What is Time Like in Purgatory

by James Fifth


Albert Einstein

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour.
Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.Albert Einstein



Purgatory   /pûr′gə-tôr″ē/

  • A state in which the souls of those who have died in grace must expiate their sins.
  • A place or condition of suffering, expiation, or remorse.



According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ exists in 3 parts:

  • The Church Triumphant — Heaven
    • The Church Militant — The church here on Earth
      • And the Church Suffering — Also known as Purgatory.


Door to Purgatory

The goal of all souls, and the very purpose of life itself, is to get from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. But before anyone can get to Heaven, they must be perfect since nothing imperfect can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27). To be perfection implies that a person must be free of all stain of sin AND all reparation has been made to Divine Justice. And if a soul has not accomplished this on Earth, then they must complete their purification after passing. This phase of purification is referred to as Purgatory, and a soul who enters there will not be freed until perfection is accomplished and Divine Justice has been satisfied. 

On Earth, God's greatest attribute is His mercy. With a simple act of love, we can cover entire sins and blot out the penalties due to them. We literally are paying "pennies on the dollar" in atoning for Divine Justice. And yet so few take advantage of such abundant mercy. In Purgatory, on the other hand, Mercy has been applied to the fullest that can be received by the soul and now Divine Justice rules. And the penalty for not taking advantage of His Mercy while on Earth is the requirement that full amendment and restitution must be made. Jesus alluded to this when He said:

Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.Matthew 5:26

Thus, souls who find themselves in Purgatory cannot help themselves any longer. Because they no longer possess a physical body and have seen the face of God, they can no longer make sacrifices nor atone for themselves in reparation for their sins. They become helpless and are forced to rely on the mercy of God, the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and the prayers and sacrifices of the Church Militant here on the Earth.

According to Maria Simma, a Catholic mystic who received numerous visitations from souls in Purgatory throughout her life, the greatest "complaint" of the souls in Purgatory is how they are almost completely forgotten by their family and loved ones. They receive no spiritual help from those they themselves helped so much during life. How few prayers are ever offered up for them- even at their funerals! They are left in their torments with no one to offer prayers and sacrifices on their behalf.

The fires of Purgatory are the same fires that torture those who occupy Hell. The only difference being that, unlike Hell where the fire burns endlessly without ever consuming its victim, in Purgatory the fire purifies, removing imperfections just as how gold is purified in the furnace.

If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.I Corinthians 3:13-14

And although this is a terrible torment to endure, there is an even worse torture within those flaming halls that surpasses even the pains of the fire itself… Time.


Pain So Intense That It Deceives You

Summa Theologica, a book written by St Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican Monk in the mid-1400s, contained many teachings and stories for both the clergy and the faithful. One of more intriguing stories he recounted illustrates the perception of time as it is felt by those who enter Purgatory. This story reminds the living to always intercede for those who have gone ahead of us.

There was once a monk who had been suffering a terrible sickness for a long time, causing him much pain. Suffering for so long the religious became filled with discouragement and begged God to let him die so that he could be rid of his terrible sickness. It had never occurred to him that the sickness was the mercy of God to spare him from even more pain.

At any rate, his Guardian Angel appeared to him and offered him two choices, he could suffer his sickness for another year and go straight to Heaven when he died or die now and suffer in Purgatory for three days. Having been sick for a long time he immediately chose to suffer in Purgatory.

Fires of Purgatory

After being in Purgatory for an hour the man’s Guardian Angel came and visited him. Upon seeing his Angel, the brother complained to him and said,

Why do you leave me here in these torments? You promised me that I should only suffer here for three days?

How long do you think you have been here?” his Guardian angel asked him.

For several years at least,” was the reply.

You have only been here for one hour,” said his Guardian angel, “the pains are so intense that it deceives you, and an instant goes by as would a day and an hour feels like years.

Alas,” the man cried out, “I have been so blind and inconsiderate in my decision. My good angel, pray to God to have pity on me and allow me to return to earth. I would rather suffer the most terrible sicknesses for two years, or as long as God would wish. Rather would I suffer six whole years of the most frightful torments on earth than for one hour suffer the pains of Purgatory.

Granting his request, the Lord allowed the monk to return to Earth where he suffered patiently for the remaining years of his life.

This altered perception of time when enduring extreme pain is a very real and common phenomenon. Ask any woman who had to endure what feels like endless hours in the throes of labor pains. With each painful contraction time appears to almost stop. And yet she remains in anticipation that after all the pain and anguish has passed, she will at last behold her beautiful child in her arms, and all the tortures of labor will become just a memory.


A Minute Feels Like Centuries

The next testimony shows just how a mere minute can feel to a soul confined within the fiery walls of Purgatory:

Souls in PurgatoryA certain monk was on his death bed and he requested the abbot, like all others leaving this world, to provide him with the sacraments and grant him absolution. However, during that time, the abbot urgently had to leave the monastery, not suspecting that the monk would indeed pass away soon. So, he decided to attend the matter upon his return.

Fate played its role and in the abbot's absence the dying monk departed from this world. Upon his return the deceased's body had not yet been buried. With sadness the abbot thought that he had failed in the monk's request, thus exposing him to suffering after crossing the threshold of life. However, it happened that the monk only had minor sins and did not deserve eternal damnation, so he could not be cast into the fiery hell.

