy yet and who need to learn many painful lessons about their past lives on earth.”

          “Second, there are malicious and deceptive spirits—and since they are deceptive, they hardly ever appear malicious. These are probably the ones who respond to conjurings at seances. They probably come from Hell. Even the chance of that happening should be sufficient to terrify away all temptations to necromancy."

          "Third, there are bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God's will, not ours, with messages of hope and love. They seem to come from Heaven. Unlike the purgatorial ghosts who come back primarily for their own sakes, these bright spirits come back for the sake of us the living, to tell us all is well. They are aped by evil spirits who say the same, who speak 'peace, peace, when there is no peace'. But the deception works only one way: the fake can deceive by appearing genuine, but the genuine never deceives by appearing fake. Heavenly spirits always convince us that they are genuinely good. Even the bright spirits appear ghostlike to us because a ghost of any type is one whose substance does not belong in or come from this world. In Heaven these spirits are not ghosts but real, solid and substantial because they are at home there: One can't be a ghost in one's own country." 

          “That there are all three kinds of ghosts is enormously likely. Even taking into account our penchant to deceive and be deceived, our credulity and fakery, there remain so many trustworthy accounts of all three types of ghosts - trustworthy by every ordinary empirical and psychological standard - that only a dogmatic prejudice against them could prevent us from believing they exist. As Chesterton says, 'We believe an old apple woman when she says she ate an apple; but when she says she saw a ghost, we say 'But she's only an old apple woman.' A most undemocratic and unscientific prejudice."


Books on purgatory

Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory  by Sister M. de L.C.

Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory (Rome), Purgatory Museum

Get us Out of Here(Nicky Eltz interviews Maria Simma who was visited by many souls)

Hungry Souls by Gerard J M Van Den Aardweg

Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints   by Rev. Fr. F. X. Schouppe, S.J. (Book description: “ . . . true stories of apparitions and revelations on Purgatory from the lives of St. Margaret Mary, St. Gertrude, St. Bridget of Sweden, the Cure of Ars, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, St. Margaret of Cortona, and St. Thomas Aquinas”)


Links on purgatory

Inside Purgatory: What History, Theology, and the Mystics Tell Us About Purgatory

Sister Maria Serafina

Help the Holy Souls

The Real Truth About Purgatory

Sister Faustina Kowalska’s Vision of Purgatory


Text of Treatise on Purgatory (Dialogue) by St. Catherine of Genoa 

Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven by Peter Kreeft

Quotes by Padre Pio on Purgatory

More Padre Pio Stories 

Another Padre Pio Link

What the Virgin Mary said about Purgatory in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal


Visions of Purgatory (Note: Whereas hell is permanent, purgatory is only a temporary purification process for those who died in a state of grace, in friendship with God, and are heading towards heaven but first need to make reparation for sins they were sorry for but did not make amends for while on Earth.)


Pope Benedict XVI mentions purgatory in his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi  (In Hope We are Saved). Interestingly, the pope notes in #48 that “Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ.39 The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).” SPE SALVI


Interesting tidbit: After dying, Pope Innocent III (1160-1260) appeared to Saint Lutgardis with flames from purgatory around him and begged for the nun’s prayers, saying three faults of his would be keeping him in purgatory for several centuries unless he received a whole lot of prayers.  The story is also mentioned in this article.  A few years later, he appeared to her again in glory from heaven.


Penance at the hot springs! Appearing from purgatory, St. Paschasius came to Bishop Germanus of Capua at the hot springs of Angulus saying he was sentenced to doing penance at the hot baths. St. Paschasius also begged for prayers. The bishop prayed vigorously and “after some days no longer found him at the springs” (Catholic Encyclopedia)


What did the Early Church Fathers Say about Purgatory??? Check out these links: purgatory1  purgatory2 purgatory3   purgatory4   purgatory5 (Thomas Aquinas)   purgatory6  purgatory7



Pope Gregory the Great (died 602 A.D.)
Pope Gregory the Great (died 602 A.D.)

Gregorian Masses for the Dead (and their surprising connection to the apparition of a monk).


In his famous work, Dialogues, Pope Saint Gregory the Great recounts the story of a monk named Justus who died. Justus, who was also St. Gregory’s physician, had recently confessed his sin of hoarding and hiding three crowns of gold for himself, thus violating his monastery’s rule that all possession be held in common. A month after Justus’ death, Pope Gregory, the founder of this monastery, called upon Pretiosus (the monastery’s prior) to arrange for one Mass per day to be offered up for the soul of Justus.


On the thirtieth day of Masses, the deceased Justus appeared to his brother Copiosus, who asked him "What is the matter, brother? and how is it with you?"   Justus replied that he was now in communion with God. He had reached heaven. Justus said to Copiosus, "Hitherto have I been in bad case, but now I am well; for this day have I received the communion" (Source: Dialogues, Book 4, Chapter 55). Thus began the tradition of offering Gregorian Masses for our departed loved ones. Gregorian Masses entail one Mass per day for thirty consecutive days.


Pope Benedict XIII once said, “The merits of the Gregorian Masses lie in the great power which St. Gregory has before the throne of God.” It is customary to donate about $10 per Mass from whichever church or mission you request Masses for the deceased. This hardly covers the upkeep and bills of the church.


Gregorian Masses can be requested at many places, including Our Lady of Angels Association,  Franciscan Friars, the Salesians,  the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese, the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude, the Capuchin Friars, the Pontifical Mission Societies, or the Pious Union of St. Joseph.


If you’d like to request a single Mass, just go to your parish office and request it for your friend or family member. If the public Masses are already booked, request a private Mass.



Links:   Pope Gregory the Great    Pope Gregory the Great (Catholic Encyclopedia)     Dialogues (Book 1)     Dialogues (Book 2)      Dialogues (Book 3)     Dialogues (Book 4)     Dialogues (Intro)     Gregorian Masses (ewtn)    article on Gregorian Masses