Scripture talks about “Heaven” and “Hell,” but does “Purgatory” really exist? Since the word “Purgatory” is not found in the Bible, then why does the Catholic Church claim there is a “state of being” after death called Purgatory? Is Purgatory a place where you can get a “second chance” to make it into heaven after you die? These questions would sound logical to ask from a Christian who believes that nobody is ever really totally cleansed from sin. That person would believe that instead of being cleansed, a Christian merely puts on the outer “cloak” of Jesus’ righteousness and therefore enters into heaven spotless at his death.
So, what is the Catholic (and the Biblical) explanation of justification? Well, being Baptized into Christ cleanses the “entire person,” both internally and externally, from the sins that a person has at that present moment (cf. Acts 2:38) and makes him a “new creation” (cf. Cor. 5:17). After he is “clothed with Christ” through the waters of Baptism (cf. Gal 3:27-29), he then becomes a full-fledged member of God’s family.
After we are cleansed from our sins and become a “new creation,” we are to strive for holiness in order to be sanctified. Hebrews 12:14 gives us a clear biblical basis as to why final sanctification is necessary. It says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” So, what does the Church say about Purgatory?
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 reality of purgatory is rooted in Scripture, even though the word “purgatory” does not appear in the Bible. Some other words that do not appear in the Bible are: “Bible”, “Trinity”, “Mass”, and “Incarnation.” A soul must be totally purified (cleansed internally and externally) before entering heaven. Here are some Scripture passages pointing to the reality of and the need for a “purgatory”:
(1) “…nothing unclean will enter [heaven]…” (Rev 21:27).
(2) “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8).
(3) “Strive…for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
(4) “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
Scripture speaks of two different types of sins: (a) “deadly” (Catholic Church refers to as “mortal”) and (b) “non-deadly” (Catholic Church refers to as “venial”): “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as a deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (1 John 5:16-17)
Some sins are forgiven in the afterlife:
Matthew 12:32 implies that some sins can be forgiven in the afterlife: “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven, either in this age, or the age to come”. Without purgatory, the last portion of Jesus’ statement doesn’t make much sense. In (1 Cor 3:15) is clear: “… He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames”. In Heb 12:23 several groups of people are mentioned: “the Church of the firstborn” – those who go directly to heaven and those “Righteous men made perfect” – those who have to go through purgatory. In Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:42-48, there are three types of servants: “it will be good for the faithful and wise manager” (heaven). He who “knows but does not do what he knows is right will be put into the place of the unbelievers” (hell). Finally, “he who does things deserving of punishment but does not know” will be disciplined – (purgatory).
“Purgatory actually has nothing whatsoever to do with salvation. It is a temporary phase of purification that only the saved can go through…[Purgatory] has to do with cleansing the saved and preparing them for the eternal joys of heaven. Purgatory deals with the temporal effects of sin; it does not deal with the eternal penalties merited by sin. Only Christ, through His death on the Cross, is capable of eradicating the eternal penalty due to sin. However, there are numerous effects of our sins that remain (Patrick Madrid, Any friend of God is a friend of Mine, pp. 66-67).”
Convert and author Steven Ray gives this analogy:
“I once hitchhiked around Europe for a week, leaving my wife and family in our chalet in Switzerland. To save money and time, I slept on trains, didn’t take showers, etc. When I returned a week later, unshaved, grizzly, and dirty, my wife refused to let me in the chalet. Now wait a minute: I was her husband, I was part of the family, I belonged in that house! Yet, I was not clean or “holy” enough to enter. It is the same for heaven.
So my wife made me undress and take a sponge bath on the porch before I could step in the door. I was part of the family but I had to have a final cleaning up before I was allowed into the full joy of the home. Jesus told His disciples that “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean” (Jn 13:10). Purgatory is simply the final stage of sanctification.
Purgatory is the Front Porch of Heaven!”
Until next time, God bless.