Purgatory & Scripture
Notes compiled by Andrew Adamany
Catechism of the Catholic Church
1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
If you have trouble with the concept of Purgatory as defined by the Catechism, and how it fits with what Scripture says, check out the parable of the good and wicked servants in Matthew 24. What would you say the fate of each one is an allusion to:
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Matthew 24:45–51)
If you answered that they are allusions to heaven and hell, you would be correct. Now check out Luke's account of the same parable, except Luke has includes third and fourth servant:
“Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful.
And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating.
But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating." (Luke 12:42–48)
If the first servant gets rewarded (heaven) the second gets cast out of the house (hell) just like in Matthew's account, then what do Luke's third and fourth servant's degrees of punishments followed by remaining in the house allude to?
This illustrates what the purpose of Purgatory is: the last stage of sanctification for anyone who dies and is assured of heaven at theParticular Judgement, but not yet perfect and detached from all sin. This final stage is seen as a form of purification, sanctification, and discipline:
"But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened* so that we may not be condemned along with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:31–32)
*"Chastened" - disciplined
Why would we need to be purified after death to go to heaven?
Because Jesus commanded:
"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
And John wrote of heaven that
"nothing unclean shall enter" (Revelation 21:27)
Consider: if you were to die this very moment, would you be perfect, completely detached from sinful desires? Even Paul, though saved, admitted he was not yet perfect:
"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." (Philippians 3:12)
So since we are not already perfect, and most of us may still be attached to some sinful desires or disorder and fail Jesus' command to be perfect like the Father, through Jesus' love, and sacrifice, God in his mercy will finish our sanctification for us with a final purification for us, hence the label Purgatory, and make us perfect so that we can enter heaven, just as those who have departed before us:
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant" (Hebrews 12:22–24)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
What Will This Purification Be Like?
Is Purgatory a place, or a process or both? We don't really know for sure or how "long" it may be in terms of supernatural time: it could be a supernatural "place" on the way to heaven (pit stop) where we are purged of our remaining sins by God, or it may just be the process of God purging our sins. We do have evidence to suggest it may be through a purging fire that may involve some sort of pain until we are made perfect:
"each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:13–15)
So however God purifies us, it may be through a purging fire, or as if we were being purged through fire. Either way it sounds like there will be some sort of suffering of pain, but not because God is cruel, but because he is healing our imperfections with a remededy ordered towards making us whole and perfect again.
Think of our sins being like open wounds on our soul like cuts are on our skin: to heal cuts we may need an ointment like rubbing alcohol: it may sting and burn a lot, but it will help the wounds heal. Or when we break a bone: we need time to heal, and physical therapy to discipline our healing body back to good health and strength, though it may be painful. And when the body finally does heal, the rubbing alcohol no longer stings, and the bone no longer hurts, because our body has been made whole and pure again, fulfilling the Old Testament Prophecies:
"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord." (Malachi 3:1–3)
"In the whole land, says the Lord,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
And refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ ” (Zechariah 13:8–9)
"And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:4–7)
We have reason then to believe God's final purging of our sins would serve this purpose using fire, where we'd suffer loss and pain of those sins on our souls being burned away, until we are made perfect and that fire burns no more. But the most important thing about Purgatory is not the "how," but that God is merciful to complete our sanctification, purge our remaining attachments to sin, and make us perfect by his own doing and mercy, so that we can enter heaven and spend eternal life with Him.
Why do we pray for Souls in Purgatory and offer Indulgences?
Catechism of the Catholic Church
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.
Regardless of whether you accept the Canon of Scripture as affirmed by the Church, or reject the seven Deuterocanonical books as inspired, one thing that is for certain is by it's very historical existence and prominence among ancient Judaism, the second book of Maccabees records that the Jews prior to Christ believed that praying for the dead and taking up alms to make an offering on behalf of their souls was a good and pious act:
"On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." (2 Maccabees 12:39–45)
And the sacrifice Job made for his sons in case they had sinned (an indulgence to remit punishment for those sins) is seen as good, since God considered Job to be blameless:
"And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Whence have you come?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:5–8 )
Just as the purification received can be seen as a sort of healing from a wound or injury, praying for the dead and indulgences to remit their temporal punishment (aka healing through discipline) is akin to praying for someone who is injured to make a full and speedy recovery and offering assistance and care to them so that they may recover faster.
All in all, Purgatory is a merciful act of God's grace by healing and disciplining us, completing His making us perfect in his image. Because Jesus commanded we be perfect as the Father is perfect. Without being so, we cannot see God face-to-face. This commandment of his is the most difficult thing to accomplish by the time our earthly life comes to an end, as many of us will certainly still have attachment to sinful desires. Thanks be to God his Son not only made Heaven open to us again by his death and resurrection, but that he also provided a means for us to be able to be made perfect through discipline and healing so that we can enter heaven.
Purgatory & the Early Church
The Acts of Paul and Thecla (AD 160)
“And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again received her [Thecla]. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: ‘Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the righteous’” (Acts of Paul and Thecla [A.D. 160]).
“The citizen of a prominent city, I erected this while I lived, that I might have a resting place for my body. Abercius is my name, a disciple of the chaste Shepherd who feeds his sheep on the mountains and in the fields, who has great eyes surveying everywhere, who taught me the faithful writings of life. Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed: Truly, I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius” (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]).
The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (AD 202)
“[T]hat very night, this was shown to me in a vision: I [Perpetua] saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease. . . . For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other . . . and [I] knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering. . . . I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me: I saw that the place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. . . . [And] he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment” (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity 2:3–4 [A.D. 202]).
“We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries [the date of death—birth into eternal life]” (The Crown 3:3 [A.D. 211]).
“A woman, after the death of her husband . . . prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Monogamy 10:1–2 [A.D. 216]).
Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350)
“Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition; next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep, for we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out” (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).
Gregory of Nyssa (AD 382)
“If a man distinguish in himself what is peculiarly human from that which is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, overcoming the irrational by reason. If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions, using for the passions the cooperating hide of things irrational, he may afterward in a quite different manner be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire” (Sermon on the Dead [A.D. 382]).
John Chrysostom (AD 392, 402)
“Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).
“Weep for those who die in their wealth and who with all their wealth prepared no consolation for their own souls, who had the power to wash away their sins and did not will to do it. Let us weep for them, let us assist them to the extent of our ability, let us think of some assistance for them, small as it may be, yet let us somehow assist them. But how, and in what way? By praying for them and by entreating others to pray for them, by constantly giving alms to the poor on their behalf. Not in vain was it decreed by the apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. When the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial Victim is laid out, how, when we are calling upon God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf” (Homilies on Philippians 3:9–10 [A.D. 402]).
“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).
“But by the prayers of the holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death” (ibid., 172:2).
“Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment” (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).
“That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire” (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity 18:69 [A.D. 421]).
“The time which interposes between the death of a man and the final resurrection holds souls in hidden retreats, accordingly as each is deserving of rest or of hardship, in view of what it merited when it was living in the flesh. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator [Mass] is offered for them, or when alms are given in the Church. But these things are of profit to those who, when they were alive, merited that they might afterward be able to be helped by these things. There is a certain manner of living, neither so good that there is no need of these helps after death, nor yet so wicked that these helps are of no avail after death” (ibid., 29:109).
The Holy Bible (RSVCE)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catholic.com- The Roots of Purgatory