I was recently speaking to a
very dear friend and fellow Catholic who told me that
Church is re-visiting the idea of Purgatory and
perhaps may be changing its teachings on it, or eliminating
it all together.
I have searched on-line to try and find out
if this is indeed true or not. I don't believe it is.
Can you help me?
In His Service,
Are we re-thinking what we officially teach on Purgatory? }
Thanks for the question.
Purgatory is a reality. Purgatory is not something that the Church
However, here in lies the confusion.
Over the passed few decades members of the clergy or teachers have so de-emphasized Purgatory that folks have gotten the wrong
Heretics in the Church have spread such dribble.
Here are the facts. The Catholic Church has always taught that there
is purification after death for those who are not fully sanctified
and yet die in a state of grace. Later, led by the Holy Spirit,
the Church formalized this belief into the doctrine of Purgatory.
Now this doctrine in actually pretty bare bones.
Purgatory exists for those who die in a state of grace, but
not having been fully cleansed from the effects of sin.
It involves suffering.
Those in Heaven or on earth can pray for those in Purgatory.
Those in Purgatory can pray for us on earth.
Now, through out the ages this simple doctrine has been explained
in different ways.
There are two models used.
The punishment model. As in we go to Purgatory to pay
for our sins. This model has been the most prevalent and
often misunderstood by poorly educated Catholics and especially
The healing model. I prefer this method of explanation because
it eliminates confusion about who paid for our sins. Jesus paid
for our sins yet when we sin, we harm our own souls as well as
break our relationship with God. When we repent, normally through the Sacrament of Confession, we are forgiven and our relationship is restored, but
the damage we have inflicted on our souls must also be healed. That
can either happen during our earthly lives, as we allow God's grace
to work in us, or it is completed in Purgatory. So the suffering
experienced in Purgatory is really a healing pain, or a growing pain.
Both models usually use fire as an illustration of suffering but
in actuality it is the Love of God which the Bible describes as a burning
fire which cleanses us from our sins.
No, it's not true — though see my qualifier.
Official Church teaching has not changed and isn't going
First, what fundamentally, do we believe about Purgatory?
We believe that it is a state in which we are cleansed
from our sins, and that those in Purgatory can be helped
by our prayers. That, in sum total, is what we must believe about Purgatory.
This is dogmatic
teaching and cannot change. Everything else is speculation.
It is possible that someone is getting Purgatory confused
Limbo was speculative theology and was never official doctrine of the Church. The Church has in fact been revisiting
Limbo with a view toward eliminating it; there was a
moment not too many months ago when Pope Benedict had
the opportunity to act in that regard, but opted not
to do so, just yet.
Limbo is the teaching that babies who die unbaptized
necessarily are consigned to the highest level of Hell,
a place of natural happiness without torment or pain.
The reason for this is because theologically, Baptism
cleanses us from our sins, grants us divine life, and
establishes us in a right relationship with God. Without
baptism, formally speaking,
we cannot be saved. However,
it is possible for the desire for Baptism to count as
The classic example is the catechumen (a non-baptized
person studying for the faith with the expectation of entering the Church)
who dies before he has a chance to be baptize. The Church
believes he intended to be baptized, and planned to do
so, so that counts as Baptism. A similar
argument can be made for infants whose parents had every
intention of baptizing them.
Even the Catechism published a decade ago refused to
acknowledge Limbo saying, about unbaptized infants, that
the Church commends them to the Mercy of God.
Hope this helps.
It is Limbo that the Church is studying. Limbo was never more than a theological
opinion, but was taught widely.
Purgatory is scriptural and also defined doctrine,
so no change will come there.
According to Mike Humphrey and Brian Bagley of the Helpers apostolate, the weight of tradition points to Purgatory as a physical place: "there is a real fire in Purgatory. All the saints talked about it."
The Church does not officially teach that Purgatory is either a physical or spiritual place.
Our personal theological view as lay theologians is that Purgatory is the Holy Hospital of Heaven — more of a spiritual view.
When talking with friends and family about Purgatory, it's important they know the basics:
Purgatory does exist.
Purgatory is not a third place along with Heaven and Hell nor is it a second chance.
Purgatory has nothing to do with Limbo, which was only a theological opinion and was never a doctrine of the Church.
Souls in Purgatory have been saved just as much as the souls in Heaven.
Purgatory is like the Holy Hospital of 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
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.
The Scriptures tell us, Our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29) We believe that All Consuming Fire is Our Very Lord Jesus Himself burning away all the self-love from our souls.
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 alcoholic disinfectant that the doctor gave us to heal our physical injuries so we can 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. Our prayers and good works can also help the Holy Souls currently in Purgatory by 1.) purifying their souls and 2.) preparing them to enter Eternal Life with God, who is all Holy.
Interested in helping the Saved, Holy Souls in Purgatory?
Think of the number of saved Faithful Departed who have passed from this life to the next since 33 A.D.: many with major spiritual injuries. There's a lot! This is why praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory is very important — and they can't wait to be purified for Heaven! (Revelation 21:27) If there are any Catholics (who live in the United States) reading this answer, who have a strong devotion to praying for the Holy Souls, check out my other website at:
I work with another colleague, Brian Bagley on this. Together we are trying to re-kindle this devotion among the lay faithful and Catholic clergy in praying for the Holy Souls and for those interested. We will send out a FREE Purgatory Prayer Program for you to get started.
If one wishes to view Purgatory as a physical place and can understand this analogy:
Think of Purgatory as a suburb to major metropolitan city where Jesus is the major metropolitan city: like Vatican City. Though I hypothetically live 25 miles away from Vatican City, as my soul is being purified I'm being drawn closer to the center of Vatican City until I will be one with the Lord.
Then the three of us, me, Jesus, and the Pope can go downtown for a pizza or hamburger : )