How Long Does A Soul Stay In Purgatory?

The concept of purgatory is not unique to Catholicism. Even before Jesus’s life on earth, Judaism had the same concept – a place called Gehenna where the wicked suffer to atone for their sins and purify them for entry into heaven. 

In the Catholic Church, purgatory is a place (or a form of existence), where less than pure souls go through a purifying fire to make them worthy of the beatific vision in heaven. 

While they do not suffer physical pain, souls in purgatory suffer from longing for God. This longing and yearning, more intense than you can imagine, purges them of their sin. 

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: 

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Just as important is the belief that purgatory is temporary, unlike hell. That’s why there’s a purifying fire. Souls in purgatory are destined for heaven. 

How Long Does a Soul Stay in Purgatory?

how long does a soul stay in purgatory

The Catholic Church doesn’t say much regarding purgatory, other than that it exists and its purpose. There’s no mention, in the Catechism nor the Bible, of how long souls stay in purgatory before going to heaven. 

It’s impossible to understand the concept of time in a place that’s very different from our world. We measure our time in months and years, but that may not be the case at all in purgatory. 

The only thing we know is that the existence of a person’s soul in purgatory has a beginning and an ending. 

Another reason why it’s difficult to pin down the exact period of a soul’s stay in purgatory is that each person’s purification is unique. People will experience their own form, intensity and length of purification depending on their attachment to sin. 

So some souls might be there for a brief moment, while others are there for ages. 

The most important thing is that purgatory is temporary. If a soul’s suffering goes on forever, then it’s in hell where there’s eternal damnation.

How Do You Release a Soul in Purgatory?

How Do You Release A Soul In Purgatory

You cannot release a soul in purgatory. Only God judges how long a soul spends in purgatory. Souls are released into heaven once they are purified of sin. 

That said, you can relieve a soul’s torment and maybe even lessen the time they are in purgatory by praying for them

Praying for the dead is supported by the bible in 2 Maccabees 12:43. 

And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.

The church also says you can give to charity and participate in indulgences and works of penance on behalf of someone in purgatory. 

Do Souls Suffer in Purgatory? 

They most certainly do, but it’s not the kind of suffering we can easily imagine. The church talks about a purifying fire that cleanses the soul of sin. 

But this is not a physical fire that burns – they are souls after all, not physical bodies. Many biblical scholars describe the purifying fire as a deep longing and yearning for beatific vision. Souls in purgatory undergo a dire deprivation of the face of God. 

Here’s a passage from Zechariah 13:9.

This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

What Are the Different Levels of Purgatory?

There are no levels of purgatory, as far as we know. Each soul in purgatory is purified in their own way to cleanse them of their sin. 

The idea of levels in purgatory (usually 7 levels) comes from Dante’s fictional works. Dante was an Italian poet and writer

In the Catholic Church, there’s nothing like levels of purgatory. 

5 thoughts on “How Long Does A Soul Stay In Purgatory?”

  1. To whom it may concern,

    My name is Fr. Stephen Arabadjis. I am a member of the Society of St. Pius X. But I am in my 7th year of Sabbatical.
    Therefore I was hoping your group could do a 54 day rosary novena for my intentions. But any prayers and sacrifices would be greatly appreciated. I know Our Lady will reward you generously for this.

    In Our Lady,
    Fr. Arabadjis

    P.S. Thanking you in advance, since I don’t always get all my communications

  2. According to two of the 6 visionaries in Medugorje that Blessed Mother took whole body to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, they saw 5 levels of purgatory and is stated in the book “My Heart will Triumph. Level 5 being closest to hell and level 1 closest to Heaven….I met one of them in person in Medugorje and heard him speak. He wouldn’t lie. Peace

  3. As a single Roman Catholic born in 1968, the idea of being sent to purgatory or hell is a very scary one. I should think that it is to anyone who wants to go to Heaven. But what’s even more frightening is the universal maxim in the Catholic church that we are all born with the stain of original sin and, notwithstanding this, some of us will go to Heaven, some to purgatory and some to hell, even if we receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. I’m assuming that not everyone who goes to church and receives the Sacraments goes immediately to Heaven. I have also been enlightened by a Roman Catholic priest and Sister that going to Confession absolves us of the sins we committed, but we still have to later atone for these sins in purgatory. I’m left with this lingering and inevitably-frightening question: If we are all sinners but believe in the infinite mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then what aspect(s) of our lives determine(s) whether we go immediately to Heaven, purgatory or hell, assuming that we go to church, love our neighbor and our enemies, follow the Holy Trinity’s 10 Commandments and practice the Beatitudes?

  4. Carl’s question is precisely what forced me to seek answers directly from the Bible and not church leaders or councils. There’s a body of man made rules which support ideas like purgatory and additional actions required beyond what we see so clearly in the New Testament. Ephesians 2 and The first 8 chapters of Romans are quite enough to understand that we must be saved and this is by grace only. The benefits of heaven are absolutely sure for those whom Jesus saves. The saving is a work 100% by Gods grace and He does it by giving us faith and keeping us in that faith. See 1 Peter chapter 1 and many other passages for the proof. I was raised Catholic and I am thankful for it. God used that to bring me to a desire for Him. But I felt exactly like Carl. And the church had no sure answer for me. Every potential blessing had a behavior based ‘but’ attached. So while the New Testament says clearly that we can absolutely know we are saved (see 1 John 5), the Catholic Church leaves us all wondering. This drove me to seek answers and at 24 I was truly born again. I repenteD of my sins and accepted Jesus sacrifice for me. His work was complete and I can rest joyfully in His perfect work. I not only received complete forgiveness for every past, present, and future sin but I also received His perfect righteousness. My life changed. I love the Lord, repent daily for the sin I commit, and I have a joy that lasts knowing Jesus is my Savior completely. When I die I will immediately be in His presence and all I need when I face God He will provide.
    If we believe the saving is our work in any way we are doomed. I now trust Him for all. And that faith which is real causes me to persevere and walk in the Spirit. My good work here is all the grace of God working in me. I claim no goodness of my own and I am not racking up good deeds to help me get to heaven. I am gloriously free! I wish this for all Catholics so you can be confident and as 1 John 5 says you may know that you have eternal life now.

  5. I believe that no one is perfect, we all make mistakes. I believe that if we do our best or at least try to, God will understand and be merciful to us. We are all accountable for our actions, both good and bad, so we pay the price for our bad actions which is only right. My faith in God saved me many times and am ready to do what my master declares. Thank you my heavenly father.


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