Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Purgatory, as distinct from Limbo, is without doubt alive and well.

    It is alive for the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the last time it was discussed, in the Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II) [1] the discussion brought forth very specific indications as to the various stages of God’s grace, or not, after death.

    In the seventh chapter of the Vatican II document ‘Lumen Gentium’ ( LG; The Sacred Constitution on the Church), the Council states:
    ‘Until the Lord shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him (cf. Mt 25:31) and death being destroyed, all things are subject to him (cf. 1 Cor 15:26-27), some of his disciples ARE EXILES ON EARTH, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding “clearly God himself triune and one, as he is” (…)’ (LG 49).’ Mine is the emphasis.

    Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, instituted by Pope John Paul II in response to the same Council’s call for a renewal in catechesis, explicitly teaches about Purgatory in articles 1030-1032 and 1472. The second edition [2] includes the term in its glossary, defining it as:
    ‘A state of final purification after death and before entrance into heaven for those who died in God’s friendship, but were only IMPERFECTLY PURIFIED; a final cleansing of human imperfection before one is able to enter the joy of heaven.’ The emphasis is, again, mine.

    The next questions come as of course.

    Who are the ‘purified’? And how do they get that way?

    In answer, the Holy Roman Catholic Church has always preferred to err on the safe side and so ,just in case, it was assumed that everybody, even after due Chrism, was ‘imperfectly purified’.

    What was there for the flock to do then? How were they to ‘purify’ their departed? How to ensure that the loved one was not to languish in Eternity without the light of God’s Glance, forever excluded from the ambrosia of Paradise?

    Plus, in the minds of the faithful, never explicitly set down as dogma by the Church itself, but on the other hand, never discouraged, how to prevent the worser fate of the slide into the furnace of Hell?

    The answer was a simple one.

    Purchase the saying of Mass, on the passing of thirty days after the soul’s departure. And this interval was given the name, ‘TRIGESIMO’.

    On these occasions, and at the expense of the grieving family, the whole congregation, in Parochial Oneness, could assail the Almighty for the Indulgence of ‘purification’. By the way, the flock saw nothing odd in paying for a thing of this kind: since at least St. Gregory’s time, Indulgences were a useful sideline for the priests and monks of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

    The Reformation – and Luther in particular [3] – was extremely scathing about it all, and particularly about the idea of buying your spot in Paradise (with the Almighty as a kind of Celestial Bank-Teller) because that, at not an awful lot of removes, is what it amounted to.

    For the Roman Catholic Church of Cardinal Newman that I was immersed in, thanks to my schooling, let’s call it the Anglo-Catholic church - the buying of a Mass for the Departed was and is seen as ' infra dig'.

    Here in Sardinia, on the other hand, the buying of a Mass is something that has to be done, so long as there is a member of the family to do it.

    No sign of the Reformation here. Nor indeed of Enlightenment.

    So, while still at Padova, not even twenty-four hours after my husband’s death, started the flood of injunctions ranging from entreaty to command to have Mass said at the Sanctuary of Saint Antonio of Padova – by bizarre chance also my husband’s Saint’s name – while friends would see to having them done in Sassari, in our absence.

    Obviously knowing my own views on the subject, naturally knowing Antonio’s views on the same, and not wanting an enraged ectoplasm hanging around for the rest of my life – and Antonio enraged alive was quite enough an experience – I deflected as well as I could, am still deflecting in fact.

    Lying, without a trace of shame.

    “Simona (or, Teresa: these two are the most insistent of the Mass hardliners). Of course Masses are being said. What? You can’t make it to Goa this month? Aw shucks.”

    Then there’s the question of tribute to the departed – here taken very very seriously.

    No problem there, surely? They can go to his grave, put flowers on it and whatnot, whenever they like.

    No. Because he, like me fearing burial alive, had long ago asked for cremation. Which desire I satisfied, there in Venice, on the Island of San Michele. The intention was then to scatter the ashes, at Ricky’s beach house, in the garden. Had already mentally marked out the spot in my mind, in fact: at the foot of a lushly proud myrtle bush, practically a tree, with mediterranean maquis all around.

    On returning to Sassari, however, I was informed that in the absence of precise Testamentary indications as to where exactly the person wanted his or her ashes scattered – and Antonio had never even made a Will § - the alternatives were two.

    The first: in a desolate corner of Sassari’s City Cemetery, not much more than a Potter’s Field.

    The second: to keep the ashes tight sealed in their urn, at home, under my strict custody, and with all the relative documentation ever at hand. This was because, in this second instance, visits every now and then from the ‘Polizia Mortuaria’ (I don’t need to trad. approx. that do I?) are to be expected. Their brief is to check that the seals on the urn are not tampered with in any way [4].

    Naturally, I chose the second option. Although I have to say that I will never be happy about this. Ashes to ashes; the return to the Universe; these are atavistic needs.


    I placed the urn in what is the best place for it in the whole flat, which is in our room, atop one of my working surfaces. It has a corner all to itself, sort of.

    The first TRIGESIMO on 13th April I chose to commemorate with memorial cards §§ , also to thank those who had expressed their condolences via telegram, or letter, or by notices under the Obituaries column in the local paper. This was sufficiently unusual to bring friends home, and if they requested it, to be lead into the presence of the urn.

    I say ‘if they requested it’ because for people here, mortal remains are invested with such awe, or, in Simona’s case, reverential terror (odd for someone so observant in her religious practices, I would have thought, but no matter), that I could see that for many, just the thought of the urn in the precincts made them not a little queasy.

    Last 11th July was the fourth ‘TRIGESIMO’, and a quite jolly time was had by all. Of course, Sergio (in the picture, with a red and yellow hat on) flaked out on our bed. I’m sure this amused Antonio, because this is something of a trademark for Sergio: you turn your back on him for a moment and he’s snoozing.

    At one stage, even, it got a little raucous. Simona, Teresa, and Virginia had been persuaded to a rendition of ‘O Malignaane’; I had to remind everyone that we are in a condominium, and there is a bedroom BELOW us, so to stop stomping the feet, please.

    If all this Oneness hasn’t got Antonio ‘purified’, well… I don’t know what could.

    [1] initiated under Pope John XXIII, 11th October 1962, and closed under Pope Paul VI, 8th December 1965
    [2] In the U.S., the bishops then published a new English translation, from the official Latin text. (English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Modifications from the Editio Typica, copyright 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.) The U.S. bishops added a "Glossary and Index Analyticus" (copyright 2000, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.) and published the new translation, with glossary and index, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, "revised in accordance with the official Latin text promulgated by Pope John Paul II".
    [3] 31st October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting against the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as ‘The Ninety-Five Theses’.

    § At the 49 years old, would you be thinking about making wills? And when the situation had become more advanced, he could not think about these things, and I did not have the heart to even mention it. It would have been an admission, in this context, of the loss of all hope. I have taken steps, ‘though, to make a Will myself because, in its absence, such a mess is left for one’s loved ones to clear up.

    [4] Were they to find any such thing the offence comes under Italian Criminal Law, and is punishable by imprisonment from two to seven years (Codice Penale Art. 411, and subsequent modifications under the Codice Civile, legge 30.04.201, Art. 130).

    §§ great thanks here is due to e-digiprint® , and Nick in particular, who was so understanding and, not least, an insomniac, just like I was.

    A word about the semblance of academic paper here. It is not a conceit on my part. It is the only way I know to keep me TO THE POINT.

    Image: original photo, taken about a week before this fourth ‘TRIGESIMO’ I’m afraid it wasn’t much tidier on the actual day.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.