Evidence for Purgatory
November is the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. It is a certainty of our faith and logical that Purgatory exists and that souls are there. Purgatory comes from the Latin ‘purgare’ which means to make clean. 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” (CCC#1030). So Purgatory is a place where the souls there must suffer for a time, because although they died without mortal sin on their souls, they haven’t done sufficient penance for them. Mortal sin and the penalty it incurs of eternal punishment are removed by the Sacrament of Confession, but penance must still be done even though the sins are forgiven. Similarly, if I kick a football through your window, you may forgive me, but in strict justice I must pay the debt.
There are no physical bodies in Purgatory. Only souls are there, and the saints tell us that the sufferings of Purgatory far exceed any here on earth. But at the same time there is a joy there because all the souls in Purgatory know they are saved and will be in Heaven one day. So it is a place of preparation to see God. St John Henry Newman (who visited our church), in his great poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ describes the thoughts of the departed who at their particular judgement are sentenced to a time in Purgatory. Seeing themselves exactly as they are before God, they willingly and spontaneously descend to this place of purification because they know that Heaven is not for them yet. We can only see God face to face when we are ready for it.
Sometimes non-Catholics will object to this doctrine and say it is not in the Bible. Well all Christians believe in the Trinity, but you won’t find the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible, but the teaching is there. It’s the same with Purgatory. The word ‘Purgatory’ is not in the Bible, but the teaching is. Few people are so evil that they deserve Hell for all eternity, but then few people are so good and without stain that they can go straight to Heaven. But the Bible says, “There shall not into it [Heaven] anything defiled (Apocalypse 21:27). Does this mean those not perfect at death are sentenced to Hell? No. That would be a tragedy! The Bible also speaks of a cleansing fire. “If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15). Here, St Paul is talking about being purified by fire after death. There is no purifying fire in Heaven because those in Heaven are all perfect since nothing defiled can enter there. And neither can it be Hell, because nobody in Hell can be saved. So it is logical that there be a place of purification in between by which one can be saved. This is Purgatory which is a great mercy of God, and most of us will surely need it!
The souls in Purgatory can no longer merit. There is nothing they can do to add to their eternal glory or hasten their deliverance from Purgatory. They are utterly helpless and yet they are suffering. Some of these souls are our parents, brothers, sisters and friends. But we can help them by our prayers and good deeds, by having Masses offered for them, by gaining indulgences for them, by voluntary mortifications and by the acceptance of the everyday trials of life offered for their release. And we should do this because the time will come when we might be in Purgatory and will be in need of the same help. Charity is not just in action – it is also in prayer. If we remember the dead now, they will one day be in a position to do the same for us. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Fr Paul Gillham, IC