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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Questions & Answers About Purgatory, Heaven & Hell

Does the Bible say anything about purgatory?

The word as such is not mentioned; however, it does say that we should pray for the dead: “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:45). Obviously the souls in heaven do not require our prayers for atonement and the dead in hell are beyond redemption. It must mean the dead in a purgative condition.

What is purgatory?

It is a state where certain souls go to suffer for a while, having died with unremitted venial sins or with temporal punishment for sin yet to be expiated. When they have satisfied divine justice, they will be delivered into heaven.

Is this something the early Christians believed?

Uniform prayers for the dead were promulgated by counciliar decree in 253 AD. Later councils of the Church in 579 AD, in 827 AD, and at Trent, urged people to pray for the dead. This is ample evidence that the first Christians believed in a state of atonement after this life.

But do not some question the authenticity of 2 Maccabees?

Protestant reformers removed it about five hundred years ago. However, the Catholic Church from the earliest days had approved it as canonical and authentic.

But its author apologizes for its errors?

Yes, but he meant errors in style, not in doctrine.

Are there any other proofs for purgatory?

We read in the book of Revelation: “But nothing unclean shall enter it [heaven], nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). If nothing defiled can enter heaven, then it would seem that the millions upon millions who die in their venial sins are eternally lost. That is, they are lost unless there is a purgatory to offer final and complete spiritual healing. It is also written that God will render to each of us according to his works and that an accounting will be required for every idle word spoken. Many die with small faults in word and action; certainly a good God will not damn them eternally for minor transgressions. Purgatory is the place of atonement for little imperfections.

But, in light of Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us,” purgatory would not seem necessary. Why would Catholics claim otherwise?

Such an interpretation against purgatory would eliminate the necessity for hell, too. Christ cleanses us from sin, as long as we use the means he has prescribed. If we neglect them, we will incur suffering because God rewards and punishes each of us according to our works.

The Bible asserts “in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (Ecclesiastes 11:3); thus, there is no other condition than that in heaven and hell, right?

Wrong, this would reduce to insignificance the justice of God. The text can only be used within this context in reference to our final orientation, toward heaven or hell. Every soul is destined for heaven, IF we accept and make sufficient use of the grace God gives us (see 2 Peter 3:9; Wisdom 11:27; Ezekiel 31:11; 1 Timothy 2:4).

But does not the Bible say that some people are predestined for heaven?

Certainly we all hope to be numbered among the elect. Some, like the apostles, martyrs, and other saints reveal such predestination by lives of extraordinary faith and loving witness to the Gospel. St. Augustine would talk about this mystery as a predestination to glory. This is quite different from the exaggerated Calvinistic view that sees signs of election (being saved) in our status and worldly success. Such a view would insinuate that the poor are abandoned, even by God. This notion is utterly reprehensible. God gives sufficient grace to all men and women to be saved. What we need is faith and cooperation in that grace.

Is it just to damn someone for all eternity?

The souls in hell chose by their own free will and understanding the bondage to sin over the freedom of the children of God. Like the fallen angels before them, they will never again change their minds and hearts. God will not drag a soul by force into heaven. We cannot know all the reasons why such souls were created in the first place; however, beyond this mystery, the affirmation of God’s justice and its support to Christian morality cannot be underestimated.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you Father for your response. I understand the importance of Confession and try to go at least every other month. I was just wondering about non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics who repented before dying without the sacrament. In my own life, my father died without Confession. He was ignorant of the faith & must have had bad experiences with priests because he was one of those people that just confessed sins to God. However, he did receive the Anointing of the Sick but was unable to speak due to his mouth cancer. Later on I heard him cry out to God and ask for forgiveness of his sins. He died in a drug induced coma a few days later. He did offer his suffering for his sins and was very devoted to our Lady and Jesus but he didn’t go to Mass. I pray constantly for his soul. I have Masses said for him every month. I pray that our Lord was merciful to him for his ignorance.

    FATHER JOE: It is common practice that if aural Confession is impossible, contrition is presumed and the priest gives absolution prior to the unction. The anointing of the sick is almost always associated with the sacrament of penance. When combined to holy communion, the three are called THE LAST RITES. However, they are only such if you die.

  2. Father, if someone died with mortal sins but asked God for forgiveness right before he died, could he still go to Purgatory? I always read about venial sins, which is a given, that you’d go to Purgatory but what about the biggies? I’ve read several books on Purgatory and some of the saints say there are people in Purgatory that will be there until the end of time. This leads me to think that they had forgiven mortal sins. That’s why I can’t understand why priests don’t speak about Purgatory more.

    Father Joe responds:

    The Church reserves certain sins (mortal sins) to the Sacrament of Penance. We are recommended to confess venial sins because they damage our relationship with the Lord, can lead to more grievous sins, and because we need the grace of the sacrament to grow in holiness. You are correct that if a person dies with unremitted mortal sin, he or she would suffer the loss of heaven and would have to endure the pains of hell. God always hears the cry of a person for mercy, even if it should come in the last moments of life. Sin of all sorts can be forgiven by God, even outside of the sacrament, but Confession gives us assurance of such mercy and renders healing to us as members of Christ’s body, the Church. It is for this reason that the Church does not presume the damnation of even the most egregious sinners. Only God knows their hearts and minds. He knows who loves him and who does not. The poor souls suffer Purgatory because while they belong to God, they still require a certain perfection before entry into God’s heavenly presence. Purgatory makes possible this final healing, but it only applies to souls who are sick, not to those who are dead in mortal sin. The souls of Purgatory rejoice because they know that they will see God. In that sense, they are one with us and with the communion of the saints. This is true for all of them, even up to the last soul that will wait there until the final consummation. Purgatory is the spiritual hospital for those wounded by venial sins and vices or sinful habits. Although ransomed by Christ, they must also resolve the temporal punishment due because of sin.

  3. Thank you Father 🙂
    I just had this very discussion with a protestant co-worker, now I’ll just hand them a slip of paper with your blog address on it!

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