Purgatory is Rooted in a Promise.

I have blogged before on Purgatory. For example here: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable. I have also provided a PDF document on the Biblical roots of the teaching here: PDF Document on Purgatory .

On this Feast of All Souls I want to reflect on Purgatory as the necessary result of a promise. Many people think of purgatory primarily in terms of punishment, but it is also important to think of it in terms of promise, purity and perfection. Some of our deceased brethren are having the promises to them perfected in purgatory. In the month of November we are especially committed to praying for them and know by faith that our prayers are of benefit to them.

What is the Promise which points to Purgatory? Simply stated, Jesus Made the promise in Matt 5:48: You, Therefore, must be perfect as you Heavenly Father is perfect. Now in this promise is an astonishing declaration of our dignity. We are to share in the very nature and perfection of God. This is our dignity: that we are called to reflect and possess the very glory and perfection of God.

St. Catherine of Siena was gifted by the Lord to see a heavenly soul in the state of grace and her account of it is related in her Dialogue. It is here summarized In the Sunday School Teacher’s Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism:

The Soul in the State of Grace– Catherine of Siena was permitted by God to see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace. It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colors of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. ” My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.” [1].

Yes, this is our dignity and final destiny if we are faithful to God.

So, I ask you, “Are you there yet?” God has made you a promise. But what if it is not yet fulfilled and you were to die today without the divine perfection you are promised yet completed? I can only say for myself that, if I were to die today, as far as I know I am not aware of mortal sin. But I am also aware of not being perfect. I am not even close to being humanly perfect, let alone having the perfection of the heavenly Father!

But Jesus made me a promise: You must be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. And the last time I checked, Jesus is a promise keeper!. St. Paul says, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion. (Phil 1:6). Hence, If I were to die today, Jesus would need to complete a work that he has begun in me. By God’s grace, I have come a mighty long way. But I have a long way to go. God is very holy and his perfection is beyond imagining.

Yes, there are many things in us that need purging. Sins, and attachments to sin. Worldly clingings, and those rough edges to our personality. Likewise most of us carry with us hurts, regrets, sorrows and disappointments. We cannot take any of this to heaven with us. It wouldn’t be heaven. So the Lord, who is faithful to his promise, will purge all of this from us. The Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus ministering to the dead in that he will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). 1 Corithians 3:13-15 speaks of us as passing through fire in order that our works be tested and that what is good may be purified and what is worldly may be burned away. Job said, But he knows the way that I take; and when he has tested me, I will come forth as pure gold (Job 23:10).

Purgatory has to be – Yes, gold, pure gold, refined, perfect and pure gold. Purgatory has to be if God’s promises are to hold.

Catholic Theology has always taken God seriously on his promise that we would actually be perfect as the Father is perfect. The righteousness is Jesus’ righteousness, but it actually transforms us and changes us completely in the way that St. Catherine describes above. It is a real righteousness, not merely imputed, not merely declared of us by inference. It is not an alien justice, but a personal justice, by the grace of God.

Esse quam videri – Purgatory makes sense because perfection promised us is real: Esse quam videri (To be rather than to seem). We must actually be purged of the last vestiges of imperfection, worldliness, sin and sorrows. And, having been made perfect by the grace of God, we are able to enter heaven of which Scripture says, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27). And again, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the souls of the just made perfect (Heb 12:22-23).

How could it be anything less? – Indeed, the souls of the just made perfect. How could it be anything less if Jesus died to accomplish it for us? Purgatory makes sense based on the promise of Jesus and the power of his blood to accomplished complete and total perfection for us. This is our dignity, this is our destiny. Purgatory is about promises not mere punishments. There’s an old Gospel hymn that says, “O Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred. Ninety-nine and half won’t do!”

That’s right, 99 1/2 won’t do. Nothing less than 100 is possible since we have the promise of Jesus and the wonder working power of the precious blood of the Lamb. For most, if not all of us, purgatory has to be.

20 Replies to “Purgatory is Rooted in a Promise.”

  1. Purgatory is probably a better existence than the life most live on earth in one sense and yet lacking the complacency, by being confronted with the urgency to be in communion with God. The only distractions you could have is the longing for the things left undone and the only One you will be able to work that out with is God.

