PURGATORY is the state or condition of cleansing for one who dies in God's friendship, (that is, he/she dies in the "state of grace") but who still has sins or temporal punishment for which to atone. The faithful are encouraged to assist the "poor souls" by their prayers and penances. (Catholic Dictionary by Rev. P.M.J. Stravinskas)
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death must undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC 1030)
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire. He Who is Truth says, "Every one of men's sins and blasphemies will be forgiven, but * blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this world or in the next." (Matthew 12:31,32)
From this we understand certain offences can be forgiven in this world, and others in the world to come. (CCC 1031)
The Church gives the name of '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(15th Century) and Trent. (1545-63) (CCC 1031)
The tradition of the Church, with reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: (CCC 1031)
"..., the work of each builder (person) is going to be clearly revealed when the day comes. That day will begin with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If his structure stands up to it, he will get his wages; if it is burnt down, he will be the loser, and though he is saved himself, it will be as one who has gone through fire."
"When Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold.......which is tried by the fire." (1 Peter 1:7) "...gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation." (Ecclesiasticus 2:5)
From the beginning the Church has honoured 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 their behalf. Praying for the dead is exhorted in Sacred Scripture: "It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins." (2 Machabees 12:46; circa 65BC) (CCC 1032)
* See Matthew 12:31,32 above.
* See John 3:18,36
* See 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. "Jesus...will come in flaming fire..."
To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of (heavenly) eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial sin, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin.
These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. (CCC 1472)
The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the "eternal punishment" of sin, but "temporal punishment" of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this "temporal punishment" of sin as a grace. He should strive , by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man". (CCC 1473)
The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of
God's grace is not alone. 'The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ and through
Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural
unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person.'
In the communion of saints, "a perennial link of charity exists between (a) the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, (b) those who are expiating their sins in Purgatory and (c) those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things." In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus, recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin. (CCC 1474, 1475)
An 'indulgence' is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding
and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favour of individual Christians and
opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of
Mercies the remission of the "temporal punishments" due for their sins. Thus, the Church
does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works
of devotion, penance and charity.
Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the "temporal punishments' due for their sins may be remitted. (CCC 1478/9)
Temporal punishment unremitted in this life is remitted by suffering in Purgatory. "I tell you solemnly, you will not get out until you pay the last farthing." (Matthew 5:26) In other words, we shall not get out from Purgatory until our purification is complete.
O purify me Lord in the flames of Your love.
May the tongues of Your fire purify my mind and my heart,
purge my whole soul and envelop my whole being.
O Abba, Father, I long to see Your face. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
NOTE: 'CCC' denotes 'Catechism of The Catholic Church'.