Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Explain purgatory and who goes there. Does the soul of a dead person go from purgatory to heaven after being made pure by suffering? Is purgatory mentioned in the Bible?
A Confused Person

The Church teaches that purgatory is “the final purification of the elect” (CCC #1031). The doctrine of Purgatory makes good sense. Those who are completely purified and free from all sins would go directly to Heaven. Those who completely reject the ways of God would go to Hell. But what of those who while being free from mortal sins, and thus have not rejected God, are still guilty of either venial sins or the punishment due to their sins? These people go to Purgatory. The Catechism puts it this way: “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” (CCC #1030).

Why would does one need to be purified before entering into Heaven? Since God is perfect holiness (e.g. cf. Isaiah 6:3), to enter into His presence requires us to be pure as well. In Heaven, “...nothing unclean shall enter it nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). When we sin, we not only damage or sever the relationship we have with God, but also merit punishment due to the sin committed. For instance, when King David sins with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan reports “the Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” In Purgatory, we are set free from these attachments and faults. Once we are purified, we go directly to Heaven to enjoy the Beatific Vision. Also, we can demonstrate our love for our neighbors who wait in purgatory by praying for the dead and remembering them in our prayers.

Does the Sacred Scriptures make reference to purgatory? In the first case, it must be said that the Sacred Scripture makes no use of the word “purgatory,” but this shouldn’t cause us much distress. The Sacred Scriptures uses neither the word “Trinity” nor the term “Incarnation,” but we can see how the Scriptures teach these sacred truths. In 2 Maccabees 12:38-45, Judas Maccabees offers sin offerings to make amends for his dead comrades who sinned in committing idolatry. Specifically, the author of 2 Maccabees lauds Judas’s action by saying “In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection” (2 Macc. 12:43b). There is only one caveat in using this verse. Given that Protestants don’t accept 2 Maccabees as canonical or inspired, you have to use this as an example of prevalent historical ideas afoot at the time. Also, I find it interesting that if, as some Protestant observers say, praying for the dead was a pagan invention the Church was tricked into accepting, then it makes no sense for 2 Maccabees to praise Judas’s action, since the Maccabees were fighting against the pagan corruption of Judaism by Greek practices. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that sins against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this world or in the world to come (Matthew 12:32). One can infer that this means that some sins could be forgiven after death, although the Church does make it clear that only venial sins could be forgiven after death. Lastly, we can turn to St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, that our works will be tested after death. “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 though fire” (1 Cor. 3:14-15) [emphasis mine]. Here we see that St. Paul understands that even those who are destined for Heaven, may have to undergo purification before entering in.

In the end, Purgatory should be seen as a further sign of God’s mercy for his people. Even the best among us, choose the right things but sometimes for the wrong reasons. In Purgatory, all these things will be wiped away so that we can be fully happy with God.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodness, an orthodox Catholic priest in the wild & wooly ultraliberal Catholic Oklahoma. Bravo. One question? Why does a Catholic Priest need an astrological sign? Signed: another Okie, far removed.

2:30 AM  

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