Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is Purgatory Empty?

OK. If this is not a Catholic pondering then I do not know what is.

Here is the reasoning which has led me to ask the question, but first bear with me while I discuss some preliminary ideas.

Today, there are approximately 7,000,000,000 people alive on planet Earth, and each one of them possesses an immortal soul.

The average life expectancy for that population is a little more than 61 years or approximately 24,150 days.

Now if we do the math of dividing the population in souls by the average life expectancy we get the current death rate for the world population. It is approximately 290,000 souls per day. Notice that I have stopped talking about people and started talking about souls. Hey! I’m talking Purgatory here, and the transition had to happen!

By the way, we also need to know about how many have ever lived on the planet. The estimate, guesstimate really, that I will use was done in 2002 and is approximately 107,000,000,000. Another way of looking at this is that of all those who have ever lived about 6.5% are still alive today.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” – Mathew 22:14

OK, what does that mean? Well, in the Greek, the many and the few are the two components of the whole. For example if we have ten of anything that constitutes a whole, then the many could either be 10 or 9 or 8 or 7 or 6 but nothing less, and the few could either be 0 or 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 but nothing more. Furthermore, if it is determined that the many is 8, for example, then the few must be 2. This concept is perfectly illustrated in the parable although its presence may not be immediately obvious. In the parable, the king prepares a wedding feast and invites all his pals to the feast only to have them all blow him off. He then goes out to highways and byways and recruits the street people to fill up his wedding hall. Out of this group, the street people, there is one who shows him disrespect by not wearing the wedding garment, and this guy gets tossed out. So the king tries to fill the hall two times, but the best he can get for all his efforts is the hall’s capacity minus 1. Those who enjoy the feast are the few; those who do not are the many.

Now before we leave the parable let us briefly consider some other hypothetical outcomes:
  1. A fight ensued among the street people, and all but one guest got tossed.
  2. The king had to toss all the street people out, and get more recruits. Not only that, he had to repeat the selection process again and again until he came up with a handful.
See, the situation could have been much worse; as a matter of fact, when you consider all the scenarios which could fulfill the verse selecting half the total population minus 1 is the most optimistic, nay I say the most merciful, outcome. I believe there is great truth in this parable, and we should all be taking it to heart. Now some may say that I am making a great parable trivial, and I can only say I do not think that is the case:

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -- Matthew 7:13-14

So rightly or wrongly let us apply a lesson learned from Mathew to our calculations:

The many = (Total Quantity / 2) +1
The few = (Total Quantity / 2) -1

The above two equations can be simplified when the total quantity is substantially greater, i.e. by several magnitudes, as in this case, than one:

Total Quantity >> 1
The many = Total Quantity / 2
The few = Total Quantity / 2

Soapplying the equations we get:

The few who have ever lived = 53,500,000,000 souls
The transition rate from life to life everlasting of the few = 145,000 souls per day

So now we have two good working numbers to play with, but we need to consider if these numbers should be further honed. For example, should we subtract out the canonized saints from the total few? Why bother? Their number is estimated to be between 6,000 and 20,000, and these numbers are several magnitudes smaller than the population we are dealing with. It is probably best to ignore them. Now I am sure there are people who die and go directly to heaven, but I have no metric for it or any scripture to even try to base or infer a metric. I’ll be first to admit that I am no expert in scripture so I may be missing something obvious. If you are saying to yourself right now “Doesn’t that dummy know about __________!” then I would really love to hear from you. In the meantime I am assuming that all these few are in purgatory. Seems harsh does is not? It is, and I’m doing this to simplify rather than complicate. I ask your forbearance.

OK, so what do we have so far? We have what an engineer might call a back of the envelope calculation. Such calculations are often quickly performed to see if it is worthwhile investing the time and effort necessary to achieve a specific goal. And our goal is to empty Purgatory.

