The Catholic Defender: Purgatory and Prison are one and the same
A prison simply put is, "a building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting Trial." Putting this in a spiritual sense, if a person enters into Purgatory, they are not awaiting "trial", they are awaiting judgement at the end of the age when Jesus returns. That is true, but their Salvation is secure. They have passed their personal judgement when they died. Unlike those in Hell, they will never go to Heaven.
Consider Matthew 5:21-26, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."
Notice St. Matthew is talking about anger, judgement, and prison causing sinners to be held until their last penny is paid. This is certainly a spiritual teaching that leads to a warning. If we do not resolve issues in our hearts, if we allow anger to get the best of us, we will be liable to judgement. Notice again that you should leave your gift at the altar and reconcile with others before you receive the Eucharist. Confession is important here as you read between the lines here. As Saint Paul warns, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil."
St. Like, the great doctor at Calvary had this to say on this very subject, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Luke 12:57-59)
Reading St. Luke, he is giving a temporal reality for the criminal who gets caught, but his language is really speaking spiritually as did St. Matthew, they are both on the same sheet of music. Both of them warn of being thrown in prison as they wait for trial and you will not be released until the person pays the last penny. Neither of them are referring to hell in these passages, those in Hell have no release. These examples using life as we know it, we are being given a most important teaching to live our life for God every day. The criminal here is really the sinner, the magistrate is really God's Judgement, the constable are angels, and prison is purgatory.
Are you not convinced? Maybe the First Pope, St. Peter can share this even more explicitly. Consider 1 Peter 3:13-22, "Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered* for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him."
Notice St. Peter does not speak of a magistrate or anything to do with how long anyone would be in this prison. He is cutting the chase about where the sinner goes who is not damned. According to St. Peter, prison here is the place where God's people have been waiting since the beginning when mankind fell from grace. In the Old Testament this place is called Sheol simply the state or abode of the dead. With Jesus Resurrection, many were raised but not all. This state is not closed and there are many there today.
The evidence of Purgatory in scripture is solid, we see St. Paul interceding for a former co-worker who had died, "You know that everyone in Asia deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord* on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus." 2 Timothy 1:15-19
St. Paul is not believing that Onesiphorus is in Hell, not at all, he fully expects his friend to be saved, in the next life he hopes in the mercy of Christ. That can be summed up for all of us. We do pray for those who have died for the same purpose, we too have hope in the mercy of Christ. We can go to the Lord and pray for those who are in this prison and the Lord will grant many paid in full. Think about that one for a second! Such a person in Heaven would be returning the prayer for us.
Jesus has promised that praying this prayer of St. Gertrude 1000 souls will be released from Purgatory:
"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. Amen."
As the Saints (The Church Triumphant) in Heaven can prayer for us (The Church Militant) as we can pray for those in Purgatory (The Church Suffering) as we are all part of the Communion of Saints.