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purgatory
Question from Sharon V. on 11/3/2008:

Could you explain why catholics believe in purgatory? Any biblical basis or only tradition? I know about Macabees but what about New Testament? How would I explain it to my Protestant friends?

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 11/7/2008:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following with regards to purgatory:

1030 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 achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.[604] The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:[605]

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.[606]

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."[607] From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.[608] The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.[609]

The Catechism cites the following verses as Scripture for SUPPORT (not proof, absolutely) for the belief we hold firmly by Tradition:

1. Second Maccabees

12:38 Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and they kept the sabbath there. 12:39 On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. 12:40 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 12:41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 12:42 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 12:43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 12:44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 12:45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc)

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. Second Corinthians

3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. 3:11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 3:12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- 3:13 each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 3:14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 3:15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1Cor)

3. First Peter

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1:4 and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 1:5 who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 1:7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Both Corinthians and Peter contain passages which 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.

4. Book of Job

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil. 1:2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 1:3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 1:4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 1:5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did continually.

I want to emphasize that these Scriptures must be understood in conjunction with the inspiration of the Spirit as found in Tradition. Considered in isolation from this component of divine revelation, one may not fully perceive the deeper reality which is intended by God or may misinterpret these texts. Many non-Catholics misunderstand the reason for purgatory. It is not because of any insufficiency on the part of Christ and the grace won by Him on the Cross--we do not earn our way into heaven by purgatory; rather, the insufficiency is with regards to our own receptivity to that grace, and purgatory is a preparation for experiencing the fullness of heaven. Purgatory is an incredible blessing for those who are saved, for rather than spending eternity with a love which has been diminished by our attachment to sin, we are given the opportunity to be purged of whatever might still hold us back from the fullness of love. By way of analogy, consider whether you would prefer to watch a movie in a theater with glasses all covered with scratches and smears, or have perfect vision--how much more do we want the clear vision of love in eternity. Furthermore, God is righteous and requires that there be a right order in this world and the next. That order in heaven requires that there be nothing in the presence of God which is unworthy, as would be the case for one who was admitted with some temporal punishment remaining for sin.

Let us examine a text from St. Thomas Aquinas found in the Summa Theologica, which cites the text of Maccabees and also addresses the reasonableness of this belief:

On the contrary, It is said (2 Maccabees 12:45): "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." Now there is no need to pray for the dead who are in heaven, for they are in no need; nor again for those who are in hell, because they cannot be loosed from sins. Therefore after this life, there are some not yet loosed from sins, who can be loosed therefrom; and the like have charity, without which sins cannot be loosed, for "charity covereth all sins" (Proverbs 10:12). Hence they will not be consigned to everlasting death, since "he that liveth and believeth in Me, shall not die for ever" (John 11:26): nor will they obtain glory without being cleansed, because nothing unclean shall obtain it, as stated in the last chapter of the Apocalypse (Apocalypse 22:14). Therefore some kind of cleansing remains after this life.

Further, Gregory of Nyssa (De iis qui in fide dormiunt) says: "If one who loves and believes in Christ," has failed to wash away his sins in this life, "he is set free after death by the fire of Purgatory." Therefore there remains some kind of cleansing after this life.

I answer that, From the conclusions we have drawn above (TP,Q86,AA4,5; XP,Q12,A1) it is sufficiently clear that there is a Purgatory after this life. For if the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith. Hence Gregory of Nyssa, after the words quoted above, adds: "This we preach, holding to the teaching of truth, and this is our belief; this the universal Church holds, by praying for the dead that they may be loosed from sins." This cannot be understood except as referring to Purgatory: and whosoever resists the authority of the Church, incurs the note of heresy. ©

Thanks, Sharon

Father Echert

COPYRIGHT 2014

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