One of the things that differs between Catholics and other Christians is our belief in purgatory. If you were to challenge a Catholic and say that purgatory is not in the bible, you would be partially correct. The word “purgatory” is not found anywhere in there. The concept of a place where one goes to be purified, however, is evident. The word “Trinity” is not in the bible, but most Christians agree upon the existence of one God in three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One of the most striking references to a “cleansing place” is in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45
” 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. 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. 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.”
During the Reformation, Martin Luther removed certain books and parts of books from his bible. II Maccabees was one of those books he removed. Regardless of whether Martin believed this book to be inspired, it does tell us about the practice of God’s people in Old Testament times. They prayed for the dead.
In the New Testament, (Matthew 12:31-32) Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, “will not be forgiven either in this age, or in the age to come.” This implies that there are some sins that can be forgiven in the world to come. In heaven, there is no more need of forgiveness, and in hell, there is no hope of forgiveness.
Catholics believe that once you’ve made it to purgatory, you are indeed “saved.” We see it as being similar to a car wash for the soul. It’s like a waiting room – and heaven is just on the other side of the door. A person in purgatory cannot “slip down” into hell. Once the person has been made clean and has atoned for sin, he/she will rise to heaven to be with God for all eternity. We believe that by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have been redeemed. Our sins are forgiven if we truly have a repentant heart, (and confess the big ones – that’s another post!!) however the consequences of sin remain. That stain of sin is what is removed in purgatory as “nothing unclean will enter it.” (Revelation 21:27)
Think about it this way. God is our Father. What does a dad do when his son asks for forgiveness for wrecking his dad’s car? A good dad forgives his son because he loves him. However, there are still consequences for the wreck. The Father may have the son work to pay for repairs. We believe that this is kind of how purgatory works.
The most fascinating thing I’ve heard on the subject of purgatory is the testimony Sondra Abrahams, a woman from Lake Charles, Louisiana who died in a hospital over thirty years ago, and was brought back to life by ER doctors. She tells of her death experience and of talking to Jesus (like the little boy in Heaven is for Real!). I’ve posted this before, but I’ll do it again in case you haven’t seen it. If you just want to hear about purgatory, and not Sondra’s entire testimony, you can fast forward to 18:30.
Two interesting books on the subject are: “Get Us Out of Here,” and “The Mist of Mercy.”
I’ll admit that I have thought to myself, “What if there is no purgatory?” Wouldn’t that be an ironic turn of events? I figure that I’ll plan for it for myself, and pray for those who might be there longing to get to heaven just in case. For me, I suppose, it comes down to Church teaching. I believe in the infallibility of the pope in matters of morals and Church teaching. If he says it’s so, that’s good enough for me! I’ll address that topic another time.