Do Catholics Believe in Purgatory?

by | Nov 16, 2023 | Catholic | 0 comments

Death is a concept not many of us fully grasp, especially when it comes to purgatory. Some believe it and others don’t. But what about Catholics – are we supposed to believe in it? Let me expound on this matter in this article. 

Catholics believe in purgatory. It’s where souls are purified after death to achieve the holiness needed to enter heaven. This is affirmed by the popes, the Vatican Council, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). But more than belief, we also have the duty to pray for those who remain there.

So what exactly does the Church teach about purgatory, and why do Catholics believe in it? Is it even mentioned in the Bible? Continue reading to find out. 

What Is Purgatory and What Does the Catholic Church Say About It? 

Purgatory 

From the Latin word “Purgare”, Purgatory means to cleanse or to purge. But rather than thought of as a physical place, Pope John Paul II referred to it as a process or state of purification. In his statement to the General Audience in 1999, he stated: 

“We consider Purgatory, the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but who are not completely imbued with that love… This is exactly what takes place in Purgatory. Those who live in this state of purification after death are not separated from the saints in heaven nor from us on earth…”

Purgatory is how your soul is cleansed from the stain of sin, preparing you to face the Lord in heaven. Depending on how you lived and the sins you’ve done, it’s one of the three destinations that you’ll go to immediately after death. If you are free from sin, then you’ll go to heaven. If you willingly reject God and his love even upon death, you’ll go to hell. On the other hand, If you died with forgivable sins and were not purified, then you’ll proceed to purgatory. 

Contrary to what others believe, purgatory isn’t a place with fire, torture, and punishments. As Catholics, we see it as God’s final gift to save us and fulfill His promise of making us holy. 

Purgatory in the Catholic Church

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1030-1031: 

“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. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory, especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent.”

The Vatican II also mentions the idea of purgatory in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, number 51: “This Sacred Council accepts with great devotion this venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who having died are still being purified…”

Does the Catholic Bible Mention Purgatory? 

With our belief in purgatory, Catholics are often accused of believing something that’s not even found in Scripture. Sure, it’s true that the word “purgatory” is not mentioned in the Bible. However, its existence can be found in both the New Testament and Old Testament. Besides, it’s not like the words “Trinity” and “Incarnation” can be found in Scripture as well, yet they’re a part of the Christian doctrine. 

How exactly does purgatory appear in the Bible? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (CCC 1031): “The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: 

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence, we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.”

Let’s look at some specific verses in the Bible that speak about purgatory. 

Old Testament

2 Maccabees 12:45 states: “Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” This pertains to how Judas Maccabees practiced praying and sacrificing for the dead, even when they were forbidden at that time. 

Thus, even early on, the Church has always honored the memory of the dead and offered its prayers for them so they may be purified and attain the “beatific vision of God.” (CCC 1032) 

There’s also Zechariah 13:9, which some interpret as souls going through purification in preparation for eternal life. Plus, Sirach 7:33 is interpreted as asking God to purify the soul. These verses in the Old Testament prove that a process of purifying souls after death has been around for a very, very long time. 

New Testament

On the other hand, purgatory is also found in the New Testament. There’s Relevaion 21:27, which says: “But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” This means that those who have sinned cannot enter heaven. Then in Matthew 12:32, it’s implied that some sins can be forgiven in the next life. 

Now, we know that there’s no freedom from hell and once you’re there, you’ll be there for all eternity. Additionally, we know that nothing unholy or perfect can enter heaven. Because of Scripture, we also know that there are sins that may still be forgiven. So if we can’t enter heaven and our sins aren’t grave enough for hell, Scripture suggests that there’s somewhere else that we can go to after death – and that’s purgatory. 

Other verses in the Bible that prove the existence of purgatory are I Corinthians 3:11-15 and Matthew 5:24-25

Do Catholics Pray for Those In Purgatory? 

Aside from believing in purgatory, Catholics are also urged to pray for the souls of those in purgatory. During the Feast of All Souls in 2003, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on purgatory and encouraged everyone to “pray for the dead”. He also said that this is our duty because “although they may have died in grace and in friendship with God, they may still be in need of a last purification in order to enter into the joy of heaven.”

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About: Maurielle

Maurielle is a content writer who has covered a wide variety of topics, from clothes to children's toys, gadgets, weddings, kayaks, and more. But more recently, she has focused her efforts on writing about her journey as a Catholic, exploring her faith, and strengthening her relationship with God. Raised in a conservative Catholic home, spent her childhood and teenage years in a Catholic school, and got married in a Catholic ceremony, her religion is a huge part of her being. Catholicism has also been the most meaningful and rewarding experience of her life. Today, she writes full-time about Catholicism and religion in the hope to help others understand the Word of God and the teachings of the Church.
<a href="https://walkingcrossroads.com/author/maurielle/" target="_self">Maurielle</a>

Maurielle

Maurielle is a content writer who has covered a wide variety of topics, from clothes to children's toys, gadgets, weddings, kayaks, and more. But more recently, she has focused her efforts on writing about her journey as a Catholic, exploring her faith, and strengthening her relationship with God. Raised in a conservative Catholic home, spent her childhood and teenage years in a Catholic school, and got married in a Catholic ceremony, her religion is a huge part of her being. Catholicism has also been the most meaningful and rewarding experience of her life. Today, she writes full-time about Catholicism and religion in the hope to help others understand the Word of God and the teachings of the Church.

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