Perceptions Of Purgatory
I have written only some days ago about the different perceptions in traditionally Catholic, and mixed countries, of the probability of salvation.
Today I would like to spend some words on the different views about Purgatory. Those of my generation were taught (at school, at the Catechism, and from our grandmothers) to abandon every illusion that Purgatory would be a pleasant walk in the park. “Painful” and “long” were the adjectives you would hear more often linked to it, and even as a child you knew this was something to be taken seriously. Therefore, one can safely say that the same people who were equipped with a sane optimism about their and their beloved ones’ salvation were also those with a very sobering expectation concerning the consequences of human behaviour and of their innate sinfulness. I remember here, in a rather personal matter, my grandmother already in bed with cancer assuring me, a little child, she was ill of cancer because of her sins and she hoped to land in…. purgatory after death. We are talking here (without giving too many personal details) of one of those pious women, tutte casa e chiesa (all home and church) you think are not produced anymore (except they are I think, only in much smaller numbers). I do not remember my grandmother asking me to pray for her after her death, but I think it’s fair to say the thought must have been there, and my mother teaching me the “eternal rest” the very day my grandmother died and asking me to say it every day before I go to sleep could, I reflect now, perhaps have been in compliance with my grandmother’s asking (and I know my mother prays for her every day to this day herself).
In all this, you see the working of a traditional Catholic society, in which people took salvation extremely seriously but with a fundamental optimism, worked on their salvation until the very end without gloom and without presumption, with fear and trembling but also with childish abandonment, and knew death would not mean the end of the hard work.
What would a person in the same situation today think, I wonder. If they should happen to talk about death with their small nephews, they will probably never mention Purgatory and I doubt they would mention death at all. If they do, Grandma will probably said to be going to play with the angels, utterly destroying decades of devoted daily prayers for her. As the “promotion to heaven” is considered a given by her daughters, these would not even think of asking their children to pray for the dead, or to pray for the deceased themselves. If a permanence in Purgatory in envisaged, this will be something very short, mainly a formality. Masses for the dead will, obviously, not be needed. God will certainly be nice and not cause sufferance, surely? Rex tremendae majestatis is not even in their vocabulary, let alone in their hearts.
So here we have the modern conception of purgatory: no prayers for the dead, no devotions, no Mass attendance, no need to even be properly instructed, and we all go straight to Paradise – bar the few who will have to make a short pit stop in Purgatory and, probably, Hitler and Stalin – because we are nice people, very inclusive, and always so nice with everyone.
I’ll stick with my Grandmother, thank you very much.