November 2, 2014
Every time I meet a priest, the first question he asks is ‘How’s life in Medicine Hat?” My answer is always “It is like being in heaven; not many things to do; everyone likes me (I hope… or I think so) and I am happy.” None of these priests agree with me; they protest: “You have a large congregation and lots of funerals. I think you live in purgatory.”
Well, I don’t live in purgatory, but this week I will write on Purgatory since this Sunday we celebrate All Souls Day.
What is Purgatory?
Catholics believe that Purgatory is a step before Heaven where believers are cleaned up for the "wedding banquet" of the Lord in Heaven. Not all believers have to go through Purgatory (some go straight to Heaven, such as Mary, the Mother of Jesus) but all people in Purgatory eventually make it to Heaven. They are the elect.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 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. (Catechism 1030)
Here's a simple illustration of what Catholics believe is Purgatory's place in the scheme of things.
Catholics believe that Purgatory is a place to clean up the effects of "Venial Sin" (not Mortal Sin which if un-repented, leads to eternal punishment - hell). Purgatory would be where the backslider would get cleaned up before joining the wedding banquet of the Lord - so he wouldn't be thrown out (Mat 22:12). For nothing unclean can enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27). Purgatory does not remove sin itself. Jesus did that on the Cross. Purgatory removes the effects of sin. An imperfect way to look at it is to think of a nail hammered into a piece of wood. You would pull the nail out of the wood (sin) but there would still be a dent (effect) in the wood. Purgatory is the process of straightening out the wood (the effect of sin). Certainly Jesus can and does the cleanup. He is a merciful God but he is also a justGod.
People who rebelliously refuse to believe that Jesus is Lord and who do not yield to Him don't go to Purgatory. They go to hell.
Purgatory is the reason we can value "works" yet claim that faith is the source of our salvation. For example, someone may have surrendered to Christ but is lazy about carrying the message to others. Scripture says "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16) and we all know that "woe" means bad stuff. The Purgatory thing helps explain how some non-Christians who have never heard about Jesus, may be saved through the mercy of Jesus. This is assuming they believe in God and have sought after truth and their ignorance is "through no fault of their own" (Cat 847). In Purgatory they will meet Jesus before they enter heaven. That doesn't mean purgatory is a fun place. Those in purgatory suffer in the process of cleaning. They know the beauty of heaven; they know the glory of God; they have a burning desire for life in heaven but cannot be there yet. That is their suffering.
Praying for Souls
Catholics believe that the Church exists for one reason: To make sure that all people get into Heaven. The Church believes that God has charged it with the duty of taking care of all peopleuntil the moment they enter into Heaven. Catholics believe that souls in Purgatory are on their way to Heaven but are not yet in heaven, that's why Catholics pray for them.
I find it a great tragedy that many souls in Purgatory have no one to pray for them. Thank God for the little old nuns in convents and monks in monasteries who pray with all their hearts for these poor souls that they have never met (your relatives and mine). Thank God that at every Mass we pray for those who have died. I hope that people on earth will pray for me if I blessedly end up in Purgatory.
Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective (Cat 958). We get benefits from theirs prayers because they are so close to Jesus and already living in His Divine Will."
Catholics believe Scripture encourages us to pray for the dead. “For if he was 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, so that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2Mac 12: 44-45)
I always pray for my family members and yours who have died. I also ask them to pray for me. Before I crossed the Pacific Ocean on a 20 foot long boat, I prayed to my dad who died 57 years ago: “Dad, you died so early in my life. You didn’t have a chance to look after me. Now is the time. Intercede for me that I escape safely.” I made it while many of my people tried and tried. Many of them ended in jail or in the belly of a fish, or in the hands of pirates. If your family members loved you while they were here on earth, they continue to love you, even more after their death. Pray to God for them and ask them to pray for you.
Biblical passages that Catholics believe refer to Purgatory
Ps 66:12, Mt 12:32, Phil 2:10-11, Ecc 12:14, Lk 16:19-31, 1 Thess 3:13, Is 4:4 (cf. Eph 4:8-10; 4:7 6:5-7 1 Pet 3:19-20) 2 Tim 1:16-18, Mic 7:8-9, 1 Cor 3:11-15, Heb 12:14, Mal 3:1-4 15:29 12:29, 2 Maccabees 12:39-45, 2 Cor 5:10, Rev 5:3,13, Mt 5:25-6, Lk 12:58-9, 7:1, 21:27