And now, since all thanks due has been given, I shall proceed. Today, I am going to talk about the Catholic doctrine of... well, okay I forgot something first. Firstly, here is a link to a pervious CE post of Lucy's, which in turn links to all the previous ones before it, that way you don't have to miss any of the subjects talked about through these posts, whether by me or Miss Lucy. Alright, now, where was I? Yes, that's right. Anyways, today, I am going to talk about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. I was going to do Heaven, Hell and Purgatory in succession of each other, but I figured that Heaven and Hell are not just Catholically held, and are easy enough to understand the basic concept of without a post explaining. So, I am turning to purgatory.
So, a good person dies. They were also a sinner (as all human beings are), though. Obviously, with sins still on their soul before they died, they are not perfect. And Heaven is for holiness and perfection. If you still have unaccounted-for sins on your soul when you die, then how are you to remedy it? Obviously you can't just pause dying for a moment, go to confession, and then continue. So there is another way to purify yourself. Purgatory is the place for the saved that are still in need of purification. First, before I go on, I must clarify this often-confused point: If you are in purgatory, you are saved. I repeat, if you are in purgatory, you are saved, and meant for Heaven. It is not an in-between place for the kind-of decent people, as some non-Catholics think. You are not there forever. It is a place of purification and preparation, to make you ready for Heaven. It is not Hell, it is not Heaven, but it is 'on the path' to Heaven. So, having that clarified, I'll continue.
What exactly do I mean when I say purgatory is for purification? Purgatory is envisioned as a place of some suffering - suffering to make up for sins. But it is not the same sort of suffering as Hell. The greatest torture for the souls in purgatory is merely the fact that they are not yet with God. But they also have great joy. Great joy in that they are going to God. They will be with Him someday, and someday soon hopefully. So they joyfully bear their penances.
Why Is It Necessary?
Glad you asked! You see, every human being sins. We all know this very well. And we pray, offer small sacrifices, and go to confession to remedy this fact. But all the same, the fact remains. We sin again, and again, and again, but are still forgiven. The problem is, sometimes we don't atone for our sins well enough on our own. Sometimes we go to confession only for the necessary things, like mortal (greater) sins, leaving it to our own judgment to atone for venial (lesser) ones. Sometimes we forget to say sorry for a sin altogether, even though, in our hearts, we are sorry for it. So in such cases, we still haven't quite edged that sin out yet. We haven't quite made up for it. All of us do this at some point or other; it's a human flaw. But, when we die with such a trace of sin on our souls, we are not quite perfectly fit to enter Heaven yet. A saint once explained it this way: The flames of Hell are just the light of God seen by those with hearts of sin. Purgatory is the same. The light of God is seen as flame, because the people there have sin upon their souls. But they welcome the flame, because they know that it will become light for them as they are purified, and in Heaven, it is their greatest joy. In Hell, they only do not rejoice in the flame, because they rejected it, both as light and flame, and so they can never truly know its goodness. I think the exact summing-up quote was "The flames of Hell are just the light of God as seen by sinners", or something like that.
How Are We Released From Purgatory?
Another good question. We are released from purgatory when our sins are fully atoned for. However, the souls in purgatory can have their suffering shortened by two things - suffering of their own on earth (basically, atoning for their sins in life), and prayer or suffering from fellows. I'll go into this second one a little more now. We on earth can pray for or offer little sacrifices for the holy souls in purgatory, to help them get to Heaven faster. Even just giving up that extra helping of desert, or staying home to help a sibling do school instead of going out with friends can help. Offering up sacrifices for the holy souls in purgatory is an amazing thing to do. Or even just doing a little something extra to offer up for them, like saying another rosary, or doing an add-on prayer for them before meals. Even just little things like these can help them get to Heaven faster. And it is definitely not thankless to do this for them. When you pray for them, and get them to Heaven, once they are in Heaven, they'll pray for you, and help you get to Heaven. You can ask their intercession if they are in Heaven, and just as they once needed yours, they'll give you their prayers. It really is one of the best things we can do to help a soul get to Heaven, and in this way we do just that.
Why Do We Believe In Purgatory?
Well, as any well-versed Bible reader will know, there is no direct mention of purgatory in the Bible. There are indirect mentions, though, that support the idea:
"... the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. it will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one's work" (1 Corinthians 3:13)
"... but if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15)
And ones supporting the prayers or sacrifices of those on earth for the sake of holy souls:
"Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2)
However, alongside Scripture, Sacred Tradition (which I may or may not talk a bit more about in relation to Scripture and the Magisterium later on) has always held this belief very strongly and directly. We have always believed in purification, whether on this earth or in the spiritual world. It's a necessary thing to make oneself holy, that is, if you want to get to Heaven (which, I'm sure, we all do!). If you are unclean, then how are you to get to Heaven? If you are sorry for your sins, but do nothing about or for this to make amends, then it is idle sorrow, without any reparation. I like to think of purgatory as the afterlife's confessional. You go and fully declare your sorrow for your sins, and do penance. Then, once you come out, your soul has been cleansed, and you may go on. But, the main basis, as I said, for believing in purgatory, is in Sacred Tradition. Passed down from the ages, disciple to disciple, receiving and giving an infallible truth. Thus we have this doctrine. We've always believed it, even before it was fully defined by the Magisterium (whom we may talk about in another post). Here are some Church father and scholar quotes on the matter:
"But also, when God will judge the just, it is likewise in fire that he will try them" (Lactantius, 307 A.D., Divine Institutes 7:21:6)
"Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their [the holy souls in purgatory] behalf..." (St. Epiphanius of Salamis, 375 A.D., Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 75:8)
"...In this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted... If he have inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions, then he... finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by purifying fire" (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 382 A.D., Sermon On The Dead)
"Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them..." (St. John Chrystosom, 392 A.D., Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5)
And then, of course, a fragment of what the good old reliable Catechism Of The Catholic Church has to say:
"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)
The significance of purgatory to our daily lives is fairly easy to see. It is significant as a reminder of why we must not only strive to do our best spiritually, but also to make amends thoroughly for when we slipped and fell into sin again. It is relevant, because we should offer up all the little unpleasantnesses and sacrifices we have to make for those good souls that are there. We should pray for them and think of them much in our daily lives, lest we forget them in their needy state, a state which we also may be in one day. So pray for the poor souls, the souls alive in God, and not quite the whole journey travelled yet.
So, to sum up what I've already said, purgatory is the place of cleansing. It is where we go to 'get our ticket' into Heaven, so to speak. We are made fully holy there, and, while it is a place of suffering for purification, it is also a place of joy in that it is the last step on the road to Heaven. We may pray for the souls already there, that they can go to Heaven sooner, and they can pray for us when they finally arrive at their Heavenly goal. By doing this, we are helping more souls to Heaven than we can imagine - their vast number of souls, by praying for them; our own, by doing this holy thing and meriting their prayers; and the souls of those around us, by our example which they may follow. So, really, while it is one of the most overlooked Catholic doctrines, it is really one of the most beautiful! I'm sure we all hope that one day, we can make it there, and on to the Heavenly gates beyond it.
So, there's my first Catholicism Explained post. What did you think? Did I do alright? Did I measure up to even half of Miss Agnes's skill at it? Have you any comments or questions concerning the subject matter? I welcome all debating, so long as it's civil, and well-meant. Let's talk! :)