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By Russell Shaw, Catholic Exchange, Oct. 22, 2021

Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, DC. He is the author of more than twenty books and previously served as secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference.


Coming just after Hell and just before Heaven, the second of the three books that make up Dante’s Divine Comedy is the Purgatorio—Purgatory. In its ninth canto, Dante places these words in the mouth of the angelic guardian of Purgatory’s gate who, displaying his keys, tells his listeners:

I hold them from St. Peter—who bade me err
Rather in opening than shutting out.

In the poem, as in the teaching of the Church, Purgatory can only properly be understood as an expression of God’s boundless mercy. For this is not a place of punishment but a place where, as a consequence of the divine generosity, repentant sinners are made ready to enter Paradise. …

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