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Purgatory

Roman Catholic beliefs


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Roman Catholic beliefs:

The Roman Catholic church teaches that a "Particular Judgment" happens to each person immediately at their time of death. (This is different from the General Judgment that everyone will undergo on the "last day.") The "souls of those who have died in the state of grace suffer for a time a purging that prepares them to enter heaven." Souls spend time in Purgatory until fully cleansed of the temporal consequences of sin that were accumulated during live.

The Church, drawing on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, is able to grant its members absolution for their sins through the sacrament of reconciliation (a.k.a. confession). At that point, the sins no longer have eternal consequences; that is, the transgression does not cause the perpetrator to be relegated to Hell for torture throughout all eternity. It does not prevent them from attaining heaven eventually.

However, there are often temporal consequences to sin. God may have forgiven the individual for their transgression, but they may have harmed others. These temporal consequences have to be paid for. A person requires cleansing before being allowed into Heaven. Such cleansing is the function of Purgatory.

The intensity and duration of the torment can be reduced by good works by the living, if they offer Masses, prayers "and other acts of piety and devotion." Fr. Paul O'Sullivan has suggested seven techniques that can be used by a person while they are alive on earth to avoid the fires of Purgatory entirely. 1 

Purgatory will be terminated 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 that they can be admitted to heaven. There are three factors in this system that appear to be unjust to some observers:

  • Two individuals with the same "sin load" -- one who died centuries before the general judgment, and another who died just before the judgment -- would spend a different length of time being purged of their temporal consequences of their sins.
  • Those who have more living friends and family on Earth who pray for the fate of the deceased will presumably be released sooner than those who have no friends or family.
  • If two persons have the same "sin load" but one is famous and the other is largely unknown, then the former will presumably be the topic of more prayers, and will be released quicker than the latter.

Many devout Catholics have a overwhelming fear of dying, because they feel that they will certainly suffer - either in Hell forever, or in Purgatory for many centuries or millennia.


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Official statements and comments on Purgatory:

  • Council of Lyons II (1274 CE):
    "We believe...that the souls, by the purifying compensation are purged after death."

  •  Council of Florence (1438-1443 CE):
    "If they have died repentant for their sins and having love of God, but have not made satisfaction for things they have done or omitted by fruits worthy of penance, then their souls, after death, are cleansed by the punishment of Purgatory...the suffrages of the faithful still living are efficacious in bringing them relief from such punishment, namely the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayers and almsgiving and other works of piety which, in accordance with the designation of the Church, are customarily offered by the faithful for each other." 2
  •  Council of Trent (1545-1563 CE)
    "We constantly hold that purgatory exists, and that the souls of the faithful there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful."
     
  • The Roman Catholic Catechism states: 3

1021: "Each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith."

1023: "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified [with no need of purgatory] live for ever with Christ."

1031: "The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent."

1032: "This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead..."

  • Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510; Canonized 1737) was the subject of the "Treatise on Purgatory." It was originally believed that she had written the work. However, it has been shown that the "Dialogue" is the work of Battista Vernazza, a follower of Catherine. 7 It is a spiritual biography not an autobiography. The author makes the point in Chapter II that, in spite of the pain of the torture in Purgatory, the victims are ecstatically joyous. She wrote:
    "I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin's rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. ..."

    "It is in this way that rust, which is sin, covers souls, and in Purgatory is burnt away by fire; the more it is consumed, the more do the souls respond to God, the true sun. As the rust lessens and the soul is opened up to the divine ray, happiness grows; until the time be accomplished the one wanes and the other waxes. Pain however does not lessen but only the time for which pain is endured. As for will: never can the souls say these pains are pains, so contented are they with God's ordaining with which, in pure charity, their will is united."

    "But, on the other hand, they endure a pain so extreme that no tongue can be found to tell it. ..." 7
  • Vatican II documents state:

"The doctrine of purgatory clearly demonstrates that even when the guilt of sin has been taken away, punishment for it or the consequences of it may remain to be expiated or cleansed. They often are. In fact, in purgatory the souls of those who died in the charity of God and truly repentant, but who had not made satisfaction with adequate penance for their sins and omissions are cleansed after death with punishments designed to purge away their debt." (Vatican II documents, Page 75).

  • The Revised and Updated Edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia explains: 4

"The souls of those who have died in the state of grace suffer for a time a purging that prepares them to enter heaven...It is an intermediate state in which the departed souls can atone for unforgiven sins before receiving their final reward."

  • One source 5 quotes another edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. It refers to Purgatory as

"the condition or state for those who have not totally alienated themselves from God by their sins, but who are temporarily and partially alienated from God while their love is made perfect and they give satisfaction for their sins."

  • Pope John Paul II issued a Papal bull on 1998-NOV-29, called the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Its title is "Incarnationis Mysterium." It suggests that Roman Catholics attempt to make a pious pilgrimage to Rome, Jerusalem or to another holy site. An appendix to the bull "Conditions for Gaining the Jubilee Indulgence" describes how church members can reduce or eliminate the interval in purgatory for themselves or loved ones, through indulgences. They could gain credit by abstaining from smoking or drinking or eating for a period of time. Alternative methods are to visit "the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly living alone, the handicapped, etc." 6
  • Pope John Paul II used his Wednesday general audience during the period of late 1999-JUL to early 1999-AUG to discuss topics related to life after death. He had described Heaven and Hell; at his AUG-4 audience, he described Purgatory. He affirmed Roman Catholic theology that: "Before we enter into God's Kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory." But he continued by stating that Purgatory "does not indicate a place but a condition of life. Those who, after death, live in this state of purification are already immersed in the love of Christ which lifts them out of the residue of imperfection." Like Hell, Purgatory is not a physical place. He urged Christians to pray and do good works on behalf of those in purgatory, so that the latter will be released earlier than they would otherwise be.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, "How to avoid Purgatory," at: http://abbey.apana.org.au/
  2. "Catholic Prayers," at: http://www.webdesk.com/
  3. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," Image Books, New York, NY, (1995)
  4. Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia," Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN (1987), Page 502.
  5. "Purgatory" at: http://net2.netacc.net/
  6. Vatican Information Service, "Summary of Synod for Oceania," at: http://www.cin.org/
  7. "SAINT CATHERINE OF GENOA: Treatise on Purgatory," Christ's Faithful People, at: http://www.cfpeople.org/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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