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.

And He Will Wipe Every Tear From Their Eyes, yes, Every Tear. A Reflection on the Healing Hope of Purgatory

Oh Lord, I’m running….Trying to make a 100. Ninety-nine and a half won’t do! These are the words of an old African American spiritual. And ultimately they are rooted in a promise of God that we will one day be perfect.

Well, I’ll tell you, God’s been good to me and he’s brought me a mighty long way, but I’m not at 100, not even close. Because this “100” is not graded on some human curve or scale. The 100 is God’s 100! Jesus says, Be therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).

How about you? Are you there yet?

If we’re honest we all fall short, way short. But what then of God’s promise, if on the day we die, we haven’t reached God’s 100? Have you ever really known anyone who had God’s perfection? Really? We often speak of how holy some people are, and some have reached great heights, by God’s grace. But how many have you or I really known that had, not just human perfection, but the very perfection of God?

So what if we die unfinished? And most of us will.

Some say, oh well, God will just overlook all that and let us in anyway, “God loves me just the way I am.” But again then we must ask, “What of God’s promise that we would be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect?”

And further, what of the descriptions of the just in heaven and the promises of perfection assigned to us? For example:

  1. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (Heb 12:22-23)
  2. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…..Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:2,27).
  3. You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, and lacking in nothing. (James 1:3-4)
  4. For now, we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (1 Cor 13:9-10).
  5. God who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to perfection. (Phil 1:6)

So the promise and the need of perfection stand clear in Scripture. And God will not just overlook his promise and “love me just the way I am.”

What a callous and cruel thing to consign us to ultimate imperfection. The very thought of living in my present unseemly state forever would be awful. As I have said, God has been good to me, but for all of us, there are still too many disordered and competitive drives at work, too many unruly passions, and too many spiritual, emotional and physical irritants of many unknown and deep sources, for you and me to say we’d be happy to stay in this condition. Spiritual progress is the normal Christian state.  But we are heading to a high and wondrous state beyond all imagining. This is the promise and I won’t be satisfied with anything less that the full promise of the Lord to make me perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.

GK Chesterton, responding to a Critic of Purgatory said,

Purgatory may exist whether he likes it or not…..It may be obvious to us that [a person] is already utterly sinless, at one with the saints. It may be evident to us that [he] is already utterly selfless, filled only with God and forgetful of the very meaning of gain. But if the cosmic power holds that there are still some strange finishing touches, beyond our fancy, to put to his perfection, then certainly there will be some cosmic provision for that mysterious completion of the seemingly complete. The stars are not clean in His sight and His angels He chargeth with folly; and if [God] should decide….there is room for improvement, we can but admit that omniscience can heal the defect that we cannot even see. (G.K’s Weekly 4/11/1925)

Yes, even if we were to engage in the folly of thinking we ourselves, or someone else had reached perfection, the truth is we don’t really know what true, God-like perfection is. All I know is, that if I were to die today, God would have to bring to completion the good work he has begun in me.

The Protestants largely dismiss Purgatory because their first founders (Luther, Calvin et al.) tended to reduce salvation and justification to a legal act. The sinner was “declared” righteous, was “covered” in the blood of the Lamb. But this justice was a justitia aliena (an alien justice), a justice imputed, declared, or said of the sinner, but not intrinsic to them. They did not actually become righteous, they were merely said to be righteous and the Father overlooked their sin. They were, to use Luther’s supposed analogy, a dung hill covered with snow (but still a dung hill underneath).

But here too is a sad loss of the promise of the Lord who did not merely promise we would be considered perfect, but that we would actually BE perfect, by his grace. And in all the promises of scripture listed above, there is no notion of a mere declaration of perfection but, rather, an actual experience of real perfection, an actual and real transformation. And this experience, this transformation, begins now. But surely some finishing work is required for most all of us after death, if we take the scope of Godlike perfection seriously.

Purgatory just makes sense when we focus on the promises of God rather than merely to see it as a punitive place where we make up for our sins. Purgatory must also be a place of healing and of promise keeping. Likely there is suffering there, since to let go and be purged of things to which we have been clinging is probably not easy. But Oh, the healing too and weight that must be lifted and we finally shed years of accumulated “issues and baggage.”

Of those made fit for heaven the Scripture says that Jesus “Will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 21:3). I, like you, have surely said goodbye to family, friends and parishioners who still had some tears in their eyes. And we know that they, like we, had things they could not bring to heaven: tears, sorrows, regrets, painful memories, unhealed hurts, and sins. But God, who is good, and a promise keeper, will not leave anything undone. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, every tear.

