Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

All Souls, Purgatory, and the Bible

On All Souls Day, the Catholic Church offers prayers and liturgies for the repose of the dead. As Catholics, we are called by the Church to focus our spiritual energies to assist these poor souls, who, though saved, are still in need of purification. Our prayers and sacrifices assist them in this process of purification as a means used by God to communicate purifying grace to them. After all, He is the vine, we are the branches so that He produces his fruits of grace through us. purgatory

The practice of praying for the dead actually predates Christianity. In 2 Maccabees 12: 41-45, Judas offers prayers and sacrifices for his fallen comrades to make “atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” Some argue that the books of the Maccabees are not inspired scripture. Leaving that argument aside for now, we can at least look at them as historical books detailing accepted pious practices of God’s people some 300 years before Christ.

If that is the only place in the Bible where we find any reference to purgatory, many Protestant Christians argue, then that is a weak support for such a practice. Fortunately, we know as Catholics that all of our doctrines are indeed found in the Word of God, as is the doctrine of Purgatory. Hence what follows is a biblical understanding of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.

The book of Genesis recounts for us the far reaching repercussions of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. This sin, we find, brought about four consequences which I will summarize here (Gen 3: 16-24):

First, their sin brings about disharmony between persons. God tells Eve that both her relationship to her husband and children will now be characterized by pain and mistrust (Gen 3:16). Further, God has to make garments for man and woman because now, as the text implies, they feel shame (Gen 3:21).

Second, their sin brings about disharmony between man and creation. God tells Adam that he will produce the fruit of the earth with toil and difficulty (Gen 3: 17). Even the ground itself is cursed because of their sin (Gen 3: 17).

Third, their sin brings about disharmony between man and himself. He no longer has spiritual control over his body; thus, his body returns to the dust of the ground (Gen 3: 19). Adam and Eve are no longer able to receive everlasting life (Gen 3: 22).

Lastly and most importantly, sin brings disharmony between God and man. This consequence results in mistrust and fear of God (Gen 3: 10), and, worse, spiritual death. Without God, neither physical nor spiritual life can be sustained (Gen 3: 19, 24).

The first three disharmonies mentioned above are called ‘Temporal punishments due to sin.’ Temporal refers to things pertaining to this world. The last disharmony, the disharmony with God, is called eternal punishment, because it refers to things pertaining to the eternal world with God.

All four of these disharmonies are healed by Christ. The only healing we experience fully in this life, however, is from eternal punishment–or disharmony with God. That’s why Christ is the One Mediator between God and man.

It should be clear that we don’t experience a full healing from the temporal disharmonies/punishments as Christians, because we still struggle. We experience suffering, illness, catastrophes, and even death. Yet, Christ heals these problems, too, it’s just that we don’t experience the full healing in the temporal sphere until He returns.

Until then, we are called to struggle for His Kingdom. As St. Paul puts it, “But we have this treasure (the healing grace of salvation) in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Cor 7-10)

To overcome these temporal disharmonies, we are called to cooperate with Christ’s power in grace so as to bring about the healing with Him in these areas. This is why we are called to pray, fast, and alms give so as to forgive our neighbor’s sins and be forgiven, and to receive the reward promised by our heavenly Father that we will once again regain temporal peace/harmony on earth and in heaven (Mt 6:5-23).

What happens if we die and are reconciled to God (the eternal punishment for sin), but have not entirely cooperated with grace to overcome the temporal punishments for sin? St. Paul gives us the answer in 1 Cor 3: 12-16. He says that after death, our works will be tested “as though by fire, and the fire will test what kind of work we have done,” and we will suffer loss, though we will still be saved (1 Cor 3:13-15).

This is a very clear passage regarding the purification (which we call purgatory) that takes place after death. This fire purifies us from our temporal disharmonies mentioned above, if we die without having them entirely purified in this life.

I mentioned earlier the explicit biblical reference to this in 2 Maccabees 12: 41-45. When Luther read this passage, he so disagreed with it that he removed it from the Bible. He believed that he had the authority to do this, although he didn’t believe anyone else had this authority. Where does the Bible say that Luther has the authority to do this? It doesn’t. By his own standard, he had no authority to remove any book from the bible. This book was included in the Septuagint, the Bible used by Jesus.

Thus, Purgatory is how our temporal disharmonies are cleansed after death, should we not cooperate with grace to achieve purification before death.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul teaches that our sufferings can be united to the sufferings of Christ in order to benefit other members of His Mystical Body (Col 1: 24). From this it follows that the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful can be offered to assist other members of the Mystical Body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12:26). Therefore, the prayers and sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of Holy Mass which is the purpose of All Souls Day, offered for the souls in Purgatory, which bring the grace of Christ to these souls to heal their temporal consequences after death, is biblical. Pray for those in Purgatory, but also make the resolution not to waste any time here on earth!

