Oct 21, 2021
Coming just after Hell and just before Heaven, the second of the three books that make up Dante’s Divine Comedy is the Purgatorio--Purgatory. In its ninth canto, Dante places these words in the mouth of the angelic guardian of Purgatory’s gate who, displaying his keys, tells his listeners:
I hold them from St. Peter--who bade me err / Rather in opening than shutting out.
In the poem, as in the teaching of the Church, Purgatory can only properly be understood as an expression of God’s boundless mercy. For this is not a place of punishment but a place where, as a consequence of the divine generosity, repentant sinners are made ready to enter Paradise.
While the calendar of the Church contains no feast of Purgatory as such, we have its equivalent instead. It falls on November 2, just after the feast of All Saints, and is called All Souls Day. This is when the Church encourages us to pray especially for our departed ones--spouses, children, family members, friends, and many others--who we believe and hope are most likely now in Purgatory. This year we might even say a prayer for Dante, the 700th anniversary of whose death we marked a few weeks ago.