  2. If, by God’s grace, I am sent to purgatory instead of hell, no one who has ever been sent to purgatory would be more overjoyed than me! I only hope that, after death, it is clear whether one is actually in purgatory rather than hell.

  3. If heaven exists, then purgatory must also necessarily exist. As noted in the post, in order to be in the purity of heaven, in order to one with the eternal God, who is all-perfect, we impure and imperfect humans must in some way be purified and perfected. Even the most vehement Protestant cannot logically deny this.

    The only real questions with respect to purgatory are the “how” questions, e.g. how do temporality and consicous sensation of feeling (the “punishment” aspects of purgatory) figure into this other-worldly state/process of purgation (and how do prayer and indulgences reduce or eliminate or “speed-up” this process)? In any event, these are beyond our human physical worldly experience and thus beyond our complete understanding, such that we must settle for imperfect analogies.

    But let us thank the Lord a million times over for purgatory. If it did not exist, if we had to purify ourselves in this world, if we had to be 100 perfect in love and in truth here and now, I certainly would never be allowed to get anywhere near heaven.

  4. I have a few questions.

    Can you do your purgatory here on earth? Could dealing with personal sufferings be that of illness, job loss, grief, etc, be a form of purgatory?

    It sure feels like it.

    1. I sense I am going through an earth bound purgatory right now with the crosses I had to carry in the last few months.

      1. Anne, I’m sorry for your suffering. Yes, of course, Our Lady of Fatima also told the three children that there were few things as pleasing to God as the difficulties of life patiently and joyfully borne. From the treasury of Christ’s merits entrusted to the Church, we may also gain indulgences for the departed and for ourselves, whether partial or plenary, that would remit the temporal punishment that remains for sins whose guilt has been forgiven.

        In fact, the holy souls in purgatory suffer without the possibility of an increase in merit, whereas our sufferings patiently borne can be meritorious. As St.Paul says, in Romans 5:3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

        Also, according to St.Augustine and St.Thomas, the slightest pain of purgatory, since it is inflicted directly on the soul, surpasses the greatest pains of the present life. But because they are now so close to God, they endure it as St.Paul endured his trials on earth, with hope, patience and confidence and the love of God.

        God bless you.

  5. Very telling, that our very hurts have to be healed before we can enter heaven – may we wholeheartedly forgive all, no matter what has been done to us.

    As we approach heaven we should have an ever greater anticipatory joy that grows in purity and intensity.

    Many people view high sanctity as an unnatural state that one would strain at. That view can be acquired by an uncritical reading of the lives of the saints. It is often thought that one is most natural in a humanly mediocre state, comfortable with venial sins.

    However, with venial sin in the soul, one is in a partially unnatural state – somewhat warped, with unnatural kinks and imbalances in the personality. A partial deformity is present.

    But perfect sanctity is perfect naturalness, with all aspects of the personality balanced and all kinks and rough edges smoothed away – one then has a perfect, pure, and natural joy.

    We should all strive for this, with the help of God grace by daily generous prayer, voluntary sacrifice, constant acts of charity, accepting patiently all the sufferings that providence sends our way, and frequenting the sacraments. We should strive for this not so much to avoid the pains of purgatory for ourselves, but for the love of God – to present something perfectly beautiful to God at our death.

    May we pray that at the moment of death we can fly straight to heaven, passing through our particular judgment as a ray of light passes through the purest crystal.

  6. Yes u can do purgatory here In earth !! Hope nobody go to hell regret ur sins and go to confession so u can go direct to heaven

  7. I look at the soul,as that kind of a speck of spirit which was given by God to Adam,the first ever living soul,in oder to return to God as pure as it left the Father in His Son’s Spirit as a mediator,to create the entire of our creation, and MUST RETURN TO THE FATHER AS PURE AS IT LEFT AND NOTHING LESS.


