Michael Maginn writes:

Leaving aside much of the dramatic, colourful and unhelpful imagery that has come down to us concerning Purgatory, the essential teaching rings true:

our sense of incompleteness, not least at the time of death;

our sense of a graduated, incremental, even torturous path to wholeness.

The teaching on Purgatory is true to this universal human experience. Growing as persons into our full humanity, which we might also call sainthood, we are helped by the prayers of the saints and by the prayers of those we have left behind.


November 2, 2021

At the Great Moment,
of Crossing Over:

Will all life’s issues be resolved,
all our differences dissolved?

All our sins forgiven then,
our deeply-riven lives made good?

Our betrayals acknowledged,
dishonesties owned?

Our grievances relinquished,
rage extinguished?

Will all our many debts be paid,
each and every fear allayed?

Relationships healed,
broken promises revealed?

All our enemies by then befriended,
all our broken bridges mended?

No. Yet nothing is lost,
nothing too late in God’s Eternal Time.



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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thoughts on Purgatory…

    Purgatory has been imagined in countless ways, a topic now in the hands of historians like Le Goff rather than theologians. Newman did an amazing job in imagining (dreaming) it as the transforming encounter with a God of love. His poem (1865) was hugely popular and Elgar’s musical version (1900) conveys that message eloquently and movingly, in a form destined to last forever–or at least as long as Wagner’s Parsifal (1882), whose murky message is irretrievable despite its occasionally sublime music. Newman’s deep patristic studies guide the vision at every point, whereas Wagner’s rummaging in the Parzival lore addled his wits.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thoughts on Purgatory…

    I’m talking about Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius, at the Irish Cultural Centre in St Petersburg, by annoying Zoom, in an hour’s time. What has this English monument to do with Ireland? Well:

    1. Elgar wrote incidental music for George Moore and Yeats’s Diarmuid and Gráinne; he developed the music and submitted it to a competition for an Irish Symphony (unsuccessfully). Moore recounts the story hilariously in Hail and Farewell and his correspondence with Elgar is published.

    2. George Bernard Shaw was the foremost champion of Elgar and the two were fast friends. When Elgar succumbed to depression on his wife’s death and ceased composing, in 1920, Shaw encouraged him and lent him a thousand pounds, getting the BBC to commission a Third Symphony from him. That symphony was completed 20 years or so ago by Anthony Payne and has been performed many times. (I heard the first radio broadcast and was unimpressed; now that absurdity has been redoubled with the computer-generated 10th symphony of Beethoven.) Shaw also dreamed of writing a libretto for an Elgar opera.

    3. Our Lady’s Choral Society under Barbirolli played the first part of the work for Pius XII a week before he died. Pope said to Barbirolli, ‘Figlio mio, questo è un capolavore sublime.’

    4. Bernadette Greevy was a well-loved singer of the Angel and appreciated by Barbirolli. Unfortunately, there is only a recording on Youtube of her singing the Angel’s farewell in her sixties to a mere piano accompaniment.

    5. Philip Langridge, d. 2020, the successor of Peter Pears as interpreter of Britten and as singer of Gerontius was married to Irish mezzo-soprano Ann Murray.

    6. Newman, author of the libretto, had numerous deep connections with Ireland (founder of what is now UCD and author of the great classic, The Idea of a University, written in Ireland).

    7. Purgatory, the topic of the work, is very much part of Irish tradition (St Patrick’s Purgatory; tales of descent to the underworld that anticipate Dante; graveyard works like Ó Cadhain’s Cré ne Cille, based on Dostoevsky’s Bobok).

    8. Memorable performances of Gerontius in Ireland include one with Kathleen Ferrier (who alas never recorded the role), and one with Catherine Wyn-Rogers in 2019 the year of Newman’s Canonization.

    That should be enough to persuade Russian Hibernophiles that they should take note of Elgar’s sublime masterpiece.

  3. Bernard Cotter says:

    Thoughts on Purgatory…

    Thanks for sharing this reflection and poem, Michael,
    it’s very helpful.

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