Why do Catholics… believe in purgatory?
According to 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” (CCC 1030). Every soul in purgatory will eventually be in heaven with God. However, they must first endure a period of purification of sins that were not forgiven during their lifetime.
The Church’s teaching about purgatory has been firm since the Councils of Florence and Trent in the 15th and 16th centuries. The concept of purgatory is rooted in Scripture and goes back to the Old Testament.
- In the Book of Job, Job has to sacrifice for his sons’ purification. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (CCC 1032).
- The Book of 2 Maccabees states that after a battle, when Jewish corpses were discovered with pagan idols on them, Judas Maccabeus “made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:46) Therefore, prayers for the dead were a traditional Jewish practice in Jesus’s time.
- Jesus stated in Matthew 12:31 that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. According to St. Gregory the Great, that statement means that “certain offences can be forgiven in this age, and certain others in the age to come. We must believe that, before the Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire.”
- St. Paul and St. Peter each referred to purification after death through a cleansing fire. See 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and 1 Peter 1:7.
Another Bible verse about Purgatory is:
Matthew 5:25-26 - Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
We know in hell you cannot get out and heaven is not prison.
From this tradition, we can understand the Church’s teaching about purgatory. God does not predestine anyone for Hell. He wants all of us to be with Him in heaven. However, very grave sins could mean someone has chosen not to love God and to go to Hell. Less serious sins can still separate us from God, and we need to make atonement for those offences.
If atonement is not made during our life, through the sacrament of Reconciliation, then atonement must be made after death through the purification of Purgatory. Scripture shows us that the prayers and actions of the living can help atone for the sins of the dead, because we are all part of the communion of saints. That is why we offer prayers and Masses for the souls in purgatory.
The first Christians always believed in Purgatory as shown here:Tertullian
“We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries [the date of death—birth into eternal life]” (The Crown 3:3 [A.D. 211]).
“A woman, after the death of her husband . . . prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Monogamy 10:1–2 [A.D. 216]).
“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).
“Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).
Article written by Lizann Lightfoot for Christian Catholic Media.
Lizann Lightfoot is a Catholic military wife and mother who loves to share about her Catholic faith.