  8. Something to consider is what St. Therese Lisieux said of purgatory: “One does not need to go to purgatory.” She even goes on to say
    “You do not have enough trust. You have too much fear before the good God. I can assure you that He is grieved over this. You should not fear Purgatory because of the suffering there, but should instead ask that you not deserve to go there in order to please God, Who so reluctantly imposes this punishment. As soon as you try to please Him in everything and have an unshakable trust He purifies you every moment in His love and He lets no sin remain. And then you can be sure that you will not have to go to Purgatory.”

    The link to the website http://www.franciscan-sfo.org/ap/litfwrpu.htm

    I found it to be quite inspiring, that God doesn’t want us to suffer more than we need to. We just need to have total trust in His mercy and compassion. Obviously regular penance is required of us also.

    I hope this helps!

  9. My late Aunt Teresa used to live with a friend whom we always called Aunt Mollie. Aunt Mollie died. One day my Aunt Teresa heard tapping on her window just as Aunt Mollie used to tap, so she went to the window and looked out. There was Aunt Mollie calling her attention to some plants in the garden, just as she used to do. But Aunt Mollie was changed. She was young and beautiful and with a smile which simply radiated happiness. My Aunt Teresa took that as a sign that Mollie was out of Purgatory and on her way to heaven.

  10. Firstly, I would like to thank Fr Charles for his explanation of the promises of Jesus regarding Purgatory, but I just felt that I would like to add to that a promise which is not New Testament at all – but contained in the beautiful first reading for the mass of All Souls, from the book of Wisdom 3: 1 – 9

    1 But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.
    2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
    3 and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.
    4 For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.
    5 Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
    6 like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
    7 In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.
    8 They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
    9 Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.

    In verse 1 we are promised that, if we have followed Him and served Him, we shall not be tormented.
    In verses 2 and 3 it is only the foolish who think we have died and gone to destruction.
    In verse 4 punishment is only in the eyes of men. .
    In verse 5 it seems that we are being told that God only disciplines us ‘a little’.
    And the rest of the reading deals with God’s love and forgiveness and our reward from His hand.
    What a wonderful promise – God disciplines us, – but only ‘a little’.
    If that’s Purgatory, then I pray I shall be included in God’s gentle discipline there.
    God bless and let us all pray for each other.

    1. This reading from Wisdom was read at my mother’s funeral and is one of my favorites.

  11. The thief on the cross saw Christ in heaven that day. Purgatory doesn’t exist, Jesus promise on the cross do catholics believe scripture or just make up their own doctrine?

    1. Mark,

      Jesus himself didn’t go to heaven until 40 days after his resurrection. 1 Peter 3:19-20, and 4:6 (as well as the Apostles Creed, which even Protestant accept) tell us that he went to the Sheol, the abode of the dead, to preach the impending liberation of the souls there. It may not sound much like paradise as we think of it, but the souls there were in a state of grace, awaiting their admission to heaven. Sounds a bit like Purgatory to me.

    2. Just because Jesus promised that the good thief would be with him in heaven that day doesn’t mean the rest of us were afforded the privilege.

    3. Paradise in that passage refers to “Abraham’s bosom”, where the souls of the just of the Old Testament were detained.That’s why Christ said He would be in the heart of the earth for three days, they were in a state of rest, but remained deprived of the beatific vision (St.Paul tells us, “Strive for the holiness without which no one will see God”) until Christ opened heaven.

      Here is St.Paul describing purgatory, for those who have died imperfectly purified or in only venial sin (cf. also 1 John 5:16, where St.John distinguishes between sin unto death (mortal sin) and sin that is not unto death (venial sin) and souls who leave this life in venial sin cannot go to heaven immediately, but also do not go to hell, therefore purgatory),

      1 Cor 3:12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

      The Day will prove every man’s work, and those whose work is burned up, will suffer loss, but will be “saved only as one escaping hrough flames”, that is to say, will be saved after a purification in purgatory.

      Luther removed an Old Testament book from his canon because it proved purgatory. The early Church’s practice, and even St.Paul’s, of praying for the departed, also proves purgatory.

  12. I like to think purgatory is like in the T.V. series “Ashes to Ashes” and “Life on Mars”.

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