Purgatory! What the Catholic Church Teaches and Where I Stand on the Issue!

I have been reading quite a bit lately on matters concerning the Catholic church and its doctrine. Scott Hahn has several books that are currently in my library, and I am in the process of reading the last of them. One of the issues I have read about concerns the dogma of Purgatory.

Having joined the Catholic church on April 3, 1999, I set about to learn as much as I could about church doctrine and dogma. I have pretty much resolved all of the issues that I had with church teachings save one; the dogma of Purgatory. I cannot quite wrap my head around this one. I have read quite a bit concerning Purgatory and even seen the scriptures that point to the doctrine, but somehow it just keeps going against the grain of what I have been taught my entire life concerning salvation. In my way of reckoning things when a person dies, they go straight to heaven where they face their final judgement, heaven or hell. If the person is found worthy by the blood of Christ to enter heaven then heaven is their final destination and they are allowed to enter into the glory of Christ of God the Father in heaven. If not, then hell is their final resting place where they are tortured by fire forever.

In Catholic theology, a person who is deemed worthy of heaven may still have some old attachment to sin that must first be purged before they enter into the presence of God in heaven. That person is sent to Purgatory where they undergo a process by which all attachment to sin is purged from their being. Once the process is complete they are then allowed to enter God’s presence in heaven where they remain for eternity as a saint of God. Several scriptures are cited as proof of this doctrine such as 2 Maccabees 12:45, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 and Matthew 12:32. In the first verse, Judas Maccabeus sends an offering to Jerusalem to have sacrifices offered for the sins of the dead. This action clearly implies that it is possible for the sins of the deceased to be atoned for after their death. In the second passage from 1 Corinthians, it states in so many words that after a person dies all of their works will be will be tried as by fire and will either be purified, as with gold and silver or burned up, as with hay or straw. If the works are purified the person will receive a wage, but if they are burned up the person will suffer loss although he himself will still be saved (vv. 14-15). Finally, in the third passage from Matthew,  it states that all blasphemies will be forgiven except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which will not be forgiven in this age nor in the age to come. This verse, too, clearly implies that some sins can be forgiven after death in the age to come and some cannot.

I can understand how the church can see these verses as pointing to Purgatory although the doctrine is not fully developed in scripture and must depend at least somewhat on sacred Tradition to explain it more fully. However, this explanation of these verses is not what I was taught as a child and into my adulthood in the Protestant church. The Protestant Bible does not even contain the book of 2 Maccabees. It, along with six other books, was removed by Martin Luther during the Reformation. In Protestant teaching, the fire is used simply to imply an evaluation of one’s works and not, as in Purgatory, something punitive.

As a Catholic, I am obligated to believe all teachings considered dogma, as Purgatory is considered. Since all of the teachings of the church I have investigated have been shown to be true, I will give the church the benefit of the doubt on this one issue, but as I stated in the beginning, I still have some difficulty wrapping my head around this one.

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About Jeffrey Owens

Not much to tell. I am married and have a daughter and a grandson. I am an aspiring writer. I am a devout Pentecostal. I love football, NHRA professional drag racing, baseball and sometimes hockey. I sing and play guitar and write songs.
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3 Responses to Purgatory! What the Catholic Church Teaches and Where I Stand on the Issue!

  1. Does it help to keep in mind that those in Purgatory are going to Heaven? Their souls are being cleansed before they enter the ultimate, eternal feast.

    I once read a beautiful description of the reasoning behind Purgatory (I’m sure I won’t do it justice, but…): imagine going to a fancy dinner party (the Banquet in Heaven). The host, a good friend of yours, (Jesus) greets you at the door wearing a pristine white garment. You had tripped and fallen on the way to the door (sin). You would not want to sully your host by embracing Him in His white garments, with your dirt. So, you first wash up (Purgatory), then go in for your embrace.

    It definitely is a difficult concept to think of, especially with a Protestant background. I hope the visual I described helps you find some meaning in the dogma!

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    • I appreciate your comment on Purgatory, and I think you did a fine job expressing your description of the reasoning behind it. Having come from a deep Protestant background my feelings are colored both by what the church teaches and by what I was taught all of my life about going straight to heaven or hell when you die. On the one hand, I want to fully embrace what the church teaches, and on the other I want to believe that my father who lived his whole life for Christ before he died of Alzheimer’s Disease a couple of years ago when straight into the bosom Jesus. I have a difficult time imagining him in Purgatory and not in heaven.

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  2. oarubio says:

    First of all, once we leave this life, time is no longer an issue for us. Therefore, we can’t know exactly how “long” the experience is for someone or for ourselves when we go through it.

    I’ve heard a couple examples from others which help to explain purgatory. The simplest one is: we know that to stand before God, we must be perfect because nothing imperfect may be in heaven. Being merely imperfect doesn’t mean a sentence to hell. The question remains, “Am I perfect now or at the time I die?” Most likely not. 🙂 So, something must happen to me before I go from this life to heaven.

    Sin can be likened to going to someone’s home and arbitrarily driving a nail into the owner’s living room wall. The owner may forgive us when we say we are sorry, but we still must remove the nail even though the owner says he’ll patch the hole later for us.

    Hope this helps some!

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