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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Souls Day: Thoughts About Purgatory, Part One



There are two vitally important keys to Catholic faith about what happens after the moment of our death.
  1. Human Freedom: We have been given a free will to reject or respond to God's love.
  2. The Lord's Relentless Desire That Every Individual Human Being Be Fulfilled In God's Life And Love.

To understand the state of existence we call “Purgatory,” we must fight off the many misleading images and mental pictures we may have absorbed during our childhood. Most of these mental pictures distort the Church's teaching on Purgatory.

For centuries, popular folklore myths and images have abounded, most of them fixated on the time duration and the location of Purgatory, desperately trying to describe what this transitional state of purgation is like or where it's pinpointed in the "great elevator shaft" of the afterlife: Penthouse = Heaven, Second Floor = Purgatory, Basement = Hell.

There had been entirely too much emphasis on this imagery. The official, universal Church teaching had been battling this preoccupation which many people succumbed to during various times in history. Many of the popular, conventional images of Purgatory are theologically misleading and dangerous. They have led people to feel terrified of God and to doubt His merciful love.

Regardless of how many people voiced it erroneously, the Official, Universal, Church teaching on Purgatory:
  • Has never defined that Purgatory is a place -- like the elevator stop on the "second floor" between Heaven and Hell.
  • Has never defined that Purgatory is a punishment by fire -- as it is so often imagined and symbolized in misleading artwork.

Often, the symbolic language and symbolic imagery some of the saints wrote about from their personal mystical experiences of encountering the souls of persons in Purgatory were misinterpreted, taken literally, and horribly amplified by over-zealous persons who presented an imbalanced explanation of the state of Purgatory.

So, to correct the imbalances and clear the confusion, you should know the official definitions of the Catholic Church.

The Official, Universal Church's Teaching On Purgatory
From The Catechism Of The Catholic Church:
III. The Final Purification, or 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. 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: 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.

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.”  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.  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.
In a nutshell:
  1. Purgatory truly exists as a state of spiritual actuality after death.  
  2. Within this spiritual state of Purgatory, whatever necessary consequences of sin remaining at the time of death are purified and healed, before the dead person is admitted into complete communion and the direct experience of God.
  3. These dead persons in purgation and purification may be helped by the prayers and good works of those still alive.


These officially defined statements about Purgatory are all part of our Faith, and are deeply rooted in what the Old Testament [2 Maccabees 12:43-46] and New Testament revelations [Matthew 5:25-26,  Matthew 12:32,  Luke 12 (All),  1 Corinthians 3:10-23,  1 Peter 3:18-20,  2 Peter 3:1-17,  1 John 5:13-17, Revelation 5:3,  Revelation 5:13] implicitly teach us about Divine Judgement, the need for holiness to enter the vision of God, and the reality of Divine purification of the consequences of sins already forgiven.  

Purgatory is a privileged state in which I can be brought to the fullest communion possible with God -- a communion I failed to fully enter during earthly life.


To Be Continued...

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