At 1 Peter 2:24 we read:

" He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. "

Of course, one would be able to take up the divine punishment for somene else's sins while one is still living on this earth. But, is it possible for a person to take up the divine punishment for someone else , say for the dying mother of a prodigal son, in the life after death . To elaborate, can that mother pray like this: " Lord, let me be given more time in purgatory , but spare my son of your divine punishment and let him be in heaven on the day of his death "

What do the teachings of Catholic Church tell us of such a prospect ?

  • There is a fundament problem in any example put forth. A sinner, as long as he lives, has the choice of using his free will in the manner he desires. "Lord, let me be given more time in purgatory , but spare my son of your divine punishment and let him be in heaven on the day of his death " Only God knows if the sinner would comply with the graces of a genuine conversion. Besides that the souls in purgatory can not better their condition. Thus the Holy Souls pray for the conversion of sinners and the Church Militant. St. John Vianney had a great devotion to the Holy Soul in Purgatory.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 16:42
  • I would say that in theory, it would be possible. I will try to look up an example if I can find one.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 16:51
  • 1
    Rev. Geremia, my question is intended to be different. Indulgence is what 'X' gains for 'Y' while 'X' is still living and 'Y" is dead. I have mentined that the mother in the example is on death-bed and is sure that she has no time left to atone for the sins of her dear son . Her request to the Lord therefore, is to allow her some suffering in purgatory so that her son is spared of the punishment for his own sins. Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 13:55
  • 2
    The OP is thinking someon on earth could pay for one's sins? And thinking someone in hell or purgatory could pay for someone's sins? What Christian group believes this?
    – SLM
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 22:03
  • Paul prays a similar prayer in Romans 9:3 (ESV): For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 0:46

3 Answers 3


Can someone atone for the sins of another, in the life after death, if they asked this grace from Our Lord before their own death in this life?

The answer is No.

To elaborate, can that mother pray like this: " Lord, let me be given more time in purgatory , but spare my son of your divine punishment and let him be in heaven on the day of his death "

The short answer is No again.


The soul after death has no "body" and the soul undergoing purification in purgatory has no "body" to offer as a sacrifice for atonement. A good read as foundational teaching is St.John Paul II Theology of the Body,to know the reason why God had given us a body animated by a soul.

According to author Christopher West, the central thesis of John Paul's Theology of the Body is that "the body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it."[1] A rational soul was given a body to merit graces while still alive and after death the soul has no longer the means to acquire graces.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology_of_the_Body

Jesus the Logos was incarnated precisely to atone for our sins. Jesus Christ by His sufferings, passion, crucifixion and death had won for us infinite graces in atonement for the sins of all humanity. Jesus paid our ransom with His most precious blood up to last drop. Jesus needed a "body" as a means for atonement.

Atonement (also atoning, to atone) is the concept of a person taking action to correct previous wrongdoing on their part, either through direct action to undo the consequences of that act, equivalent action to do good for others, or some other expression of feelings of remorse. From the Middle English attone or atoon (“agreed”, literally “at one”), now meaning to be "at one", in harmony, with someone.[1] Atonement "is closely associated to forgiveness, reconciliation, sorrow, remorse, repentance, reparation, and guilt".[2] It can be seen as a necessary step on a path to redemption.[3]

Atonement in Christianity, in western Christian theology, describes beliefs that human beings can be reconciled to God through Christ's sacrificial suffering and death.[6] Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin in general and original sin in particular through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus,[7][8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement

Another word related to your question is "reparation", since another person will be offering a sacrifice for the benefit of another person. And reparation can only be accomplish by a soul using his body as a means of sacrifice.

A good read will be St.Louis De Montfort writing on reparation;

Reparation is an ambiguous term. Even in profane use it may be employed in the sense of repair of a damaged object or an act of justice whereby payment of some sort is made for damage done. In religious use it has a variety of meanings. It means principally the work of redemption accomplished by Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sense of "repairing the damage done" by Adam’s revolt and the sin of his progeny; Christ restores us to God’s friendship. The term is also used in a generic way for restitution for injuries, usually when moral theology cannot measure precisely what such payment would entail. In popular devotional literature and also in ascetical theology, reparation is the making of amends for insults given to God through sin, either one’s own or another’s. Through Saint Margaret Mary’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus—a devotion stemming through Saint John Eudes back through Saints Gertrude and Mechtilde and Saint Francis’ devotion to the Five Wounds and Passion of Christ—"reparation" took on a more distinctive meaning. Saint Margaret Mary saw Christ’s heart and his love ignored and ridiculed; the response of man is to be reparation through adoration, prayer, and sacrifice. https://www.ewtn.com/library/montfort/Handbook/Reparat.htm

To console your good motive on the question, the soul in purgatory can pray for us and plead for God to help us in our needs. There are a lot of stories where a soul in purgatory has an interaction with the living like the story of Maria Simma who was visited by a number of souls in purgatory. Also, Susan Bertone books in purgatory is a good reference too.

If you are familiar with the prayer for the poor souls in purgatory like the "Read me or Rue it" and also the famous Saint Gertrude. In God mysterious ways the poor souls in purgatory have been given a grace to know who are the people who are offering prayers & sacrifices for them and in turn these poor souls out of gratitude also in God mysterious ways had been able to help us in their pleading.