Purgatory has to be. God loves us too much to leave us in our present unseemly state.

I have written more on the Biblical Roots of Purgatory here: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable

Photo Credit: Spiritual Inspirations

99 & 1/2 Won’t Do – A Meditation on Purgatory

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 colours 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. The Protestants have no place for Purgatory because they interpret our perfection merely to be a legally declared perfection. Classical Protestantism speaks of an “imputed righteousness.”  Imputed righteousness is  a righteous that is merely said of us but is not actually so. Luther thought of us as a dung hill, completely depraved, and God covered us with his righteousness like snow on the surface, but we were still dung underneath. For Luther we merely have declared of us a justitia aliena (an alien justice). But 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.

New American Bible: Problems on Purgatory

We have discussed before some concerns about the New American Bible (NAB) and how it vaguely translates the Greek word  πορνείᾳ (porneia)  which specifically refers to sexual immorality, but which the NAB translates only as “immorality.” Of course immorality could mean just about anything. You can read more of this rather serious problem here: NAB and Porneia

In this post I’d like to explore another problem with the NAB that was also called to my attention by one of you. There are problematic footnotes which do not always reflect Catholic teaching. One I’d like to look at is a flawed footnote on 1 Corinthians 3:15. The issue concerns how this text has been understood to refer to purgatory. The footnote in the current NAB denies that it is a reference to purgatory. Let’s look at the text and then the footnote.

No one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw,  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. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if some one’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.  (1 Cor 3:12-15)

Here then is the footnote in the NAB

[Verse 15] Will be saved: although Paul can envision very harsh divine punishment (cf 1 Cor 3:17), he appears optimistic about the success of divine corrective means both here and elsewhere (cf 1 Cor 5:5; 11:32 [discipline]). The text of 1 Cor 3:15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this.

Now it is strange, to say the least, that a Catholic Bible would so categorically set aside any reference to purgatory  in this verse. There are many ways down through the ages that the Fathers of the Church and other authoritative teachers, as well as modern day apologists, see in this text a possible reference to purgatory. It is also true that some scholars (especially Protestants) have differing opinions. Further there are also Catholics and even some of the Fathers who saw this text as referring to purification in this life as well. If the NAB had reported that some have seen a reference to purgatory here, whereas others include other notions as well, that would be understandable. But the NAB seems quite dismissive of any claim that the text refers to purgatory at all. It does this without explanation and does not report the fuller Catholic tradition. Further, it refers to purgatory as a “notion” rather than the dogma it is. Strange for a Catholic Bible.

So 1 Corinthians 3:15 gives no support to the “notion” of Purgatory?  

Funny, St. Augustine never got the memo, for he sees Purgatory as one understanding of 1 Cor 3:15:

Lord, rebuke me not in Your indignation, nor correct me in your anger…. In this life may You cleanse me and make me such that I have no need of corrective fire, which is for those who are saved, but as if by fire….For it is said, “He shall be saved, but as if by fire” (1 Cor 3:15). And because it is said, “he shall be saved,” little is thought of that fire. Yet, plainly, though we be saved by fire, that fire will be more severe than anything man can suffer in this life. (Explanations of the Psalms 37.3 – Quoted in Jurgens @ 1467)

And it is not impossible that something of the same kind [purification by fire] may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. (Commentary on 1 Cor 3 in the Enchiridion, 69)

St Cyprian Never got the memo for he alludes to 1 Cor 3:15 in referencing Purgation.

It is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing to instantly receive the reward of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged as by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering [martyrdom]. It is one thing, in the end, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord(Epistle 51.20 comparing Martyrdom to purgation).

Apparently St. Thomas Aquinas Never got the memo either for he too sees purgatorial fire as one understanding of 1 Cor 3:15

We must therefore say that the very venial sins that insinuate themselves into those who have a care for earthly things, are designated by wood, hay, and stubble. For just as these are stored in a house, without belonging to the substance of the house, and can be burnt, while the house is saved, so also venial sins are multiplied in a man, while the spiritual edifice remains, and for them, man suffers fire, either of temporal trials in this life, or of purgatory after this life, and yet he is saved for ever. (Summa, I, IIae 89.2)

The First Council of Lyons (1245) never got the memo either for it refers to 1 Cor 3:15 in its Decree on Purgatory:

…..it is granted that certain sins….are forgiven in the the future life and, since the Apostle says that, “fire will test the work of each one, of what kind it is,” and “if any man’s work burn he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:13,15),….we indeed, calling it purgatory according to the traditions and authority of the Holy Fathers, wish in the future that it be called by that name. For in that transitory fire certainly sins, though not capital  or criminal,….are cleansed. (Lyon # 23, Denz 456)

Apparently the Catechism of the Catholic Church never got the memo from the NAB either for it too uses 1 Cor 3:15 as a reference to purgatory:

The tradition of the Church by reference to certain texts of Scripture speaks of a cleansing fire (cf 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7)  (CCC # 1031)

Well, you get the point. The NAB footnote is in disagreement with some pretty big and clear Catholic Teachers. It is possible to understand 1 Cor 3:15 in a wider way that would include the fire of suffering here as well. But to exclude the “notion” of purgatory and to say that the text does not “envisage” it is simply to contradict long Catholic understanding and teaching that does include purgatory in the understanding of this text.