By a special permission from God, the deceased was allowed to appear to the sorrowful abbot and upon seeing him, the departed one began to demand the promised absolution and the assignment of appropriate penance.

Unaware as to what penance to impose on the departed, the abbot said: "As a reparation to your sins, you shall remain in purgatory until your body is buried."

Upon hearing this the deceased cried out so cruelly and desperately that his voice resounded throughout the entire abbey.

"Oh, you merciless man! You have sentenced me to such a prolonged torment. You command me to endure for so long in the fire where time passes all together differently than in earthly life. And a minute equals centuries."

Having uttered these words, he vanished.


The Fires of Purgatory


Why does the soul feel time differently?

There are many great explanations as to how time is perceived by a soul, some which go way to deep into theology for me to be able to even grasp nor explain.  So, for the sake of my own sanity, here is my extremely simplified explanation:

A soul, once separated from the body, is no longer limited by the speed, or limitations, of matter. All senses within the soul are heightened to their maximum and even thought itself becomes instantaneous. Thus, when a soul experiences any form of pain, either in the fiery chasms of Purgatory or Hell, every single instance is fully processed, completely felt, and utterly endured by the soul. Thus, a mere second on Earth can appear as hours to a soul in Purgatory.


With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.2 Peter 3:8


Did You Know?

Time if RelativeWithin Albert Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity”, he explained how time can be perceived differently between multiple observers in the material realm (us). Check this out:

Let’s suppose we have 2 people watching each other; one is stationary on the earth, and the other is on a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light. To the ground observer, they perceive that the friend on the ship is moving in slow motion, whereas the person on the spacecraft looks back at Earth and sees everyone speeding to and froe. This is due to speed increasing the ship’s (and its occupants) mass, curving space, and thus altering time.

This theory is known as
Time Dilation.

Another example would be a planet circling a black hole. If an astronaut landed on this planet and looked back at Earth, they would see civilizations rise and fall in a matter of minutes. Black HoleBut from Earth observers, the astronaut would look like they are frozen in place. To both observers, time appears constant to themselves, but in reality, it is not. Time is relative, based on the affect gravity has on time around the observer and the observed.

*In this scenario
for every 1 minute on a planet orbiting a black hole
700 years would pass on Earth*

Learn more at:



So how long does Purgatory feel to a soul?

With the most common testimonies indicating that 15 minutes on Earth feels like a year in Purgatory, I created the following table. These are not exact figures, and God's mercy and justice can diminish or lengthen the perception of time as He sees fit per person, but in general these figures can help us to better understand the agonizing plight countless souls have to endure within Purgatory.


  Time on Earth Time in Purgatory  
Avg heart beats once per second 1 second 9.7 hours 3 seconds on Earth feels like an entire day
  1 minute 24.4 days Feels like 3.5 weeks
Avg time to pray 5 decades of the rosary 15 minutes 1 year  
Avg time of a Sunday mass 1 hour 4 years  
  12 hours 48 years  
  1 day 96 years Feels like an entire lifetime
  1 week 672 years 6.7 centuries
  1 month 2,922 years 2.9 millenniums
  1 year 35,064 years 35 millenniums
A Calendar Decade 10 years 350,064 years 350 millenniums
Avg stay in purgatory 40 years 1.4 million years  
Avg lifespan 85 years 2.9 million years Equivalent of how long ago our human genus, Homo, appeared on Earth
1 century 100 years 3.5 million years  
End of the world according to Nostradamus The year 3797 62 million years!!! Equivalent to the time when a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs to today.


How can we help these souls?

According to Maria Simma, souls in Purgatory can no longer atone for their sins. In essence, they are powerless to help themselves. But many of these poor souls explained to her that their pains, their sufferings, and the duration of their sentence, can be relieved considerably by the sacrifices of those still on Earth.

In particular, the things a lay person can do that can help a soul in Purgatory are:

Prayer- Especially the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Fasting- Wednesdays and Fridays in Particular
Alms Giving to the Poor
And Most of All The Sacrifice of the Mass


And once a soul has been freed from the prisons of Purgatory, it will in return intercede before God on behalf of those who made the necessary reparations to obtain their freedom. So never forget to offer your prayers, masses, and alms for your departed loved ones, because as we all see now, TIME is not a friend in Purgatory.


Did You Know?

In Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother said that most souls leave Purgatory on
Christmas Day,
NOT on All Souls Day.

Saint Teresa of Avila stated the same.




Jesus to Saint FaustinaToday bring to Me THE SOULS WHO ARE DETAINED IN PURGATORY, and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames.

All these souls are greatly loved by Me.
They are making retribution to My justice.
It is in your power to bring them relief.

Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.
Jesus to Saint Faustine


Learn More

I was inspired to write this article after listening to the many stories on the YouTube channel Uniquely Mary.  If you are not subscribed, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!!!   With so many amazing testimonies about the souls in Purgatory, you will be uplifted and inspired to do all you can for those imprisoned there.

Here are some of my favorites:

Purgatory Stories:
The Bishop, the Wife, and the Monk
What is Time Like in Purgatory???
Purgatory’s Secrets Revealed