Very frequently people ask, "Is this in scripture?" The answer is yes. Several scriptures have already been quoted. However one of the most explicit scriptures we can find is in the book of First Corinthians Chapter 3:13-15,
“The work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one's work. 14 If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15 But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Notice in the scripture the word "Day" is capital, because it is referring to the Day of Judgment, one of the most important days of our human existence. Notice too the key passage, "The person will be saved but only as through fire." St. Paul here is using the image of fire for the process of purification, much like smelting purifies iron. So purgatory, the process of being purged, is the process of being purified so that we may enter into the kingdom.
The process of purification uses the image of fire so that we can recognize that it takes substantial work to be purified from our sins. But is this fire literally flames? A good example to explain the fires of purgatory is the process of overcoming an addiction. Overcoming an addiction is a true struggle. To takes real effort and hard work to undo the habits of addiction. This effort and struggle is a type of “fire” that purifies one’s bad habits. This similar to the fire of purgatory and the way in which we need to suffer to be able to be purified from the damaging effects of our sins.
This All Souls Day is a day for us to pray for our brothers and sisters who have died because we want them to enter into the eternal kingdom of God. This especially true in these first eight days of November when special graces are given to us when we go visit the grave our loved ones. Just as Judas Maccabeus offered prays on behalf of his slain brothers so too we are able to offer prayers on their behalf. Through our earnest prayer they can have that process of purification sped up and even removed.
There is a second side of this All Souls Day that we need to remember as well: it is good to have a healthy fear of sin. All too often we pretend to minimize the effect of sin on our soul. Yet we will have to overcome the damaging effects of our sins either in this life or in the life to come. There is a healthy fear of sin. It is good to fear damaging our soul It is good to fear the real possibly of losing our salvation. As St. Paul says, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)
There is also a healthy fear of God. Jesus himself says, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." God will not tolerate our sin. Nor will he tolerate any impurity in our soul. A healthy fear of God’s just anger can be a good motivator to stay free from sin and its effects.
It is also good to call to mind the moment of our own death as well. Are we prepared to go and meet our Maker? Are we truly concerned about the damaging effects of our sins? Are we really trying to overcome those effects so that we can be, “holy as our heavenly Father is holy?” (1 Pet 1:16)
On All Souls Day, as at a funeral, a priest can choose to wear one of three colors: black purple and white. Black reminds us of the true sorrow that comes with death. There is pain that happens with death. Even Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus. (John 11:35) Death is a cause of true human sorrow. So we can wear black to signify the sorrow we have for those who have gone before us. Purple is the most common color to use at a funeral. Purple is a sign of penance. It is also a sign of sinfulness. It reminds us to offer atonement on behalf of our loved ones so that they might be purified from their sins and set free into the eternal kingdom. White is the reminder of redemption. It reminds of the white robes of our baptism when we were purified from sin.
These three colors remind us of the three attitudes to have on All Souls Day: sorrow, penance and redemption. So let us pray for those who have died. Let us also remind ourselves that we too need to strive for holiness without which we will not be able to see the all Holy God.