To understand the doctrine of purgatory, it is necessary to understand several beliefs of the catholic church.
- It is good to pray for the dead
- We believe in tradition
- Nothing unclean may enter heaven
Praying for the dead is a tradition which precedes the New Testament. In 2 Maccabees 23:45-46 it says:
“But if he was looking to the splendid reward that was laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.“
It is good to pray for the dead. Why? If there are only two choices after death…heaven or hell...what purpose is there in praying for the dead? The historical practice of praying for the dead tells us that the belief that our prayer is heard and answered was an ancient belief.
The Catholic Church believes in tradition as well as scripture. The four marks of the church are stated in the Creed. We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Being apostolic means that not only can the church be traced back to the apostles, but our beliefs can be traced back to the apostles as well. Remember, Jesus came to fulfill the law not to change it. (Matt 5:17)
Oral tradition was the method used to pass on the faith in the beginning. The bible was not even written down during the Apostolic Age. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 we are told the following:
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the tradition that you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by our letter.”
Praying for the dead is an established tradition of the early Christians. One example of this is that in the fourth century St. Monica requested St. Augustine to remember her in the mass after she died.
Most of us know that we are unworthy to enter heaven. Jesus came to save us, however we still need to be cleansed by purifying fire before entering heaven. In Hebrews 12:29 it states the Our God is a consuming fire. We believe that before we enter heaven the fire of God’s love consumes the scars and effects of the sins we committed in out life. This explains the doctrine of purgatory as we understand it.
It is very comforting to know that our prayers make a difference. It is also comforting to know that I will be purified before facing God in heaven. A God whose love is so strong it is compared to fire….a fire which will consume and purify me.
Another way to look at purification is a cleansing. Before we go to a party or celebration we usually bathe and dress up to look appropriate. The purification we receive before partaking in the heavenly banquet makes us able to see God without the stain and scars of the sin which occurred during our lifetime.
We attend the heavenly banquet appropriately cleansed and dressed!
Praying for those souls who are in the purification process in purgatory relieves the suffering of both the soul in purgatory and my own soul.
The following prayer was given to St. Gertrude the Great by our Lord in a vision. Her feast day is celebrated on Nov. 16.
“Eternal Father, I offer thee the most precious Blood of thy divine son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”
Just as I pray on a regular basis for my loved ones who I confidently hope are already in heaven, I pray that those who love me will in turn pray for me after my death.
Prayer can heal! Prayer is powerful!