The Church here on Earth is called the Church Militant. We can pray, offer sacrifices and do good deeds, and these benefit both ourselves and others. The Church Suffering are our brothers and sisters in Purgatory. They can pray for us but not for themselves – they rely on our prayers and offerings. There is also the Church Triumphant is the Church in Heaven, which also intercedes for us and the Holy Souls.
Souls in Purgatory, or the Holy Souls, are the souls of those who have died in the state of grace but who are not yet free from all punishment due to their sins already forgiven (for which satisfaction is still to be made). They are certain to enter Heaven but must first suffer proportionately in Purgatory. It is the teaching of the Church that these souls are aided by our prayers and good works, and especially by the Sacrifice of the Mass. Though they cannot help themselves, it is commonly believed that they can assist us, and the Church commends our prayers for their intercession.
What is Purgatory?
Here is what the great Doctors of the Church tell us of Purgatory:
So grievous is their suffering that one minute in this awful fire seems like a century.
St. Thomas Aquinas, the Prince of Theologians, says that the fire of Purgatory is equal in intensity to the fire of Hell, and that the slightest contact with it is more dreadful than all the possible sufferings of this Earth!
St. Augustine, teaches that to be purified of their faults previous to being admitted to Heaven, souls after death are subjected to a fire more penetrating, more dreadful than anything we can see, or feel, or conceive in this life
“Though this fire is destined to cleanse and purify the soul, ” adds the Holy Doctor, “still it is more acute than anything we could possibly endure on Earth. “
St. Cyril of Alexandria does not hesitate to say that “it would be preferable to suffer all the possible torments of Earth until the Judgment day than to pass one day in Purgatory. “
Another great Saint says: “Our fire, in comparison with the fire of Purgatory, is as a refreshing breeze. “
The other holy writers speak in identical terms of this awful fire. The pain of loss or separation from God, which the souls also suffer in Purgatory, is most severe. The soul separated from the body craves with all the intensity of its spiritual nature for God. It is consumed with an intense desire to fly to Him. Yet it is held back. No words can describe the anguish of this unsatisfied craving.
St. Augustine says the pains of Purgatory are beyond everything we can imagine or conceive.
God in His infinite mercy though, has given us the tools to help both ourselves and others. This is especially through in the Holy Mass.