Purgatory is part of our journey toward heaven. This short “Basics” article helps us understand this “state of final purification” and its relationship to sin, guilt, temporal punishment, and how blessed we are as Catholics to have this hope in eternal life.
Purgatory (Latin, “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) is part of our journey toward heaven. In essence and as defined by the Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC) purgatory means “the state of final purification,” so that those who died in the state of grace but are still weighed down by remnants of selfishness and sin, have the opportunity to be cleansed, transformed, and purified to be ready to be accepted into the presence of God.
When people are in purgatory, they have already been accepted into heaven. However, it is an aspect of the great mercy of God that their souls are provided a way through which any unperformed penance for non-mortal or venial faults and sins committed during life on earth may pay the satisfaction due through this period of temporal punishment.
The Church teaches us that sin has two consequences: guilt and temporal punishment. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we acknowledge and are sincerely sorry for our sinfulness, we are forgiven, that is, the guilt is wiped away. However, a just punishment or penance goes with this forgiveness to enable us to correct the injustice we have done. When the atonement for our sins is incomplete and we are in a state of grace at the time of our death, then the period or act of atonement may take place in purgatory.
The Catechism for Filipino Catholics, #2072, explains that the doctrine of purgatory proclaimed in the Church Councils (especially in the Council of Trent) both moderates and strengthens this teaching. It moderates it by calming excessive anxiety over the remnants of selfishness and sin even in the lives of very generous, loving, and saintly persons, and strengthens it by emphasizing that even the small remaining sinfulness must be purified so the blessed can be permeated completely by the light and love of the Lord.
Scripture encourages us to pray for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:46) and intercede for the remission of their sins, and speaks of a purifying fire (1 Cor.3:15; 1 Peter 1:7). The liturgy for All Souls Day, November 2, 2013, first reading, reminds us that the souls of the just are in the hand of God, “their hope (is) full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”(Wisdom 3:1-9)
Jesus desires to embrace all his people in the fullness of his glory. Humanly speaking, death appears to be final, but in the spiritual realm it is only a continuation of the life of the soul. While we are praying for those who have gone before us in death, we need to remember that one day we too will experience this passage into eternal life. We need to live each day with this reality in mind. Each opportunity for grace occurs only once, and we need to be alert to the movement of the Spirit. If we are alert to the movement of the Spirit, we will more readily respond to the will of God at every moment. With our eyes set upon eternity, we can endure the trials of this world, welcome the cleansing in purgatory and look forward in hope to eternal life in God’s presence in heavenly glory.
Catechism for Filipino Catholics, #2072.
Pondering the Word The Anawim Way, Liturgical Meditations, November 2, 2013.