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Meredith Hughes wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a Protestant Christian and my faith is centered around the teachings of Jesus and rooted in a Biblical faith. With that being said, I am naturally curious and would like to ask a few questions regarding Catholicism. Before I ask, please understand that I am asking in a most respectful manner.

  • What is Purgatory?
  • Is this a basic teaching within the Catholic Church?

If possible it would be awesome if you could share any thoughts regarding Purgatory. As a Protestant Christian I have no concept of Purgatory.

Also, as a Protestant Christian we believe Mary was the mother who gave birth to Christ. We believe she was a faithful servant of the Lord but that's about it. We don't pray to her or anything like that.

  • Could you please explain the significance of Mary within the Catholic Church?

Feel free to respond at your earliest convenience.

Thank you so much

Sincerely,

Meredith

  { What is Purgatory, is it a basic teaching, and what's the significance of Mary within the Church? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Meredith —

Sure, no problem.

Purgatory is what is referred to in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 3:

10 According to the commission 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.

(The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.)

Basically, all of our works will be tested to see which ones are valuable and which ones are dross. The term Purgatory means cleansing and it's in the state of Purgatory that all that is non-precious in our lives is cleansed from us. Note that in this verse, it speaks of someone suffering loss but being saved, but only as through fire. So it isn't Hell, because those in the state of Purgatory are saved; but it isn't Heaven because, for those in this state, suffering is involved.

Purgatory is the anteroom to Heaven; everyone who encounters Purgatory is saved and will eventually enter Heaven and so will be resurrected on the Last Day. We believe that we can help those in Purgatory by praying for them. This is testified to by an ancient Jewish document known as 2 Maccabees in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45. (We consider this Scripture, but it's valuable even as a historical document.) Here there was a battle and certain men fell dead in the battle. It was discovered that they were wearing amulets sacred to a foreign god, proving that they had sinned. So they took up a collection to make a sin offering for them for their souls:

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. [a]

[a] 12:45 Vulgate has (verses 45-46): '45 And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness bad great grace laid up for them. 46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.'

Catholicism only requires the assent of two propositions with respect to Purgatory:

  1. That it exists, and
  2. That those who are in it can be helped by our prayers.

As for Mary — well that is an extremely large topic. I recommend the book, Behold Your Mother by Tim Staples. The main point of Mary is that her role is to lead us to Jesus.

"Do whatever He tells you." (John 2:5)

She helps us to live out the Gospel of Christ, by both her example and her heavenly intercession. One thing to keep in mind about Mary is that she is the exemplar of the Church, that is to say, she sums up, represents, or recapitulates everything that is true about the Church (Matthew 12:49). She is immaculate (spotless). She is Mediatrix. (i.e. she intercedes for us from Heaven.) She has received the same resurrection we will receive in her Assumption into Heaven. She fill[s] up in [her] own flesh what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). She is the Queen of Heaven (Revelation 5:10). She crushes the head of the serpent (Romans 16). In a sense when we praise or honor Mary, we are experiencing a taste of our own destinies if we persevere to the end. An interesting passage to mediate on is Psalm 45. This describes the glory of Mary, the Queen (also see Revelation 12:1) — first it starts of describing the Messiah:

6 Your divine throne endures for ever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness above your fellows;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Then it addresses the Queen:

10 Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house;
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your Lord, bow to him;
12 the people of Tyre will court your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth.
13 The daughter of the king is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
14 in many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
16 Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever.

(Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Psalm 45:6–17).

Here we have the queen of the Messiah bedecked in gold.

In the Near Eastern world, the mother of the king was the queen, not the bride of the king, because these peoples were polygamous. Of course the Queen here can also represent the Church, but that's part of the point; the symbolism of the Church is united with the symbolism of Mary.

Here the queen is plied with gifts for her favor, that is, for her Heavenly intercession. She has spiritual sons (see Revelation 12:17) whom she makes princes (again, in an intercessory role). The I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever (Psalm 45:17) echoes All generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48).

As one Orthodox hymn has it, she is higher than the cherubim, more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, that is, the most exalted creature ever created. And that, again, represents the destiny of the Church as a whole.

There is much more to be said about Mary. If you are up for an exhaustive biblical treatment of the topic, buy or borrow the Tim Staples book I referred to above.

If you want to delve more gingerly into it, check out these articles on the topic:

Eric

Mike replied:

Dear Meredith —

I believe my Catholic Notes on this topic will answer most, if not all, of your questions on Purgatory.

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 injuries where we cut ourselves and require stitches and more severe injuries, 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 injuries 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.

We can pray personally for the Holy Souls or gather a group of like-minded Christians to pray for the Holy Souls. My other web site is dedicated exactly for this purpose. The goal is to start Purgatory Prayer Programs across America in every state. You can check it out at:

Helpers of the Holy Souls

I would also recommend checking out my Scripture Passages web page for Purgatory.

Hope this helps,

Mike

Meredith replied:

Thanks guys for answering my questions.

Catholicism is very interesting to me. There is so much that I don’t know but find very intriguing to say the least.

I’m 37 now but back when I was in college (way back when) I had to write a paper basically comparing and contrasting Catholic Christianity with Protestant Christianity. I guess you could say that assignment just blew my mind. It opened the door to an entirely different world which has left me with more questions than answers.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. If it’s OK I would love to ask more questions as time permits.

Sincerely,

Meredith Hughes

Mike replied:

Dear Meredith,

You said:
If it’s OK I would love to ask more questions as time permits.

Sure!

We welcome all questions dealing with clearing up misperceptions about the faith or dealing with clarifying what we believe as Catholics.

We have also answered several questions that could have helped your assignment (way back then) and may help you now. I have grouped them for your convenience:

  1. What are the major differences between Southern Baptists and Catholics?
  2. In what fundamental ways does the Catholic Church differ from the Protestant denominations?
  3. What are the major differences between Catholics and Pentecostals?
  4. What differences remain between the Orthodox Church and ours and what's the Pope's view?
  5. What is the fundamental difference between the Catholic Church and the Church of England?
  6. How were the differences resolved between the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic Church?
  7. What are the differences between the Catholic and (AME) African Methodist Episcopal Churches?
  8. How does the Catholic understanding of grace differ from the Calvinist understanding?
  9. Do the differences among Catholics and Protestants come down to perceptions of life after death?
  10. A Protestant Christian tries to correct the errors heard on the Catholic teaching on justification. (Video)
  11. What are the Catholic and Protestant views of the Rapture?

I highly encourage you to read them all.

Hope this helps,

Mike

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