The length of time souls are detained in Purgatory depends on:
- the number of their attachments to temporal things/their faults
- on the malice and deliberation with which these have been committed;
- on the penance done, or not done, the satisfaction made, or not made, for sins during life;
- Much, too, depends on the suffrages offered for them after death.
What can be safely said is that the time souls spend in Purgatory, as a rule, is very much longer than people commonly imagine.
We will quote a few of the many instances in the lives and revelations of the Saints.
St Louis’ father
St Louis Bertrant’s father was an exemplary Christian, as we should naturally expect, being the father of so great a Saint. He had even wished to become a Carthusian monk until he learned that it was not God’s will for him.
When he died, after long years spent in the practice of every Christian virtue, his saintly son, fully aware of the rigours of God’s justice, offered many Masses and poured forth the most fervent supplications for the soul he so dearly loved.
A vision of his father still in Purgatory forced him to intensify a hundredfold his suffrages. He added most severe penances and long fasts to his Masses and prayers. Yet eight whole years passed before he obtained the release of his father.
St Malachy’s sister
St Malchy’s sister was detained in Purgatory for a very long time despite the Masses, prayers and heroic mortifications the Saint offered for her!
Other pious people
It was related to a holy nun in Famphluna, who succeeded in releasing many Carmelite nuns from Purgatory that most of these had spent there terms from thirty to sixty years!
Carmelite nuns in Purgatory for forty, fifty and sixty years! What will it be for those living midst the temptations of the World and with all their hundreds of weaknesses?
St Vincent Ferrer, after the death of his sister, prayed with incredible fervour for her soul and offered many Masses for her release. She appeared to him at length and told him that, had it not been for his powerful intercession with God, she should have remained an indeterminable time in Purgatory.
Necessary and prudent
In the Dominican Order it is the rule to pray for the Master Generals by name on their anniversaries. Many of these have been dead several hundred years! They were men especially eminent for piety and learning. This rule would not been approved by the Church were it not necessary and prudent.
The time varies
We do not mean to imply that all souls are detained equally long periods in the expiatory fires. Many have committed lesser faults and have done more penance. Therefore their punishment will be much less severe.
Still the instances we have quoted are very much to the point, for if these souls who enjoyed the intimacy, who saw the example and shared in the intercession of great Saints during their lives and who, after death, were aided by their most efficacious suffrages, yet were detained for such a length of time in Purgatory what may not happen to us who enjoy none of these wonderful privileges?
– From: Read Me or Rue It, by E.D.M., approved of His Eminence the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon 4/6/1936, printed by Kerryman, Co Kerry, Ireland