The Catholic Church is almost two thousand years old, and during this time countless Masses, Communions, prayers, indulgences, Benedictions, Rosaries, alms, visits to grave sites, Stations of the Cross and many other devotions have been offered by the faithful for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. There is no doubt in my mind that all these good works have been rewarded, and that perhaps these devotions are so meritorious that it can be stated that each generation redeems the previous one from Purgatory. Prior to the advent of the Catholic Church and in the years before Christ both the Jews and the Pagans prayed for their dead. BUT, for the purpose of obtaining our goal of emptying purgatory by means of our back of the envelope calculation we are going to discount all this effort, and instead focus on just one single devotion or perhaps a better name for it would be movement. This movement is younger than the internet, and it is on the internet. I’m willing to wager that you have never heard of it. It is referred to as MTEP – Mission To Empty Purgatory, and you can find out all about it HERE.

MTEP exclusively uses the prayer referred to as “The Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great” in its mission. This prayer was given to St. Gertrude the Great by our Lord, and if prayer be our weapon then this baby is multi-megaton, and it must stand at the top of our arsenal.

Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious blood of Thy divine son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.


Our Lord told St. Gertrude the GREAT that the above prayer would release 1000 souls from Purgatory each time it is said. The prayer was extended to include living sinners as well.

I first heard of about this prayer on a Catholic Answers Program that was broadcast on WHIC and WLOF about a year or so ago. At that time they would start the show with this prayer, but then for some reason they stopped. This always bothered me a little bit – the fact that they stopped. So before I started writing this piece, I called the Catholic Answers Program and tried to speak with Fr. Rick Poblocki to get his take on the prayer, and also why they stopped using it to open the program. Unfortunately, due to a bad phone connection I was unable to do so, but my questions were relayed to Father Rick. He did make assurances on air that the prayer was legitimate, and to be effective it must be prayed with faith and belief, but I never found out why they decided not to use it to open the show anymore.

So let us press on! How many prayers must be offered to free a number of souls equal to the rate of the few who are transitioning each day?

145,000 souls per day / 1,000 souls per prayer = 145 prayers per day

Once the prayer is memorized, which may take awhile, you will find that the praying of it takes so little time that it is easy to pray without distraction.

It has been estimated that there are somewhere between 800,000,000 and 1,200,000,000 baptized Catholics alive today. Let us assume the lower figure for a moment. If just 6.7% of the Catholics alive today prayed the prayer just one time in their life, then Purgatory would be empty.

So how are those sandbaggers at MTEP doing? (I call them sandbaggers because if you study their website you tend to get the impression that they encourage under reporting.) As of this writing they stand at 54,419,215 prayers completed.

Doing the math:

54,419,215 prayers x 1,000 souls per prayer = 54,419,215,000 souls

MTEP has already exceeded my best estimate of the souls in Purgatory (53,500,000,000) by almost 1 billion.

This brings me back to my original question. Is Purgatory Empty?


I consider this short essay successful if it provokes certain thoughtfulness on your part – a pondering if you will.

I would be very disappointed, and consider it an utter failure if it leads anyone to abandon a prayerful practice because they believe it’s all done and over. It certainly is not! Please remember these calculations are based upon guesses; I try to make them best guesses, but they are essentially guesses. Occasionally, I lector at church and I remember recently reading the story of God’s rebuke to David after he conducted a census. And I pray that he does not rebuke me for conducting an estimate. Rebuke Churchmouse? God rebuked David who was a man -- not a mouse!

RIP Churchmouse 5/2013


The good brother said...

This is a beautiful concept and prayer. I only hope that one day someone might say this prayer in my behalf. Of course, even if they don't, if I land in purgatory, I can believe there is hope. For even those who are in Purgatory are promised Heaven.

copper said...

powerful beautiful prayer that has tempered my patience while waiting in lineups or traffic. I say 60 a day and they take only 25 minutes that I would only have used to ask why isn't this lineup moving?