Monday, April 16, 2007

Explaining Purgatory


Purgatory is one of the most difficult Dogmas for many Catholics and non-Catholics to understand. This tract will attempt to explain what Purgatory is and more importantly explain what Purgatory is not. It will also provide Biblical evidence for Purgatory. Finally, a few "simplistic" analogies will be presented in an effort to explain how we as humans might better understand one of these "Last Things."

Disposing of the Myth

First of all, it must be stated that Purgatory is a GOOD place. While no one knows exactly what will happen there, we do know that if we end up in Purgatory we should be extremely happy since we are most definitely headed for heaven. No one in Purgatory is sent to hell.

What is Purgatory?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Purgatory as follows:

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come (St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4,39:PL 77,396; cf. Mt 12:31).

Two of the key words in the above definition are purification and elect. In Purgatory the elect are purified and made completely clean. Scripture tells us... that nothing unclean shall enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27). To put this into simpler terms, we need to be cleaned up and in our "Sunday Best" before we meet God face to face.

Some might argue that the "unclean" St. John was speaking about in Revelation is the sinful man or woman. This is false and has never been the teaching of the Church. Now it is a very true statement that mankind owes a debt we can't pay; and Jesus paid a debt He didn't owe. Purgatory is NOT a place that we pay a debt for sin. The sin has been laid at the Cross of Calvary.

Purgatory is where we work out the "consequences" of our sin that have not been paid during our lifetime. St. Paul speaks of this in his first letter to the Corinthians, "If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:15). Similarly, our Lord refers to the sinner who "will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:32), suggesting that one can be freed after death of the consequences of one's sins.

Purgatory Analogies

There are a few analogies that are often used to explain what Purgatory is. The first involves a young 12-year-old boy named Bobby. Bobby is a vibrant young man who sometimes has a bit too much vinegar in his blood. One day, Bobby was playing baseball at Grandma's house and after striking out threw his baseball through Gram's kitchen window in anger. A split second later, Bobby realizes what he has done is wrong and is completely devastated and extremely sorry. Bobby then asks his Grandma for forgiveness. This request for forgiveness is similar to what you or I might make to God or our Priest during the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)... but back to the story. So, here is poor Bobby and Grandma. While Grandma is upset, she loves Bobby with all her heart and can tell he is truly sorry (Bobby is truly contrite) for what he has done. So, Grandma forgives Bobby. The weight that was on Bobby's shoulders has been lifted as he hugs Grandma and says he is sorry for the 100th time. All is good, right? Bobby is forgiven; and Grandma knows her grandson is a good kid who, like all kids, makes mistakes. Well, all is good except for the fact that the broken window still needs to be repaired! This broken window is the "consequence" of Bobby's actions. It is these "consequences" that must be made clean before we enter heaven.

When we sin, consequences are created. God forgives the sin, if we ask Him to with a contrite heart, but He does not clean up the consequences. We need to take care of those ourselves, and if we are not completely successful in cleaning them up before our death, Purgatory will take care of the rest. Of course, the assumption here is that the person did not die in the state of mortal sin. Because, if they do die in the state of mortal sin, Purgatory is not the place they will end up in. Unfortunately, eternal separation from God is where this person more than likely will end up in. This place is Hell.

Another analogy is much better demonstrated in person. However, an attempt will be done here also. Picture a man holding a small piece of wood. Also, picture a nail and a hammer. Now, picture the man pounding the nail into the wood. This pounding action is what happens when we sin. Now, picture the man pulling the nail from the wood. This is what happens when God forgives us of our sins. The only thing different is the fact that there is a hole in the wood. This hole is the consequence of the sin. This consequence must be made clean before we enter heaven.

Not in Scripture

Some "fundamentalists" argue that nowhere in the Bible does the word "Purgatory" exist. This is a very true statement. However, nowhere in the Bible can one find the word "Trinity" either. Does this mean we throw out the idea that we have a Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Of course it doesn't. While the word Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture, the idea of "Trinity" is most definitely implicitly stated throughout Scripture. The same thing goes for Purgatory.


In summary, Purgatory is a good place to end up in as it means we are headed for eternal salvation with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our Blessed Mother Mary, and all the Angels and Saints in heaven. Purgatory is a place where the consequences of our forgiven sins are cleaned up. As nothing unclean shall enter heaven (Rev. 21:27), we need to be completely clean.

One final analogy is this. Imagine you are going to meet the President of the United States. Wouldn't you want to be in your best suit or outfit? Wouldn't you make sure everything about your appearance, attitude, and entire being were as perfect as could be? I know I would. With all due respect to our President, how much more significant is the Lord of Lord's, King of King's, the Great I AM? Therefore, I know I for one want to be perfect before meeting Jesus face to face.

Photo Credit: 1


Brittany said...

Thanks for a way to explain Purgatory. It will be useful in the future. I also like that you have provided quotes from the bible to support it. I do have a question there a way for a sinner to get to Heaven without going through Purgatory?

Ron Pereira said...

Hi Brittany, your question is a good one. First, we must understand that in order to get to purgatory we must die in the state of grace - meaning not in mortal sin. If a person dies in the state of grace and has no effects of sin on their soul then technically speaking they would not need to go to purgatory. However, I for one, am praying like crazy that I make it to purgatory since I know I will likely have lots to "clean" up before meeting our Lord. Does that help?