Purgatory is one of the Catholic doctrines that many non-Catholics find difficult to understand or believe. What creates most of the issues is that they search for the very word “Purgatory” in the Bible.
As a matter of fact, purgatory is not a place but a state. The word purgatory is originated from the Latin word, Purgare – meaning to cleanse, to eliminate, to flush out, etc. With due reflection in the scriptures, we will come to get the clear understanding from the book of Revelation 21:27 – “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“.
Since nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven, those who tried to follow God’s commandments but fell short in some ways no matter how little will have to be cleansed before they could be allowed to enter heaven.
Jesus Christ stated in the gospel of Luke 12:47-48 – “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does one do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows“.
This is because only purity exist in the presence of God for his “eyes are too pure, to behold evil” (Habakuk 1:13).
This state of purity is what catholic refers to as purgatory.
According to St Augustine’s teaching, temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only but others after death, while some both when alive and after death; but all of them before that last and strictest judgement.
The Catholic church, therefore, teaches that purgatory is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who departed this world in God’s grace but not entirely free from genial faults or have not fully paid the due to their transgressions.
The Catechism Definition of Purgatory
The Catechism of Catholic church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven, which is experienced by those who died in God’s grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified“. (CCC 1030).
The Catholic doctrine of purgatory supposes the fact that some die with smaller faults for which there was no true repentance, and also the fact that the temporal penalty given to them was not fully paid before their death.
1 John 5:17
“All unrighteousness is sin, yet there is sin that does not lead to death“. This is an indirect reference to purgatory. If someone dies in that state, will he/she go to heaven? No! He will not go to hell either. He will require cleansing which will take place in purgatory (and not hell since there is no return Journey from hell).
Fundamentalists claim that Scripture clearly reveals that all the demands if divine justice on the sinner have been completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Scripture also reveals that Christ has totally redeemed or purchased back, that which was lost. It is like claiming that since the father has established a good business therefore the son’s future is ensured and he doesn’t need to work hard anymore. In reality, this notion accounts for why the sons of many prominent people in our society hardly make good living like their fathers. They forget that they need to work hard to ensure a better future. Yes Christ has won us salvation but there are roles to play towards achieving the eternal kingdom. Some none believers of Christ also have similar doctrine, though without very name as purgatory. For example, it has been part of Jewish tradition as recorded in the book of Maccabees, Judas the leader of Jews, was praised for collecting and sending money to Jerusalem to offer prayers for the dead. “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness. It was a holy and pious thought. This he made atonement for the death that they might be freed from their sin.
“After taking a collection from each man, he sent the sum of two thousand silver a drachmen to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. He was acting honorably and appropriately, thinking about the resurrection. If he hadn’t been looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, then it would have been unnecessary and frivolous to pray for them. He was looking, however, to that best reward laid up for those who die in godliness, and so this was a pious and holy thought. Thus he made an offering of reconciliation so that the dead would be forgiven of their sin“.
Note that the book of Maccabees was one of the books removed from the protestant Bible from 16th century, even though it has been part of the cannon of the scriptures since 4th century.
Early fathers of the church never seized to mention the prayers offered for the dead. Origin explained that the doctrine of purgatory is very clear, if a man departs this life with lighter faults, his faults are condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials and prepares him for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter. No wonder Monica the mother of at Augustine’s asked her son, in the fourth century, to remember her soul in his masses. This would make no sense if she believed that her soul would not benefit from prayers, as would be the case if she were in hell or the full glory of heaven.
So the doctrine of purgatory, taught in the Catholic church is never a new invention as some non-Catholics claim but something that has been in place before Christianity and in the early days of Christianity. Therefore, it is praiseworthy to pray for our departed brothers and sisters especially by requesting Holy Mass that they may be cleansed of all impurities of the soul and admitted into heaven, our final home.