Purgatory is Based on a Promise of Jesus’

All Souls' Day by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888
All Souls’ Day by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888

I have blogged before on Purgatory. Here is a link to one of those blogs: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable. I have also written more extensively on its biblical roots 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 consider it in terms of promise, purity, and perfection. Some of our deceased brethren are having the promises made to them perfected in Purgatory. In the month of November we are especially committed to praying for them and we know by faith that our prayers are of benefit to them.

What is the promise that points to Purgatory? Simply stated, Jesus made the promise in Matthew 5:48: You, therefore, must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. 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: 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. Her account of it is related in her Dialogue, and is summarized in the Sunday School Teacher’s Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism:

The Soul in the State of GraceCatherine 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 that promise has not yet been fulfilled and you were to die today, without the divine perfection you have been promised having been completed? I can only speak for myself and say that if I were to die today, though I am not aware of any mortal sin, I also know that I am not perfect. I am not even close to being humanly perfect, let alone having the perfection of our 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 also 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: sin, attachment to sin, clinging to worldly things, 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 with us to Heaven. If we did, 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 Corinthians 3:13-15 speaks of us as passing through fire in order that our works be tested so that what is good may be purified and what is worldly may be burned away. And 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—gold, pure gold; refined, perfect, pure gold. Purgatory has to be, if God’s promises are to hold.

Catholic theology has always taken seriously God’s 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. 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 the perfection promised to 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 sorrow. 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 Jesus’ promise and on the power of His blood to accomplish complete and total perfection for us. This is our dignity; this is our destiny. Purgatory is about promises, not mere punishment. There’s an old Gospel hymn that I referenced in yesterday’s blog for the Feast of All Saints that says, “O Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred. Ninety-nine and a half won’t do!”

That’s right, ninety-nine and a half won’t do. Nothing less than a hundred is possible because we have Jesus’ promise and the wonderful working power of the precious Blood of the Lamb. For most, if not all of us, Purgatory has to be.

11 Replies to “Purgatory is Based on a Promise of Jesus’”

  1. To say that we have to somehow be purified of “sorrow” – this I don’t understand. Is sorrow a fault? I can imagine sometimes it is – but not always, not at all. Jesus himself was “a man of sorrows.” So it seems strange to me that sorrow would have to be purified almost as if it were a sin.

  2. Is it fair to conceptualize purgatory as a room with only one exit – one that opens to heaven? Has God made his decision on those not entering heaven by this stage? I ask this because I have come to realize that my prayers for those in purgatory have been somewhat unfocused.

    1. I’m not a theologian, but there is death and then a soul’s particular judgement, so if a soul is in Purgatory, it will be in Heaven. This is important because many scoffers mischaracterize Purgatory as a “second chance” to avoid Hell. Nope.

  3. The following is my analysis of the nature of purgatory.
    Consider one who has freely chosen to get a tattoo. The important elements from this example are:
    1 A willing desire to undergo the painful treatment
    2 Acceptance of the discomfort during and after the process
    3 Satisfaction with the results – it was worth it
    In my opinion purgatory is quite similar. Suffering freely chosen and experienced with a joyful expectation of the consequences. Joyful? Yes indeed.
    Is there any evidence of joy in purgatory? Let us review the writings of great saint.
    Treatise on Purgatory
    What is the joy of the souls in Purgatory. A comparison to shew how they see God ever more and more. The difficulty of speaking of this state.
    I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin’s rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. A thing which is covered cannot respond to the sun’s rays, not because of any defect in the sun, which is shining all the time, but because the cover is an obstacle; if the cover be burnt away, this thing is open to the sun; more and more as the cover is consumed does it respond to the rays of the sun
    It is in this way that rust, which is sin, covers souls, and in Purgatory is burnt away by fire; the more it is consumed, the more do the souls respond to God, the true sun. As the rust lessens and the soul is opened up to the divine ray, happiness grows; until the time be accomplished the one wanes and the other waxes. Pain however does not lessen but only the time for which pain is endured. As for will: never can the souls say these pains are pains, so contented are they with God’s ordaining with which, in pure charity, their will is united.
    But, on the other hand, they endure a pain so extreme that no tongue can be found to tell it, nor could the mind understand its least pang if God by special grace did not shew so much. Which least pang God of His grace shewed to this Soul, but with her tongue she cannot say what it is. This sight which the Lord revealed to me has never since left my mind and I will tell what I can of it. They will understand whose mind God deigns to open.

  4. Great explanation. Protestant friends seem to think purgatory is so absurd, for reasons that are obscure to me and they never can quite explain sufficiently for me to understand. Especially among acquaintances who attend Calvinist churches, where they believe in a sanctification which I understand to be attaining perfection here on earth. They say that purgatory is admitting that God cannot complete his work during our lives. I don’t know why having it completed before we die seems so important to them.

  5. It is one way to conceptualize purgatory, and probably the most common. Also, I believe that prayers for those in purgatory are helpful in relieving those souls of tremendous, agonizing pains, even though their eternal destiny is already assured. We should pray for them in much the same way as a mother or father desires their child recovering from some dread disease to be spared the horrible suffering typically experienced by those recovering from that disease. I am convicted that any prayers for someone already in heaven will serve to help others in purgatory as Our Lord sees fit.

    I picture Purgatory as a continuation of the path to holiness that we begin on earth, a series of “states,” if you will. When we die, the path grows so narrow that we are unable to step off to the right or to the left, and unable to move backwards. I imagine that there is no Purgatory for those who die with a plenary indulgence, or rarely, after achieving perfect sainthood on earth, and I see those occasions in the sense of having done one’s “purgatory on earth.” I personally don’t see purgatory as a room. I see it as a state in which we are purified, as our souls moves along the “path” to holiness toward their final state of eternal bliss. Also, I do not see God deciding who will enter heaven so much as we deciding which path we will walk. If we die while walking the path toward destruction, we have already decided our fate, which is not to say that God cannot somehow reach us (and we repent) at the final moment before our death, in that instant on the threshold of death in which no one really knows what happens.

  6. As a Protestant, I read the various passages I later found supportive of purgatory and simply didn’t give them much due, since, let’s face it, you can’t when you are a Protestant. You must “spiritualize” much of Scripture and by that I mean in a modernist fashion, make it irrelevant. Of course all that is camouflaged by attacks like “Purgatory nullifies the work of Christ on the cross!” But now as a Catholic, I realize that purgatory doesn’t nullify the work of Jesus on the cross, it IS the work of Jesus on the cross, that is, is part of that work. It is part of the “How” God works out the miracle of the incarnation and the atonement. Jesus won everything on the cross for the will and plan of God, and purgatory is simply part of that plan and the method by which he perfects the saved. Thank you Monsignor, as always!!

  7. Monsignor, how should we properly understand 1JOHNv7? Protestants often quote this as saying we are washed clean from sin, however, I interpret this as conditional based up the word: “IF”.

    Thank you..

  8. Hell exists because of God’s Justice, Heaven exists because of God’s Love, and Purgatory exists because of God’s Mercy. Thanks be to God for His Divine Mercy!

Comments are closed.