What is Purgatory?
January 24, 2015
The Seventh Article of the Apostle’s Creed
“From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead”
What is Purgatory ?
Purgatory is a state or condition in which the souls of the just who die with the stains of sin are cleansed before they are admitted to heaven. This cleansing is necessary as we read in Revelation chapter 21:27 ” There shall not enter into it any thing defiled, …” this taken from The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism by Servant of God Father John Hardon. Sounds simple, right? For some, not so. Here I will try and explain it as best I can using Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Catholics did not just make up this well known Dogma of the Faith. The teaching on purgatory is rooted in the Orthodox Jewish Faith before the time of Jesus Christ. In the Second Book of Maccabees we read in Chapter 12: And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection,  (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)  And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. We also read in the very next verse about praying for the dead in purgatory. Here is verse  It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. Ok, I admit that I am not a scripture scholar or exegete by no means whatsoever. But it does not take a scholar or exegete to read this passage of Holy Scripture and understand what is going on. We have text, and we have context here. The Jews prayed for the dead, implying that sins are forgiven in this life, and the life to come as well. Now, if we are in Heaven vis a vis with God we have no need of these prayers and sacrifice. If we die in mortal sin, that is outside of friendship with God, these prayers and sacrifice will also do us no good. Their must be another place, and their is, we call it Purgatory. Hmmmmm, I wonder why Luther removed this book from his own personal interpretation of what the Bible should contain. This particular Book from Holy Scripture has been removed from most protestant Bibles, conveniently because of the fact that it gives tremendous credibility to the Catholic Dogma on Purgatory. I know, this was a long paragraph :-), and yes I still use emoticons sometimes.
Now, the souls in Purgatory are definitely in friendship with God. These souls died in a state of sanctifying grace. The souls in Purgatory have the hope of the Beatific Vision, they just need a little, or possibly a lot of cleaning before standing face to face with God. In fact, the souls in Purgatory still possess the virtues of faith , hope, and charity. Purgatory is a really good, actually, it is a great place to be. If you are in Purgatory, you are on your way to Heaven. Your salvation is assured! This doesn’t mean that the purging or purification process will be easy. In fact, the “purifying fire” of Purgatory will be intense, but necessary.
Praying for the Poor Souls in Purgatory
It is only possible to gain merit with God while you are alive on this earth. Once you die, you lose that ability to gain merit. Therefore, if a soul is in Purgatory it cannot make satisfaction or expiate for their sins while on earth. The process of being in Purgatory will eventually make satisfaction for ones sins, but their is a way in which we can help this process to speed up. We here on earth can assist our brothers and sisters that are in Purgatory. How? We can pray for them. We can have Masses said for the souls in Purgatory, or a particular soul in Purgatory ( Masses said for souls in Purgatory are the most efficacious intercession that we can make for them). Before I go to bed at night I will often pray for family members or friends who have passed away. I will also pray for friends of friends, or friends family members who have passed away. It also a good thing to pray for priests who are in purgatory, some of them may need many prayers to be released also.
One thing to remember, or to be conscious of is the fact that these souls in Purgatory are also interceding and praying for us. These souls are part of the Mystical Body of Christ, also known as the Church Suffering.
I am going to leave you with this writing from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from the Encyclical Spe Salvi ” 48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
May almighty God protect us from the world, the devil and ourselves
ps feel free to leave comments or questions, I can only get so much into a single post.