Each November we make a special effort to pray for the faithful departed, those whose names we know and those who are known to God alone. We pray for all departed souls whose salvation is assured but who are still in purgatory, waiting for their purification to be completed so that they may then enter heaven.
The Holy Souls in purgatory know that they are on their way to eternal happiness. Their pains in purgatory are the pains of longing; they yearn for that blissful vision of God, of which they were given a brief and searing preview in the moment of their particular judgement.
Purgatory must in some sense be temporal, since it has a start and it comes to an end. We do not know the precise relationship between the way we measure the passing of time in this world and the chronology of the afterlife.
In common parlance we speak of ‘getting time off purgatory’, but that is just a way of speaking. The diagnostics of purgatory are hidden from us.
It may be that the Holy Souls undergo their purgatory not as a linear succession of moments, hours, years, but as a non-temporal experience measured by intensity rather than duration. Perhaps there is an in-depth purging which occurs in a single purifying ‘moment’ of unmeasurable intensity, immediately after bodily death.
However it works, we can be certain that God’s justice and mercy take into account all the prayers, sacrifices and indulgences that we offer up on behalf of the Holy Souls. Praying for the dead is the most charitable thing we can ever do for them. For us who remain it can also help to heal any lingering remorse there might be for whatever misunderstandings we had with them while they lived among us.
What about suicides? We cannot fully know the mental state and spiritual dispositions of those who take their own lives. It seems most unlikely that they could be in their right minds. And so we entrust them to the Lord Who sees into the depths of all hearts and is well-acquainted with the pitiful aberrations that human suffering can engender.
Fortunately for all of us, the accuracy of divine omniscience and the generosity of divine mercy far surpass the hasty assessments and rash judgements that we are prone to make on the meaning and value of any particular life, our own included.