And the Catholic Church teaches that the souls in purgatory after purification enter in heaven like the saints. As St.Paul teaches that all of us will receive a crown in heaven and will be like Christ, our purified souls will be glorified.These poor souls now glorified in Heaven becomes for us generous intercessor. We belong to a Catholic Church who are composed of Church Triumphant, Church Sufferings and Church Militant and all this church are inter-connected in the beautiful Wisdom of God.

In closing, the poor souls can pray for us in a form of pleading to God but they can no longer make atonement for our sins. The poor souls pleading in behalf of us is different if a poor souls would desire to atone for our sins.

  • Absolutely yes to your answer on NO! There is only one that could and only one that did bring atonement for our sins and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. We alone are responsible for our own sin and reconciliation with God. No one and I repeat no one can do it for us. Atonement was accomplished by Jesus alone. Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 15:01

Can someone atone for the sins of another, in the life after death, if they asked this grace from Our Lord before their own death in this life?

The short answer is: possibly.

The reason I say possibly is that I do not believe there are any examples of such ever been noted in the history of the Church. Possibly, also because this takes us into the an area that is unknown to the majority of Catholics. I am speaking of what collectively we call "victim souls" and this takes us takes us into territory that many Christians often fail to understand: the redemptive power of human suffering.

A victim soul is an individual who has been chosen by God to undergo physical, and sometimes spiritual, suffering beyond that of normal human experience. The victim soul willingly accepts this unique and difficult mission of offering up his or her pains for the salvation of others. In the case as noted above the victim soul desires to suffer in purgatory for the salvation of her son.

If the above circumstances were to take place, it stands to reason that basic steps or rules be followed first.

"To be a victim necessarily implies immolation, and as a rule, atonement for another.

"Although strictly speaking one can offer oneself as a victim to give God joy and glory by voluntary sacrifice, yet for the most part God leads souls by that path only when He intends them to act as mediators: they have to suffer and expiate for those for whom their immolation will be profitable; either by drawing down graces of forgiveness on them, or by acting as a cloak to cover their sins in the face of divine justice.

"It stands to reason that no one will on his own initiative take such a role on himself. Divine consent is required before a soul dares to intervene between God and His creature. There would be no value in such an offering if God refused to hear the prayer."

The victim-soul status, even when it is genuine, is a matter of private revelation. Consequently, the Church teaches us that we are not obliged to accept, as part of the Catholic faith, the legitimacy of any particular person for whom such a claim is made, nor the genuineness of any mystical or miraculous claims that have been made in connection with such a person. - What is a Victim Soul?

The above scenario can only be accomplished if God permits it to take place. In theory I believe it is possible, but I have never heard of any case of this taking place. Only God knows if a sinner would comply with the graces of a genuine conversion, when one has offered their lives in one sort or another as a redemptive act in hopes of the conversion of someone; such as atoning for the sins of someone by desiring (before one's death) increased pain or duration of time in purgatory for a loved one.

The following is a good source on proxy penances: Penitents and Their Proxies: Penance for Others in Early Medieval Europe.


The Apostle Paul expressed such a desire in Romans 9:

9 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

In mentioning his desire, he does not expressly either affirm or deny the possibility of accepting extra suffering in order that others might be saved. However, he gives the impression that it is not possible, leaving all such decisions to God in His sovereignty. Voluntarily accepting suffering for people who are still alive is however beneficial:

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

At the heart of the problem is the suitability of the sacrifice. Christ is sinless, therefore his sacrifice was acceptable to God to atone for the sins of humanity. Anyone other than Christ offers a lesser sacrifice that is likely inadequate to the task.

Another problem has to do with the purpose of suffering and the fate of the elect. If suffering falls short of eternal damnation, then it is for a purpose of God's, to perfect a person and prepare them for heaven. The work of God must be completed before they can be admitted. No imperfect person will enter heaven. Only excess suffering not needed to accomplish this perfection could be removed. If there is excess suffering beyond what is needed, then that exposes God to the charge of being unloving.

If the suffering is that of eternal damnation, then you have the puzzle of election, a sticky topic. No elect person can enter Hell or God's soverignty is overthrown, thus a saved person cannot trade places and enter Hell on another's behalf. Likewise, if a person is not elect, nothing you can do will change that fact without also making God out to be a liar. If a person's destiny is not certain, not a part of God's sovereign plan, then there is no such thing as election, and the Bible expresses an untruth; Jesus is made out to be a liar.


  1. Sinning against an infinite God incurs an infinite cost. See https://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=10849

  2. St. Augustine of Hippo affirms a form of election:

Listen, thou ungrateful one, listen: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Not that thou mayest say, I am chosen because I already believed. For if thou wert believing in Him, then hadst thou already chosen Him. But listen: “Ye have not chosen me.” Not that thou mayest say, Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen. For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”? What, then, are we to say on hearing such words, “Ye have not chosen me,” but that we were evil, and were chosen in order that we might be good through the grace of Him who chose us? For it is not by grace, if merit preceded: but it is of grace: and therefore that grace did not find, but effected the merit.

More here:


Quoted from:

Augustine of Hippo. “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John.” St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. John Gibb and James Innes. Vol. 7. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888. 353.


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