“Fr. Petros is Purgatory real? Can the teaching of the Church regarding the same be defended scripturally?” – Barbara (MALAWI).
Dear Barbara, your question is faith nourishing. Let us remember that prayers can be extremely powerful in assisting the souls of our loved ones in their journey to attaining eternal life and peace. Let us first of all understand what human death is.
Human death is real, as Christians, we believe that when a person dies, the SOUL separates from the BODY. He or She then stands before God in judgment. Remember that the soul is really “who” we are: while the body lies in death, our soul — who we are — lives on and returns to the Lord for judgment.
WHERE DOES THE SOUL GO AFTER JUDGMENT?
The Catechism clearly teaches, “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of Heaven — through purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022).
If we are free of all sin and the hurt caused by sin, we immediately will be welcomed into Heaven, where we will enjoy the beatific vision, seeing God face to face.
If we have died rejecting God, with mortal sins and with no remorse for those mortal sins, then we will have damned ourselves to Hell.
If we have died with venial sins or the hurt caused by sin, our Lord in His love and mercy will first purge and heal the soul, a state called Purgatory; after this purgation and healing, our soul will then be welcomed into Heaven. (We pray and celebrate mass for such souls).
PURGATORY: HISTO-BIBLICAL FOUNDATION
- Old Testament
Judas Maccabeus (died 161 BC), was a leader of the Jews in opposition to Syrian dominance. He had a successful battle against the Edomites and was directing the work of gathering up the bodies of the Jews who had fallen in battle. As the bodies were picked up, it was found that every one of the deceased had, under his shirt, amulets of the idols of Jamnia, which the Law forbade the Jews to wear. Judas and his men concluded that this was a divine judgment against the fallen, who died because they had committed this sin of disobedience. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden and fell to supplication, begging that the sin that had been committed should be wholly blotted out.
He also took a collection, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, each man contributing, and sent it to Jerusalem, to provide a sin offering, acting very finely and properly in taking account of the resurrection. For if he had not expected that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead; or if it was through reward destined for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be set free from their sin (2 Mac 12:42-46).
2. JEWISH HISTORY
An authentic witness to Jewish history in pre-Christian times, testifies to the common belief in a state of purgation after death and in the ability to help the faithful departed by prayers of intercession on their behalf. Jewish tradition since the time of Christ supports this view.
3. NEW TESTAMENT
In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ warns the Pharisees that anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this world or in the next (Mt. 12:32). Here Christ recognizes that there exists a state beyond this world in which the penalty due for sins, which were pardoned as to guilt in the world, is forgiven.
St. Paul also aﬃrms the reality of purgatory. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he says that “the fire will assay the quality of everyone’s work,” and “if his work bums he will lose his reward, but himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:13, 15). These words clearly imply some penal suffering. Since he connects it so closely with the divine judgment, it can hardly be limited to suffering in this world, but seems to include the idea of purification through suffering after death, namely in purgatory.
Purgatory is a state or condition that is temporal for the purification of the elect after death in which they achieve holiness necessary to enter heaven (CCC 1030), its purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15, 1 Pt. 1:7). The souls in purgatory know that they are going to heaven, the waiting does not contradict God’s love and mercy but rather help the souls recognize and increase their love and desire for God. God loves us and desires our happiness, and purgatory is His way of helping us receive as much of His love as we can.
Receive my Priestly Blessings from St. Cecilia Catholic Parish (Mzuzu Diocese – Mpherembe)
Rev. Fr. Petros Mwale – Feedback: +265884150185 (WhatsApp only)
Paul J. Griffiths, Purgatory: In Jerry L. Walls (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Jerry L. Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Gould, James B. Understanding Prayer for the Dead: Its Foundation in History and Logic. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000