Andy Dodds wrote:

Hi, guys —

And thank you for taking the time to read and answer this question.

First, I was raised in a Church of England school during my [primary|elementary] youth, but since I recently turned 18, I have decided to change my faith to Catholicism in the nearby future.

The reason is, I believe more about what the Catholic Church says than what the Church of England does.

  • That said, there is one question or thing in the Catholic doctrine of beliefs I can't fathom and that is the idea of a place called Purgatory?

I lived in the United Kingdom all my life and mainly lived a Atheist life until the last few years, as with many other born-again Catholics or Christians, I have never seen anything that spiritually or biblically proves anything about Purgatory!

  • I was always told you either were forgiven or weren't.
  • You either were sent to the pearly gates of Heaven or you were forever tormented and tortured in the Lake of Fire.

It was just a black or white issue.

  • Are there any biblical verses in the Bible or proof you could enlighten me with on the topic of Purgatory?

Thanks,

Andy

  { Are there biblical verses you know or proof you could enlighten with on the topic of Purgatory? }

Paul replied:

Dear Andy,

If you are converting to the fullness of Christian faith, which is Catholicism, you know that sacred truth is communicated through Scripture and Tradition, and clarified and formulated by the Magisterium, which Christ established and guides with His divine assistance. The Holy Spirit works through all three of them for the sake of our salvation.

In the same way God is the Trinity, so too the Sacred Sources of divine truth are a triad. There are several instances in Sacred Scripture that refer to Purgatory indirectly, but the fullness of teaching on Purgatory comes to us through Sacred Tradition.

Please read Number's 1030-1032 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

We also know it exists through reason and common sense. Let me give you an analogy.

A father tells his children to never play near a particular wooded area because it is very dangerous. They promise their father they never will. Then they willfully disobey him, and find themselves sinking in quicksand, near death. When up to their necks in mud, the father discovers them and pulls them out. They beg for his forgiveness for willfully disobeying him, and he truly forgives them. They are fully reconciled. It is now time for the Sunday dinner banquet. However, they are full of mud from their face to their toes, which happens to the the consequence {and/or] effect of their sin. They are truly forgiven and reconciled but they are still not ready to join the feast.

Although forgiven, they must also be detached from all effects of their sin, and seek to restore any damage done by them.

Purgatory is that purifying purge of each soul that is fully forgiven but not yet ready for the banquet feast. If, in this life, one who is saved by grace and forgiveness does enough penance, then perhaps he will be fully detached from sin and enter immediately into Heaven upon death.

Many may not be in that cleansed and purified state yet, and need extra purging. Hence Purgatory: God's loving one-stop for those forgiven but not fully unattached.

Peace,

Paul

Eric replied:

Andy,

Let me add to my colleague's excellent answer. The idea of Purgatory can be found in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 3:1-15:

10 “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — 13 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. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

(Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.)

This does not fit the straight to Heaven or straight to Hell narrative. It says that our work will be tested with fire on the Day of Judgment. The wood, hay, and straw will be burnt up, but the precious stones will remain. He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved — obviously someone going straight to Heaven suffers no loss, and someone going straight to Hell will not be saved. Thus there is a reality whereupon our works are tested and we suffer when our works are burnt up, but we are still saved.

This is a very ancient belief.

First of all, we see it illustrated in the 2nd Book of Maccabees, 12:39-45. This book Catholics accept as Scripture; St. Paul even alludes to it in Hebrews 11:35 (See 2 Maccabees 7). But even if you don't accept it as Scripture, you can accept it as historical testimony to an early belief; one cannot accuse us of making up this doctrine in the Middle Ages:

39 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. 40 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. 41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 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. 43 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. 44 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. 45 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 (RSV Catholic Edition)

Another bit of historical evidence comes from the early Christian writings in the form of the Passion of St. Perpetua and Felicity 2,3-4.