Why has the NAB done this? Here too, I find it troubling that one of the primary and best selling Catholic Bibles in America, the one used in our liturgies, has an error such as this that can easily mislead Catholics. It is true, purgatory does not rest on this one text. But it is wrong to contradict long Catholic exegesis with a wave of the hand.

I am interested in what you think and if you have discovered other bogus, incomplete or misleading footnotes in the NAB. I have grown accustomed to this translation over the years and do not wish merely to denigrate the it. Perhaps it is my closeness to this translation that makes me even more upset when I see things like this. It’s a kind of family squabble if you will.

Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable

Today is the Feast of All Souls. Today we pray for the souls of all the faithful departed in purgatory. It makes sense for us to reflect on the Doctrine of Purgatory and its roots. Please note that the following reflection on Purgatory is also in PDF form if you’d care to print out and share copies. You can get it here: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable

The Catholic teaching of Purgatory is one of the teachings of the Church that today many struggle to understand. Non-Catholics have generally rejected this teaching, calling it unbiblical. Actually, it is quite biblical and the biblical roots of the teaching will be shown in this reflection. Many Catholics too, influenced and embarrassed by the protests of non-Catholics have been led to downplay, question or even reject this teaching. The task of this reflection is to set forth the Catholic teaching on Purgatory as both biblical and reasonable. It is perhaps best to begin with a description of the teaching on Purgatory, then show it’s biblical roots. Finally it will be good to show why the teaching makes sense based on what God has said to us about holiness and heaven.

What is Purgatory? The Catechism says the following on purgation and Purgatory: 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 attain the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name “Purgatory” to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (Catechism 1030-1031). Jesus declared that we must be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48, Rev 3:2). Other Scriptures also teach that we are called to ultimate perfection (e.g. 2 Cor 7:1; James 1:4) Further heaven is described in the Bible as a place of those who have been made perfect (Heb 12:23; Rev 21:27). The Church takes these promises of ultimate perfection and of heaven as the place of that perfection very seriously. If that perfection is not attained by the time of death then, before entering heaven, the Church understands from the Word of God that we must undergo a final purification that brings to completion the good work that God has begun in us (cf Phil 1:6). The need for purgation thus flows from the promises of God that we shall one day be perfect.

Exactly how this purgation (or purification) is carried out is not revealed explicitly. Some have used the image of fire based on certain scripture texts (e.g. 1 Cor 3:13-15, Isaiah 6:5-7; Malachi 3:2-3). However, as can be seen in the quote already supplied, the Catechism is careful to point out that the purification of Purgatory is entirely different from the experiences of Hell. Thus to summarize, Purgatory is a place and a process of final purification which the elect undergo after death, if necessary, before entering heaven.

A Biblical Teaching – Some have dismissed the Catholic teaching on Purgatory calling it unbiblical. It is true, the word “Purgatory” does not appear in the Bible, but neither does the word “Trinity.” Despite the fact that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible every Christian still accepts the teaching since the Scriptures contain the truth of the teaching the word conveys. It is the same with Purgatory. Though the word does not appear in the Bible, the teaching does. We do well then to examine some Bible texts and thereby learn that Purgatory is a Biblical teaching.

Consider the following passage from the Gospel of Luke:

You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Settle with your opponent on the way to court, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the very last penny.” (Luke 12:56-59)

The context of this passage seems clearly to be one of judgement, and in particular the judgement we will one day face. We may ask who is the judge? It is Jesus for Scripture says, The Father judges no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son (John 5:22). We may also ask, what is the “prison” referred to in this passage? We may instinctively think of Hell. But that could not be correct in this instance for the text clearly indicates that one will emerge from the prison after the last penny is paid. Hell is a place from which no one emerges (cf Mk 9:48, Lk 16:26 etc). Thus the “prison” cannot be Hell, surely it is not heaven. There must then be some place, after judgement, wherein an individual may be detained for a time and then released, after “paying the last penny.” Our Catholic tradition calls this place Purgatory. Though the Lord in this passage clearly urges us to settle our accounts before facing the judge, there does seem to be a chance to settle accounts later if this be deemed necessary.

