“Each one’s work will be manifest for the Day will reveal it, because the fire will make everything known…You will be saved, but only as passing through fire.” –1 Corinthians 3: 13-15

IF THERE is anything special in All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, it is the chance to commemorate one’s departed loved ones—with a flower, a candle-light, and a prayer-wish for those who in our hearts remain part of our lives. Any experience of their “paramdam” or any ghostly encounter is perhaps our only proof of life beyond the grave, and that our loved ones neither really cease to be nor assume another life.

This year, I resolved to make sense of the supernatural, to devote myself to reading books on purgatory, a missed-out creed that explains visits from the dead and the practice of praying for the departed. I thought of it after a Literature course on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and Guy de Maupassant’s Ghosts, which both deal with purgatory.

Catholic doctrine teaches that purgatory is a temporary state for purifying souls not bad enough for hell, but not that pure for an immediate ticket to heaven. Souls in purgatory are said to be aided by prayers, thus St. Paul prayed for the dead Onesiphorus, and Judas Maccabeus for his slain comrades. Some Bible scholars explain that in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “Sheol” stands for purgatory, while the New Testament term is “Hades,” which is still different from “Gehenna” or hell. The Book of Revelation describes how at the end of time, death and Hades are thrown into Gehenna. When all deaths and purifications have taken place, there would be no more need for death or purgatory.

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Besides heavenly apparitions like that of Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, the University’s patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, said that most visits from the dead come from purgatory. “One which corresponds with the words of saints is that purgatory,” says Aquinas, “is from where so many apparitions occur.” God is said to permit souls to appear either to instruct the living or to ask for prayers they need. Others say these souls go back for reparation or justice, to finally gain eternal rest.

Like heaven and hell, the concept of purgatory is perhaps as old as humanity. One surprisingly finds it among ancient Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Greeks and Romans. Virgil’s Aenid talks of temporal punishment, while the Stoics taught of a “middle place” of enlightenment which they called “empurosis” or “place of fire.” Plato also held that perfect happiness is unattainable after one’s death until one had atoned for one’s sins through passing fire. He spoke of Orphic teachers who “have a power at their command, which they procure from heaven, and which enables them by sacrifices and incantations…to make amends for any crime committed by the individual’s ancestors.” Plato comes close to home with our Catholic practices of requiem Masses, parasal, and pangaluluwa.

With the turn of the millennium, the subject of purgatory seems not up for Gehenna. It again made hype with Dr. Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life, a research on near-death experiences. There went reports of “a realm of bewildered spirits” where the dead seemed trapped and wanted to communicate with living relatives for help to move on to a complete union with God. Two years ago, the CBCP admitted of spirits “not at rest,” particularly when their demise was quick and unexpected. Accordingly, they need our help, not our fear.

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Indeed, one should fear the devil, but not spirits from purgatory. Like us, they only long for home, for that lost Paradise.


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