A Catholic’s Response to Purgatory
It was Palm Sunday when I heard one of the TV-based pastors preaching against the doctrine of Purgatory and how it negates the atoning sacrifice that Christ made in the cross. The main argument is why there will be a need for purification when Jesus already paid for our sins.
Just like the Berean in Acts, I went ahead to research for available references “whether those things where so.” This is an attempt to write a Catholic’s apologist response to continue my annual Holy Week observance.
First stop is to check the Catechism of Catholic Church (CCC) as laid out in the following articles from Vatican archives
1030 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.
1031 The Church gives the name 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 and Trent.
As in any text, this open to interpretation as some may argue the type of purification and how long the purification is needed. Whether Purgatory is a state or an actual place is beyond the scope of this article but my main focus is to know why such teaching exists in the first place.
Thus, a key element that I wanted to know is if this teaching was already an established practice in the early church since the Council of Trent was only held in the Middle Ages (1545). Upon further reading, I found the following article to describe that the background for this teaching was due to the following:
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead that they might be delivered from their sin.”
The “prayer for the dead” observed by Jewish people called as Kaddish means “sanctification.” Unfortunately, the book of Maccabees, based on the events one hundred years before the time of Jesus, is not recognized by non-Catholics. Another available reference was when Job, a book that is recognized by all Christian denominations, offered a prayer in the following verse.
Job 1:5 – King James Version (KJV)
5 And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
The basis of the Catholic Catechism article 1032 was from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers who lived in the 3rd century. Looking at the cross-reference, there was a documented request made by St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, before her death.
1371 The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who “have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,” so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ:
“Put this body anywhere! Don’t trouble yourselves about it! I simply ask you to remember me at the Lord’s altar wherever you are.”
To continue with such article, this was a statement by St. Cyril of Jerusalem from the same time period:
Then, we pray [in the anaphora] for the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep, and in general for all who have fallen asleep before us, in the belief that it is a great benefit to the souls on whose behalf the supplication is offered, while the holy and tremendous Victim is present. . . . By offering to God our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, if they have sinned, we . . . offer Christ sacrificed for the sins of all, and so render favorable, for them and for us, the God who loves man.
The Anaphora is the most solemn part of the Divine Liturgy (or Mass), in which the offerings of bread and wine are consecrated as the body and blood of Christ as described in Wikipedia.
Now that we’ve established the reasoning behind such teaching, another argument that the pastor made was that you can’t find Purgatory in the Bible. Just as Trinity is not mentioned verbatim in the Bible, thus, some terms may not necessarily appear in the Sacred Scriptures since as mentioned, Purgatory was a term coined in the Middle Ages.
The nearest equivalent of such concept in the Bible is the word Hades or Sheol in Hebrew. The following article is the description of Hades in the Wikipedia article of Gehenna.
The New Testament also refers to Hades as a temporary destination of the dead. Hades is portrayed as a different place from Gehenna (or Hell). The Book of Revelation describes Hades being cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).
Now, if Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire during the time of Revelation, then, it still must exist today since the Second Coming of Christ hasn’t yet been fulfilled. This coincides to the teaching of the church of the final things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, or Hell i.e. Purgatory is no longer needed in the end.
Also, this would make sense to the doctrine of a gracious God who creates a temporary abode for those that haven’t received Jesus Christ since they don’t have access to the Gospel. As most non-Christian ask, what happens to those who weren’t able to receive such message from the remotest areas? Some people may lead a good life and maybe a charitable person but if he/she hasn’t accepted the salvation from the one True God in Christ Jesus, then, a temporal place is necessary until such message is proclaimed to them.
In summary, there is a doctrine in the Catholic Church about the communion of saints. This is a teaching that we are to help each other to purify ourselves to become holy through God’s grace. That is why we offer such prayers to those who have fallen asleep that one day we may rise up together and behold the face of God through the forgiveness of our sins.