I once heard a priest being asked about Purgatory. This priest had just retired from the University of Notre Dame theology department where he had served as a tenured professor. He was asked whether Catholics still believed in Purgatory. Do you know what he said?
He completely affirmed the Church’s teaching on Purgatory in the most breath-taking way imaginable. His answer left us all emboldened to spread the Gospel. The priest’s answer was rich in references to the Bible. Most of all, he left with us an abiding hope for the future and a foretaste of Heaven.
WHERE TO START? THE CATECHISM: WHAT IS PURGATORY?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030, gives us the following definition of Purgatory:
There’s the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory in a nutshell. Note: there’s no “Closed for Repairs” sign. Purgatory is open for business.
Purgatory is this place of “purification.” One does not simply go into Heaven unless you’re in a state. People like you and me, we have to be ready for the blinding and terrifying “JOY of Heaven.
So, what’s the Latin word for “a place of purification”?
In Medieval Latin, the word for this place is “Purgatorium.” This word then became “Purgatory” in Middle English. The word “purgatory” also comes directly from Scripture, as we’ll discuss below regarding 1 Corinthians 3:15.
All those in Purgatory are ultimately destined for Heaven. According to Paragraph 1030, above, all those in Purgatory are “indeed assured of their eternal salvation.”
The Bible is clear. “But nothing unclean shall enter [Heaven]” (Rev. 21:27). We can’t enter into perfection until we’ve been perfected. We can’t withstand the pure, unfettered countenance of God until we’ve been purified.
Great. Purgatory makes logical sense, but …
WHERE’S PURGATORY IN THE BIBLE?
There are several places in the Bible where we can find a basis for Purgatory. Purgatory is described as a sort of prison at Matthew 5:24-25. 2 There’s also 2 Maccabees 12:44-45, in which the Jews pray for the souls of the dead.
THE BIBLE’S CLEAREST DESCRIPTION OF PURGATORY: 1 CORINTHIANS 3:11-15
Saint Paul compares our lives to a building and our works to its bricks. Hopefully, we built on the correct foundation, Jesus Christ. Our lives are then God’s Temple. But what happens to the Temple at death?
[1 Corinthians 3:11-15 RSVCE]
Our lives are a temple that is burned up when we die. The “fire will test” the quality of each person’s work. Our good works will be like gold and “precious stones.” Our bad works will be like “hay, stubble.”
The bad will be burned up. The good will remain. Let’s hope something remains!
If our temple “survives” the fire, we “will receive a reward.” What’s our “reward”? The reward is the reward of all rewards. It’s the golden ticket! The reward is Heaven.
What happens, though, if our temple is burned to the ground? What if nothing survives the fire? Saint Paul tells us that we will “suffer loss,” BUT we “will be saved.”