Consider another passage from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation [of Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. 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. 3:13-15).

This is surely a complicated passage but again there seems to be a judgment scene described here. Each person’s work will be judged, his or her works will be tested by fire. Some shall receive reward. Others will suffer loss. Ultimately they are saved but “only as through fire” according to the text. Thus there seems to be a sort of purification accomplished for some. On the day of judgement what is imperfect or unbecoming will be burned away. Now this entry unto salvation “through fire” cannot be in heaven since there is no pain and loss is not suffered there. Nor can it be Hell since that is an eternal fire from which there is no escape (cf Matt 25:41). Hence there must be some place of purifying fire through which some pass in the life to come. Our Catholic tradition calls this Purgatory.

Consider yet another passage. In Matthew 12:32 our Lord says Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. This text implies that there is the forgiveness of some sins to be had in the world to come. But where could this place be? It cannot be heaven since there is no sin to be forgiven there (cf Rev 21:27). It cannot be hell since forgiveness is not granted there and there is no escape (Lk 16:26). Hence there must be some third place in the “age to come” where the forgiveness of sin can be experienced. Catholic Tradition and teaching calls this Purgatory. Here individuals in a state of friendship with God and faith in Him may receive forgiveness for certain sins committed in life and be purged of the injustices and effects of those sins.

There is also a teaching in Scripture from the Book of Maccabees: It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.(2 Mac 12:43-46) Although most non-Catholics do not accept Maccabees as a Book of the Bible it does give us historical evidence that praying for the dead was a Jewish practice. Christ nowhere condemns such prayers nor does any New Testament text dismiss such practices.

These scriptural texts have been reviewed to show that the Catholic teaching on Purgatory does have Biblical basis. The claim that Catholic teaching on this matter is “unbiblical” is thus unfounded. There is a biblical basis and foundation for the Church to teach that after death a purification is both available and in many cases necessary.

A Reasonable Teaching. – Not only is there a Biblical basis for the teaching on Purgatory, there is a an argument for the fittingness of this teaching based on Biblical teaching. In other words, the teaching makes sense based on the promises contained in scripture to those who have been called to be saints.

  1. Scripture teaches that Heaven is a place of perfect happiness where there is no more sorrow or pain, no more death, no more tears (cf Rev 21:23-24). The saints in heaven are perfectly holy and we are thus exhorted here on earth to Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). And regarding heaven Scripture says, But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:27) Christ also teaches us very solemnly, You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5:48).
  2. Now this raises a question: What happens to those who die in a state of grace and friendship with God but are not yet perfect? Most of us will admit, if we were to die at this very moment, we could not honestly say that we are perfect. Even assuming that we are in a state of grace and friendship with God, we can likely see there are still some rough edges to our personality and that we still struggle with certain habitual sins and shortcomings. Likewise, most of us carry within us certain sorrows, regrets or misunderstandings from the past. Despite effort, we may have not been able to fully let go of these things. It is clear that we cannot take any of this with us to heaven. If we did, it would not be a place of perfect joy and total sinlessness.
  3. Obviously we must be purged of any final imperfections, sins, and sorrows before entering heaven. Every tear must be wiped from our eyes (Rev 21:4), every sorrow left behind, every wound healed. Only then will we be able to experience heaven. Ideally this takes place here on earth as we read in James 1:4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Yet many of us know that this process is seldom complete at death. Thus, presuming that we die in a state of grace and friendship with God, Christ will surely complete his work in us (for he is faithful to his promises) by purging us of whatever imperfections, venial sins, or sorrowful effects of sins that still remain. Further, all punishments due to sin are completed.

Thus, the teaching on Purgatory seems quite fitting based on the promise of Jesus that we would one day be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, lacking in nothing. If we die before this process is complete, then something must happen after death to transform us into the glory which we have been promised and to which we have been called. Catholic teaching and tradition assigns the term “Purgatory” to this process of completion and transformation.

Perhaps, in this light, it is good to conclude with a prayer and blessing from St. Paul: In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:4-6)

I’m in the Holy Land this week until November 8th. I have scheduled blogs that will appear each day while I’m away so stay tuned! My participation in the comments however may be a little light since my time with the internet will be sporadic. Comments will be moderated by someone else on the team and I’ll participate when I can. – Msgr Pope.

