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Question from Joanne Thomas on 3/2/2001:

When did Jesus talk about purgatory in the bible?

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 3/6/2001:

Purgatory is the name given to the final purification of the elect -those who have died and are destined for heaven- who are temporarily and partially alienated from God for sins for which there has not been satisfaction. The souls in the condition or experience of purgatory are happy in that they know they are destined for heaven and yet there is still some manner of purgation of whatever is inappropriate for a soul in the perfection of heaven and God’s presence.

From early times the Church has prayed for the dead, in light of this belief in purgatory. In so doing, we are not praying for the damned, as such, since the souls of the damned have no hope and are immediately judged to that state. But our prayers are for those destined to heaven but are still on the journey of purgation, to speed them on their way. As our prayers can help fellow Christians in this lifetime, so too our prayers can help those who are still of the Church but on the way to heaven.

As to the biblical basis –not proof- for this firm belief of the Church, there are a few Scriptural passages which support what the Church knows through Tradition:

1. In the wake of a Maccabean battle in 2nd CBC, while the Jews were successful in the battle, several of their comrades had been killed. As the Jews were gathering up their fallen comrades they noted that every one of them had been secretly carrying an idol under his tunic, for which lack of faith it was assumed that God had allowed them to be killed in battle. The commander of the troops commanded his fellow Jews to pray for these fallen comrades, so that this sin would not be held against them: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” Hence we have a clear example in the OT of prayers for the dead, which would be nonsense if one could not affect the condition of the dead. See 2 Macc 12:42-45) By the way, it was because of this Scriptural reference to prayer that many of the Protestant leaders of the Reformation rejected this work and the other Deutero-canonical works (the Apocrypha).

2. Certain NT passages also speak of a cleansing fire for the dead. This is obviously not hell fire from which there is no escape. And while the Church does not specify the nature of the experience of purgatory, such cleansing fire would support the belief in an experience of purgation. See 1Cor 3:15; 1Pet 1:7)

3. Finally, as to offering prayers and sacrifices for the sins of another, we have an example of Job doing this for his sons, while they were living. See Job 1:5

As I noted, the Church does not attempt to prove the existence of Purgatory by Scripture but there is a biblical basis for what we know and practice with regards to those who have died in Christ. Sadly, in rejecting the belief in Purgatory and the deutero-canonical works of the OT in order to eliminate biblical support for such, the Protestant leaders and most Protestants thereafter abandoned prayers and offerings for the dead so that there is almost certainly a multitude of Christians who have gone before us in death who receive little or no benefit from their fellow Christians who could pray for them by name. Please, pray for the dead. It is an act of charity and a benefit that we will, hopefully, one day enjoy ourselves when we have passed from this world.

Thanks, Joanne

Father Echert


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