In this account, Perpetua, who is being martyred (in the year 203 A.D.), has a vision of her departed young brother Dinocrates in what we would call Purgatory. She prays for him, and he is freed and enters Heaven:

After a few days, while we were all praying, on a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, there came to me a word, and I named Dinocrates; and I was amazed that that name had never come into my mind until then, and I was grieved as I remembered his misfortune. And I felt myself immediately to be worthy, and to be called on to ask on his behalf. And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I 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 colour, 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— his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death caused repugnance to all men. 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 moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool full of water, having its brink higher than was the stature of the boy; and Dinocrates raised himself up as if to drink. And I was grieved that, although that pool held water, still, on account of the height to its brink, he could not drink. And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birth-day of Geta Cæsar, and 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 that 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 where there had been a wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy's navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, 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 Passion of St. Perpetua and Felicity 2,3-4

So the doctrine is both Scriptural and very ancient.

Eric

Mike replied:

Dear Andy,

Thanks for the good question.

This is an issue that confuses many, so you are not alone.

A key portion in understanding Purgatory is as follows:

Catholic Notes:

When talking with friends and family on Purgatory, it’s important they know the basics:

  • Purgatory does exist.
  • Purgatory is not a third place along with Heaven and Hell nor it is a second chance.
  • Purgatory has nothing to do with Limbo, which was only a theological opinion and was never a doctrine of the Church.
  • Purgatory is like the Holy Hospital of Heaven.
  • Souls in Purgatory have been saved just as much as the souls in Heaven.

Purgatory refers to a temporary state of purification for those who have died in the state of grace but still need to get rid of any lingering imperfections (venial sins, earthly attachments, self-will, etc.) before entering the perfection of Heaven.

Purgatory has nothing to do with one's justification or salvation. Those in Purgatory are justified; they are saved.  Purgatory has to do with one's personal holiness and the burning away of remaining self-love.  Revelation 21:27 It's our personal holiness because each person uses their free will differently in life to make good or bad choices on our pilgrimage to our particular judgment.

This article by Emily Stimpson from Our Sunday Visitor (osv.com) September 29, 2013 will also be helpful.

If you struggle to understand the Catholic view of Purgatory, this analogy may help:

Think of sin as a self-inflicted wound in your life.

When we physically hurt ourselves, many times we have to be brought to the hospital and the doctor or nurse will put an alcoholic disinfectant in our cut or wound. It will hurt ... a lot!!! but it's a good hurt; it's a holy hurt, that is needed to make us physically better.

We also have to distinguish between less severe physical injures where we cut ourselves and require stitches and more severe injures, like a NASCAR racing driver who gets into a major collision and ends up with third or fourth-degree burns over 90 percent of their body. There are varying degrees of damage that we do to our bodies, not only physically, but spiritually too!

Because Revelation tells us that nothing impure can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27) and because God Himself is all Holy, we too, have to be all Holy to enter Heaven. To achieve this, any remaining self-inflicted spiritual wounds (meaning self-love) from our pilgrimage on earth has to be burned off, healed, and purified.

  • If our spiritual injures are along the line of just needing stitches, that healing period where our self-love has to be burned off will be short;
  • but if our self-inflicted injuries are along the line of third or fourth-degree burns, the healing process will take longer.

Saints in the past have had private revelations from the souls in Purgatory. They [the Holy Souls in Purgatory] have shared that, while the [healing|burning] fires of God’s Love in Purgatory are painful (Hebrews 12:29, Exodus 3:1-6), at the same time they had an internal, burning joy because they knew they were being conformed to the image of God and their final destiny would be total union with Him.

Instead of the good healing pain that the alcoholic disinfectant gave us under a doctor’s care to prepare us to re-enter the earthly world again, in Purgatory, we experience a holy, healing pain under Jesus’ Care which purifies our souls and prepares us to enter eternal life with God who is all Holy.

Your question is a common one; it's even in our searchable knowledge base:

There are a lot of quick answers there, so give it a try. I searched the knowledge base for you and found these web postings that should answer all of your questions on this topic:

I have also authored another web site totally dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls. You may find some of it interesting:

I hope this helps,

Mike

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