I Wonder If We Forgot Something Important

I was busy Saturday….A wedding and later another Mass….So I didn’t get to see wall to wall coverage of the funeral for Senator Edward Kennedy. So… I may have missed something and you will correct me if I’m wrong. But here is my question: Did we pray for the happy reposeof his soul? As I went back and forth preparing this and that I saw parts of the funeral on TV. Surely I heard lots of praise for Mr. Kennedy. But did we pray or merely praise? Particularly alarming were the intercessory prayers of the congregation where the congregation prays for the deceased. They were directed not to Mr. Kennedy’s reposeor to the dead in general but rather to praise of his vision and the prayers for various causes. Not wrong per se but out of place at a funeral Mass at the very time we should be praying for the happy repose of of the deceased. Did we pray?

When I die please promise me that you’ll pray for me. You see, I’ll  have a journey to make. I have an appointment to keep. The scriptures all say it but we like to ignore it:

  1. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.  (2 Cor 5:10-11)
  2. For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:10-11)

So when we die we are judged. We ought to pray a lot for those who have died. It is an awesome thing to go to God and to render and account. We who remain behind ought to offer heartfelt prayers for the faithful departed. And so I must indicate so frustration with many Catholic Funerals I have observed, both televised and not. Too often there are bold proclamations of how the deceased is in heaven now, in a better place, etc. Confidence in God’s mercy is good, but to completely ignore the  judgment that Scripture promises and make no mention of it is poor pastoral practice and robs the dead of the prayers they are due.

Consider this, what if I were to say at a funeral “John Jones is in Hell and there’s no use praying for him.” Now you would be rightfully angry and tell me that I was “judging him.” And you would be right. I would be making a judgement I had no right to make. But don’t you see, if I say “John Jones is in heaven now” and do not ask you to pray, that I am sitting in the very same judgement seat and making a judgment that is NOT mine to make?

“But Father, but Father….What about confidence in God’s mercy and joy?”  These are fine and have their place but they should be balanced with a sober appreciation that the dead can use our prayers. AND I actually HAVE God’s mercy in mind when I say we ought to pray for the dead who go to judgement. Remember, God has made a promise to us that when he was finished with us that we would be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect (Matt 5:48) Now are you there yet? What if you died today? Do you think the Lord will leave his work undone in you? That’s not very merciful. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to completion.” (Phil 1:6) God is faithful to the promises he has made and he will not leave anything undone in us. But again let me ask you, if you died today are you perfect yet? You know you’re not. We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All of us are carrying things in us that we cannot bring to heaven. Not just our sins, but also sorrows, regrets, painful memories and hurts. You know you can’t bring this stuff to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven! So the Lord has to purge these things from us.  Maybe that is what Scripture means when it says of the dead that Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4).

Hence, when we die we are judged by God. But the judgement is not just between heaven and hell but as to whether Jesus’ work is complete in us yet. If it is not he will see that it is brought to completion. Here is the Catholic Dogma of Purgatory. It is purgatory where we let go of things for the last time, where we have tears wiped from our eyes and we have false notions corrected and where we shed the final vestiges of the world. Does it take tiem? How long? I don’t know. What is time even like after we leave this world and if there is the passage of time there, how does it square up with our assage of time? I don’t know. Just pray. Our beloved dead can use our prayers.

So, when I die, will you pray for me? Don’t talk too much at my funeral about what a great guy I was, only God is good. Don’t make silly statements about how I’m up there leading the music in heaven. Just pray because I’m probably, off to purgatory and could use your prayers. If I died today (not planning on it) I know I’d  have some tears to be wiped from my eyes, some rough edges to my personality that need smoothing, some intellectual misunderstandings to be set right, some attachments to be freed of. I cannot judge myself, but applying Catholic doctrine to my situation it’s looks like I’d be bound for purgatory. So pray.

Finally let me ask you again, in the funeral rites yesterday for Senator Kennedy did you pray? Did WE pray? Oh, I know we said the usual prayers in the ritual. But honestly, things seemed more than a little out of balance to me. Celebrate what is good? Sure. But Edward M Kennedy shares the human condition and we all fall short of what God has in store. I am not his judge, but I can pray. If he is like me, purgation may well be necessary. I don’t know what sins or hurts he brought to the grave with him. But he did go to judgement and we ought to pray. And yes, I’ll mention the unmentionable: he was wrong on abortion and several other Catholic Moral teachings. Where we are wrong, the Lord needs to set us right. Mr. Kennedy was right on other moral issues and the Lord can grant reward for that as well.  But just pray. Pray for him and all your beloved dead. Our modern understanding  of death needs to come back to a proper focus: hope and confidence in God’s mercy? Yes! But balanced with a sober appreciation of judgment that awaits us all.