From time to time, readers of our humble publication, The Little Troubadour, write in for advice of the friars. Their questions or troubles often concern things that affect us all. Over the past year I have dedicated some space in our magazine to answer these questions. I thought it might be helpful to share them here as well.
Your question is a common question, an interesting question, but a question which nonetheless betrays a Protestant approach to Scripture. We need to remember that the Sacred Scriptures come to us through, with and in the Church. The Bible is the treasure of the Church, and separated from the Church’s understanding of Word of God (which is protected by the Holy Spirit), one can easily be led into error. The countless number of Protestant denominations which differ in scriptural interpretation attests to that reality. That’s not to say they are not sincere, good-living, Christian people; but when it comes to their beliefs, they unfortunately have lost the fullness of the Faith that has been passed on to us by the Apostles through the Church.
The word Purgatory is not found in the Bible, but the ancient belief in Purgatory is deeply grounded in what Scripture explicitly teaches about divine judgement, on the need for holiness to enter into the presence of God, and on the reality of the temporal punishment for sins which have been forgiven through Christ’s redemption. What we believe has been revealed to us by God through the Bible and in the Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition is not what the Church invents, but what has been passed on from the Apostles by the authority of Christ, through the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
The Jews before Christ had already a limited understanding of the need for purification after death. This is revealed in the Old Testament in the Book of Maccabees – a book absent from the Protestant canon of Scripture. In 2 Macc 2:41-45 we read how prayers were offered in atonement for the dead. To this day Orthodox Jews pray the ‘Mourner’s Kaddish’ for their dead.
The Separated Orthodox and Coptic Churches also offer prayers for the dead and believe in the purification of the soul after death, even though they reject the Catholic name of Purgatory. The reality of purification from the consequences of sin after death is alluded to in the New Testament in passages such 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and Matthew 5:25-26, 12:31-32. St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians teaches that imperfections and the consequences of misdeeds will be purged through fire which is a symbol of purification. The verses from Matthew’s gospel concern Our Lord speaking of how certain sins must be atoned for in the afterlife.
Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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” (n. 1030). As I teach the children during Catechism lessons, if you were invited to dinner with someone famous, you would certainly want to be your best for the occasion. So you shower and make yourself presentable. Purgatory is our bath before we enter the eternal banquet of our Lord and God. Yes, Jesus saved us on the Cross, but the application of His mercy is also the experience of purification, of Purgatory, after death.
Alex pray, especially at Holy Mass, for your beloved dead and those who have no one to pray for them. It is a work of mercy and an act of love we can offer for our departed brothers and sisters.
God love you,
Br. Louis Mary