Monday, July 2, 2012


This past month my wife, Teresa, attended a funeral of one her Master Gardener friends.  After more than 15 years battling cancer, the good Lord called her home.  The funeral mass took place in my diocese, but not my parish.  Unable to attend myself, I called Teresa later that day to see how it all went.  Her quick reply was, “Be glad you were not there.”  The full conversation went something like this:
J: How bad could it have been?
T: Well the priest and the deacon were both wearing Roman vestments that were purple.
J: Purple?  You mean white, with a bit of purple trim?
T: I mean all purple, like Advent
J: Why?
T: Funny you should ask, as the priest made it central to his homily
J: Did what?
T: He said he was wearing purple to remind us that her soul is not in heaven yet, rather it is in Purgatory.  He went on to explain that this was a good thing since it meant that she was destined to heaven but is in Purgatory receiving the final cleansing…and since she is no longer able to advance her own cause, we who remain must pray for her soul.
J: (Deleting expletives for purposes of keeping this blog family friendly:) Really?  I mean Really?  I have yet to find a website that delineates the length of time, if any, in Purgatory based on our earthly lives!  I would love to be enlightened as to who gets more or less time: Clergy? Blogging Deacons? Sisters/Nuns? Divorced? Gay? A 60 year old lady who loved to garden, loved her family and friends and loved her God?
T: Oh no, I feel a new blog post being written…
While the good practice of praying for/to those who have died predates Christ, the naming of “Purgatory” as a place or state of “being cleansed” dates to c 1170 and formalized in the Councils of Florence (1431-1435) and Trent (1545-1563).  There are three paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that outline the tradition of the Church as it relates to Purgatory. Nowhere does it state, obviously, where or how, or who, or certainly how long anyone goes to Purgatory. 
But I would assume based on what Jesus said on the cross to the criminal hanging next to him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23:43) that he was not going to be spending much time stopping off in Purgatory. The great Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus (1256-1308) took the position that the final cleansing of the soul took place instantaneously upon death, after all God’s love is immeasurable and unconditional.  Rome never embraced his theological concept as whole.  Then again to have done so would have given God all the power, all the control and all the grace to forgive immediately and unconditionally.  Instead Rome, in the middle ages, favored the theology of time in Purgatory and its corresponding indulgences which supported their own egos and their own coffers.
So I am at a loss as to how one in 2012, preaching to a family who is mourning the death of their loved one, takes the position with words and colored vestments that her soul hasn’t made it to heaven yet.  He knows this?  By taking this homiletic action, the priest moved the focus of this Mass of the Resurrection away from God’s salvational action and focused on Church control.  This is simply another example of Catholic egos running rampant.  It is another example of some clergy, as well as the Church, stuck in what Richard Rohr, OFM. calls the first half of life. Stuck on building its ego. Stuck on power and control. Stuck on defining who they are by knocking down others.
Indeed, nothing wrong with praying for those who have died.  I, for one, am always looking for their graces and those of the entire Communion of Saints.  But my prayer today is that the Church will move in an opposite direction by shedding its ego and focusing on the risen Christ, who “holds all thing in unity…who reconciles all things through him and for him, everything in heaven and on earth” (Col 1:17, 19-20)  ...all without our help.  Imagine that.
And the purple vestments? They can stay in the closet till next Advent.


Anonymous said...

You are right about it being all for control and ego. Too much that I have seen in recent years is more about control than spirit.
*New Missal translation = we tell you how you can pray.
*Theology that is challenging to conservatism = the Vatican sending in overlords.
*More deacons than priests = stop the formation program.

Jim said...

I agree...and I would guess so would Sister Margaret Farley!

Catherine said...

Just look at the painting that accompanies your blog. This is a good thing? This is the welcome Jesus has for his beloved ones? Can't go there. (Neither the concept or Purgatory!)

Fran said...

I'm speechless.

But not...

There have been lots of discussions online of late - about funeral vestment colors. I guess black and purple are more in now. Make mine white when I go - please.

This is just astounding. And tragically sad at so many levels.

Meredith Gould said...

My jaw dropped when I first heard you tell this story, now I'm getting a raging headache from shaking my head back-n-forth with disgusted wonder.

And the most pitiful thing? This level of lunacy and its consequent lack of compassion is becoming more normative, especially among younger priests who are stuck in every way you enumerate . . . and more.

Lord, have mercy.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

A well written article on an often misunderstood subject on the Catholic Faith. A topic which I've needed to address more than once in my Blog.

The priest in question was wrong to say what he said at this particular time. An honest sermon on Purgatory at Sunday Mass would have been more appropriate.

But then, when's the last time Purgatory, hell, the devil, sin and such subjects were mentioned in sermons? Priests are more inclined to preach nice soothing things to make you feel comfortable and good about yourself.

They don't want to frighten the horses and affect the Sunday collection.

I fear many Christians are sleep-walking their way into hell.

Thank you for bravely publishing such a good article.

God bless.