 

 

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10 Responses to “All Souls, Purgatory, and the Bible”

  1. bill bannon says:

    James says ” in many things we all offend”. Revelations says of Heaven…” nothing unclean shall enter therein”,..21:27.
    Ergo how do those who offend in many things….suddenly skip a purgation and enter Heaven?

  2. Dan says:

    Pat – to those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible . . .

  3. Douglas Kraeger says:

    I also like to remind people of 2 Cor. 10:6, “and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” and also Matthew 18: 34-35, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” We all have debt that is owed to God and to our fellow man that we can never really repay, because we can never do more today than we should for today alone and therefore we really never have any “extra” to pay for past offenses of commission and omission and so each day we are most likely going further and further in debt. We all know we should will to do, and also do, all we can each day in reparation for our past sins. This is important. If we only are truly looking for more that we can offer up, more voluntary sacrifices for friends, family, and especially those who see us as the “enemy”, this is what God likes to see. Hopefully we can end our lives that way and have that thought as we die, asking God to let us suffer as much, and as long, as He can arrange so that we can more perfectly unite our suffering with the suffering and the prayer of Jesus on the Cross. And if that is our true request, if our heart is really in the request ( we are not trying to fake it) perhaps that is what will please our Lord, and perhaps He will give us the unmerited grace of going to purgatory till the end of time, voluntarily suffering for all sinners as Christ did on the Cross. Think how many graces could be “earned” for those who need them so badly (family and friends and lost souls) if millions of “nobodies” willed, as a final thought, to go to purgatory in imitation of Christ rather than asking to “quit” the battle when there is more good to be done? Yes, we want to go to heaven, but, if we think of the needs of others rather than ourselves and our good wants, should we not be eager to imitate Christ with our dying thought? Should we not be confident that if we did ask to go to purgatory till the end of time, God would be pleased and would more than “repay” us?

  4. Pat says:

    Yolanda, I agree with your sister, the Prayer for the Holy Souls that our Lord dictated to St. Gertrude is one of my favorites, in fact I prayed it at Mass this morning and at my Hour of Adoration. What a great gift for the holy souls in Purgatory. It is in giving that we receive. And yes, this article is a great explanation.

  5. Yolanda says:

    My sister prays the St. Gertrude prayer for the souls in purgatory. I created a family sheet listing family over the past 400 years and pray for them. During the octave, we stop at the cemetery and pray –

  6. Dona says:

    Incredible article and explanation. Well done!

    • Jerry Rhino says:

      My wife prays for all souls in purgatory, especially those who have no one else to pray for them. I don’t. I simply say 5…2, which I have coded to God as the 5 people in purgatory I most like, and the 2 I most dislike. Percentage wise, since I like most people, the 2 I dislike probably make for a bigger percentage within that group. After all, why do I know the ones God has allowed me to become acquainted with? Who in purgatory do you pray for and why?

      • pat says:

        There is absolutely NO scriptural substantiation for purgatory in God’s infallible word! NONE.

        • Douglas Kraeger says:

          Pat, a couple of posts back I referred to 2 Cor. 10:6, “and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” and also Matthew 18: 34-35, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
          Pat, if our obedience is not complete or perfect before we die, do you see that St Paul can be understood to be saying that once we die and our obedience is complete (perfect) we will be punished for every act of our disobedience in life? If not, why can it not be understood that way? Also, once we are “that you may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breath, and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) and “we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) These and other scripture passages compel us to believe that we will know the sorrow for sin that Jesus has and we will also possess this virtue of sorrow for all sin in heaven as we are eternally sorry for all sin, even as we praise God for His infinite goodness and mercy in allowing us into heaven.

          • Laurence Ringo says:

            The problem with your claims is that they’re YOUR claims and YOUR interpretation of Scripture;you,in every sense of the word have to read this doctrine INTO the Scriptures(Further,you need to prove that the Hebrews had the same concept of a Purgatorial”fire/cleansing”after death, and back your claim up with Hebrew interpretations of Scripture [Don’t forget:the Jews rejected the so-called”apocrypha”as canonical. So…try again.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. This Week’s Best in Catholic Apologetics | DavidLGray.INFO - […] the Dead – Susan E. Wills A Crash Course on Purgatory (Why Care) – Anabelle Hazard All…
  2. Pray for souls in Purgatory, and don't waste time here on earth... - Christian Forums - […] energies to assist these poor souls, who, though saved, are still in need of purification.…
  3. Pray for souls in Purgatory, and don't waste time here on earth... - Christian Forums - […] energies to assist these poor souls, who, though saved, are still in need of purification.…

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