Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 31, 2005
Purgatory is a step to heaven
Yes, our prayers are essential for those traversing souls
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"We need to undergo a period of purification."
- Fr. Paul Moret
"All it says is that if we die in God's grace but are still imperfectly purified, we need to undergo a period of purification."
The Church teaches that a particular judgment happens immediately at death. "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," says article 1030 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
"So purgatory is a place of purification for those who abide but are not quite ready yet to enter into God's presence," Moret explained.
"They are purified to enable them to enter the presence of God. But everybody who goes to purgatory goes to heaven - everybody."
"It's a period of purification for the vast majority of us who died with the assurance that we lived our lives mostly in the right way," added Hammond.
According to Dr. Caroline Nolan, a Scripture professor at Newman Theological College, souls spend an indefinite time in purgatory until they are fully cleansed of the temporal consequences of sin.
"It's a temporal punishment, a period of time where you are actually cleansed and punished for (your sins)," she said. "But that punishment is really for cleansing, not in the negative sense. If you look at punishment in the Old Testament, it's a very positive concept because the idea is that after punishment the people are actually closer to God."
Purgatory will end for everyone at the time of the final general judgment of humanity. It would also end for an individual when they have been purified to the point where they can be admitted to heaven.
The doctrine of purgatory, or the final purification, has been part of the true faith since long before Christ, explained Nolan, an Irish scholar who has been teaching at Newman for the past two years.
She said the Jews already believed in it some 167 years before the coming of Christ, as revealed in the Old Testament (2 Maccabees 12:41-45), where Judas Maccabeus orders sacrifice and prayers for the dead.
"The idea is that by praying for the dead they are going to be atoned for, they are going to be cleansed and purified."
"It's all to do with atonement for the dead, atonement for their sins, which means that through purification and cleansing they'll become one with God," Nolan explained.
For example, Matthew 12:32, says some sins are forgiven and others are not. "So the idea is that you have to be cleansed for certain sins."
First Corinthians 3:15 says there is a transitional phase the person undergoes, the Newman scholar explained.
"During this transitional phase they are cleansed and purified. So it is a step toward entering the fullness of God."
The Church formulated its doctrine on faith on purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent, in the years 1400 and 1500 respectively.
"When we talk about purgatory we are not talking about a time and a place," Hammond added.
"We are not talking about 30 years of hard labour; we are talking about a period of purification."
"What purgatory exactly is like, I'm not sure anyone knows absolutely for sure, although the Church, by reference to certain text of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire," noted Moret. "There is a painful aspect to it but it is a fire that doesn't destroy our bodies. It's a fire that purifies us."
Hammond compared the fire of purgatory to the fire of a refinery. "It's not a fire that consumes like the fires of hell but a fire that purifies - a refiner's fire," he said.
"We live in this province of refineries so I think we can have some sense of what that is. It's a fire that makes better, not worse. I think is a helpful image."
If we want to avoid this fire we better behave while we are still alive, stressed Moret, who noted that being "good" is more than just keeping the Ten Commandments.
"It's also picking up our cross and following Christ. You know, the idea is that we enter into the mystery of the suffering of Christ here in this world."
All the saints we celebrate likely went straight to heaven and that's a possibility open to any of us, according to the priest.
"It's important for people to understand that we are not sort of doomed to go through purgatory. If we follow in the footsteps of Christ, if we receive the graces of God, it is a real possibility for us to go straight to heaven."
Most people, however, will end up spending an indefinite time in purgatory.
But as Moret explained, "We can assist those who have gone to purgatory (because) they can't assist themselves. They can't do anything to shorten their time in purgatory but we can as we pray for them and help them to more quickly go through that transition into the kingdom of heaven."
Nolan recommended praying for the dead through November, the month of Holy Souls.
"The month of Holy Souls is a good time that we can help the souls in purgatory," she said. "We can do it through almsgiving and gestures of self-sacrifice."
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