Catholics and the reality of Purgatory
The word Purgatory is not divinely coined neither is the word found in the bible, it is from the latin word “purgare” which means to make clean, to purify. Purgatory, unlike Limbo is a doctrine taught by the Catholic church that provokes the opposition of protestant theology. This doctrine is part of Catholic eschatology (The science of the customary last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell ) and it is based on scriptures and the Sacred Tradition. The Church teaches that “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they under go purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” CCC1030. This doctrine is most times misunderstood and misinterpreted, it is not the same thing as repentance after death neither can one be saved in Purgatory. Purgatory is not a place where sinners are saved but a place where the redeemed are purified. Anyone who lived a sinful life on earth is sure of hell, no amount of prayer can take the person out of that lake of fire. So also, he who lived a holy life on earth is sure of heaven; but the question is, who is holy? The bible says no one is holy, not even one (Rom. 3:10-12). If we say we have not sinned, then we lie (1 Jn. 1:8), yet, the same bible says nothing impure will enter heaven (Rev. 21:27).
Since the bible insist that we all have sinned and cannot claim to be holy and nothing impure will enter heaven, then, who can be saved? The apostles asked Jesus this same question and his answer was that it is impossible for man but with God it is possible (Mt. 19:25). Purgatory is all about this possibility through the mercy of God, it is all about the purification of those that truly struggled in their life time to follow Jesus in purity of heart but died with some venial sins. The Church, following the scriptures teaches about Mortal sins(grave sins) and Venial sins (minor sins), St. John teaches this also but he however encouraged us not to take any kind of sin for granted (1 Jn. 5:16-17).
He who truly believed in Jesus and followed him throughout his life time with sincerity of heart but died in a state of venial sin is purified. For man, this is impossible but with God it is possible. If we are not purified or forgiven of these “minor” sins, who can make heaven?
You may tell me that you have no problem with divine mercy and forgiveness but with the doctrine of Purgatory as a place where one is purified. You may see it as a mere formulation of the Church, but it is not. Are you tempted to ask if it is scriptural? Then let’s look at the bible again, even though we strongly believe that not every thing is in the bible (Jn. 21:25). We strongly believe in tradition, however, Purgatory is biblical. The word Purgatory is not used in the bible just as the word ‘bible’ is not used in the bible, but their reality is reflected in the bible. The word Purgatory may not have been used in the bible but there is no contradicting evidence in either the Old Testament or the New Testament against the doctrine of Purgatory, they rather reflects its reality.
In the book of 2Maccabees 12:38-45, the bible talks about praying for the dead. If those that have died cannot be helped at all, then why does the bible talks about praying for the dead? Since the bible talked about praying for the dead, then it means that the possibility is there for the dead to be helped and saved. I know that the protestant bible does not recognize the book of Maccabees and some other books in the bible. Fine, let’s assume that you too do not recognize it, may be you see it as mere historical book. But what is the history all about? It is about the people of God, how they struggled and fought in defense of their faith. So, this so called history reflects the faith of our Fathers, it reflects the tradition and the believe of the people of faith. The word Purgatory is not used there, but the fact that they prayed for the dead shows that the dead could be in a place that is neither heaven nor hell. You cannot pray for those in heaven because they don’t need it, they should rather pray for us. Also, you cannot pray for those in hell because there is no amount of prayer that can save the condemned in hell. The dead they prayed for must therefore be in a place outside heaven and hell.
When Jesus died, he was buried, for three days he was dead. Have you ever wondered where Jesus was those three days of his absence? Was he in hell or heaven? The bible says he went to the abode of the dead to set them free (1Peter 3:19-20 and Eph. 4:8-10). Where is this abode of the dead? Is it heaven? It can’t be because those in heaven are already freed. Is this abode of the dead hell? Again, it can’t be because those in hell are already condemned. So, where is this abode of the dead Jesus went to? That place he went to is a place where the Souls of the dead that are not yet in heaven and yet not condemned awaits the mercy of God. That place, even though the Church cannot tell you the exact nature, is what the Catholic Church calls Purgatory.
When Jesus said that the sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this age nor in the age to come, he reflects the fact that some sins could be forgiven in the age to come (Mt. 12:32.)
Purgatory is a Catholic doctrine that has suffered from misunderstanding, criticism and rejection from some quarters, yet remained unshakable. Purgatory is not a place where we pray for salvation, not a place of repentance but a place where the redeemed are purified.