- Purgatory is a doctrine of our Faith.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "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. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned." (1030-1031)
There are only two ultimate destinations for a human being: Heaven or hell. Purgatory is the "wash-room" of Heaven.
- Purgatory is necessary.
The Bible, in Revelation 21:27, says, "Nothing unclean shall enter Heaven" -- and God was not joking. Are you utterly pure? Perfect? Sinless? Completely without fault or blemish? I'm not either. To get from here to there requires an actual change from imperfect to perfect. The purification of Purgatory is that transitional bridge. If you die in the friendship of God, and unless you are the rare soul perfected in love before that moment of death (think of a Mother Teresa or a newly baptized infant), you are going to be cleansed before you enter Heaven. You simply cannot enter otherwise.
- Purgatory is logical.
If I repent of a sin, I not only ask forgiveness, but I make recompense. We instinctively form our own children this way, as we teach them to make amends when they have committed a wrong. Not only do we require a child to make his apology ("I'm sorry I recklessly ran over your flowerbed, Mrs. Jones"), we require that he make things right as well ("I will purchase new flowers and replant them for you"). Purgatory is the final "making things right" -- both in our own souls and in the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e., the Church, which is harmed by its members' sin.
That "making things right" after we are forgiven is called the temporal punishment for sin, and it can and should happen while a person is still on this earth. However, if temporal punishment (or "expiation") for our forgiven sins has not occurred fully by the time of death, the expiation is still logically required after death.
- Purgatory is merciful.
C.S. Lewis, a non-Catholic Christian, understood the mercy of Purgatory, and how the soul cries out for it:
Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' -- 'Even so, sir.' (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer)Amen, and thank God for the mercy of Purgatory.
- Purgatory is just.
Benevolent Grandma was a baptized Christian who stayed close to Jesus and lived a good life of caring and love, but she was a mild gossip. Serial Killer was a baptized Christian who lived a life of evil, destroying people and goodness everywhere he went, but he sincerely repented on his deathbed.
Both souls are Heaven-bound, but the soul-cleansing required of Mr. Killer is going to be a lot more severe, prolonged, and painful than the mild purification required of Grandma.
And that's as it should be. That is how justice works.
We are not all the same. We are all individuals who come from different circumstances and who make different choices. God alone can read our hearts, and His justice for each of His children is very personal, not a rubber stamp.
As Jesus said, "You will not get out until you have paid the last penny." For some of us, the payment exacted will take longer, as the sum required to "make it right" is larger.
- Purgatory is Biblical.
The clearest manifestation (and my favorite) is 1 Corinthians 3.
We read that by our life choices and works, we build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ:
If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one's work.
"The Day" refers to the Day of Judgement. The first Day of Judgement for most of us will be the Particular Judgement, the day of our death, when we face God. So, keep in mind that all that follows happens after a person's death. There are three possibilities for a soul:
First possibility: If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. This is the soul who goes directly to Heaven.
Second possibility: But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. This is the soul who goes to Purgatory, who is cleansed by the fire of God's love before entering Heaven.
Third possibility: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. This is the soul who goes to hell.
Glance back at the second one: "suffering" "loss" "saved, but only as through fire". We call that Purgatory.
- Purgatory is historical.
The doctrine of purgatory, or the final purification, has been part of the true faith since before the time of Christ. The Jews already believed it before the coming of the Messiah, as revealed in the Old Testament (2 Macc. 12:41–45) as well as in other pre-Christian Jewish works, such as one which records that Adam will be in mourning "until the day of dispensing punishment in the last years, when I will turn his sorrow into joy" (The Life of Adam and Eve 46–7). Orthodox Jews to this day believe in the final purification, and for eleven months after the death of a loved one, they pray a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish for their loved one’s purification.
Jews, Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox have always historically proclaimed the reality of the final purification. It was not until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century that anyone denied this doctrine. (Catholic Answers)The witness of the Roman Catacombs (products of the early, pre-Nicene, persecuted Church) attests to a belief in Purgatory by their etchings and inscriptions. In fact,
so overwhelming is the witness of the early Christian monuments in favour of prayer for the dead that no historian any longer denies that the practice and the belief which the practice implies were universal in the primitive Church. There was no break of continuity in this respect between Judaism and Christianity. (New Advent)
- Purgatory is painful.
Every cleansing of an open wound is painful. Every turning toward the purifying fire of God's love is an uncomfortable shock to the system, and every honest move to perfection (even in this life) is accompanied by a suffering.
Facing the judgement of our Father will not be a clean, comfortable adjustment. The man who looks through a dark veil his whole life and is then, in an instant, exposed full-on to the dazzling white light of the Son can expect to cry out in some initial pain.
But the pain of Purgatory is most rightly described, I believe, as the pain of loss. We are made for union with God, and we are not complete and satisfied until that union is achieved. When the soul knows without doubt that she is at long last on her way to be united with her Beloved, but also knows that she cannot yet get to Him, and when she knows that it was her own actions and choices that are keeping her from that final, perfect and eternal union with her Beloved, she experiences a great and melancholic longing, an aching sense of loss.
There is a reason that God speaks to His people through marital imagery: The Bride and the Bridegroom, The Wedding Feast, The Consummation, the final achievement of perfect, eternal union with the Beloved. Earthly marriage and physical consummation is the closest we can get to another human being on earth, but it is a pale reflection of true Marital Union with God. The knowledge that one could have rushed to His embrace sooner, but now must wait and long and pine, is a nearly unbearable suffering for the soul in Purgatory, as it would be (on a much lesser scale) for any bride who cannot yet, through her own fault, reach her lover.
- Purgatory is joyful.
Although the suffering in Purgatory is intense, the joy of Purgatory great, even greater than any earthly joy. After all, total, ecstatic union with God is palpable now, as the beatific vision is nearing one's view. No jubilation on earth could ever compare to the clear knowledge that Pure Love is drawing the lovesick soul to Himself for completion.
Fr. Alvin Kimel summarizes Peter Kreeft:
Purgatory is joyful, not gloomy. Whatever pain may attend the process of purification, it does not diminish the profound joy and triumph of Purgatory. The holy souls have passed through death into life and know that their ultimate destiny is now secure. The sufferings of Purgatory are more desirable than the most ecstatic pleasures on earth.
- After Jesus' Second Coming and the Final Judgement, Purgatory will cease to be.
When Jesus returns in glory and the end of the world comes, and when the Final Judgement separates the sheep from the goats for all eternity, and when the new heaven and new earth are established in perfection, there will be no more purification of souls necessary. Purgatory will cease to be, and all souls will be fixed in their final states forever.
“God is the Last Thing of the creature. Gained, He is its paradise; lost, He is its hell; as demanding, He is its judgment; as cleansing, He is its purgatory” --Hans Urs von Balthasar
Related post: Indulgences: No need to freak out!