Purgatory, the intermediate destination for less than pure souls after death, is mostly associated with the Catholic Church.
Other denominations like the Mormon church and Anglicanism also believe in a period or place of purification before entry into heaven, while others like Lutherans completely reject that notion.
So why do Catholics believe in purgatory and is the belief supported by the Bible?
What You'll Learn Today
What Is Purgatory?
Purgatory is a place, a transition, or a form of existence for impure souls to be purified before they can achieve beatific vision in heaven.
According to CCC 1023 only those who are pure of soul can get into heaven.
Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face.
Not everyone else is damned to hell. Those who die in God’s grace but are impure go to purgatory. CCC 1030:
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.
Catholicism is the only denomination in Christianity that believes in purgatory and uses that specific term.
Some other branches hold the belief that there’s a period of glorification or waiting (some call it Hades) before entry into heaven or hell. But they don’t call it purgatory.
Good to know: The idea of purgatory predates the Catholic Church. It was present in early Judaism and was picked up by early Christians.
Why Do Catholics Believe in Purgatory?
The belief in purgatory by Catholics is based on the Bible.
In Matthew 12:32, Jesus says to the Pharisees;
Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
According to the writing of St. Gregory the Great, this statement introduces the possibility of forgiveness of sin even after death.
He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
2 Maccabees 12:43 also mentions praying for the dead.
And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.
Purgatory is a purifying process for the impure (who are still in God’s grace) to make them ready for heaven.
It also offers living brethren an opportunity to pray for the dead and offer penance and works of indulgences on their behalf to lessen their torment.
Does Everyone Go Through Purgatory?
Not, not everyone passes through purgatory on their way to their final destination.
There are two groups of people who do not go to purgatory.
The first is those who are ‘perfectly purified’. They go straight to heaven.
That’s why the sacrament of confession is important before death, if it’s possible. It absolves the person of all sins and purifies their heart.
The faithful who are in God’s grace but die without confessing venial sins are the ones who pass through purgatory for purification.
The second group of people who don’t go to purgatory are those who die in mortal sin. They are no longer in God’s grace and have willfully rejected the Holy Spirit (the unforgivable sin). They go to hell.
Here’s what CCC 1033 says:
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
How Long Do You Stay In Purgatory?
There are many theories out there regarding the length of one’s stay in purgatory. One estimation puts it at 1000 to 2000 years.
In truth, we have no idea how long a soul spends in purgatory.
We don’t even know how time is measured in purgatory. It’s a completely different dimension from our world.
Each person’s purification is unique, so it’s likely that everyone spends a different amount of time in purgatory.
The Church teaches that we can pray for the dead in purgatory and perform indulgences on their behalf. This can relieve their torment and lessen the time they spend in purgatory.
But only God can judge when a soul is ready for entry into heaven.
How Can I Avoid Purgatory?
The only way to avoid purgatory and get into heaven immediately after death is to remain in God’s grace and keep your heart pure at all times.
If you live life as a Christian and constantly practice faith and good deeds, then you are in God’s grace.
The second part is harder seeing as that humans are slaves to sin. We constantly sin. It’s our nature.
To keep your heart pure and be ready for heaven, you have to constantly confess your sins. That doesn’t mean going to the confessional every other minute.
We can confess venial sins directly to God.
But if it’s a mortal sin (a grave sin that you know is wrong and that you commit willfully), that’s a serious matter. If you die in mortal sin, you go to hell.
If you’ve committed mortal sin, go to the priest and confess as soon as possible to purify your soul and get you back into God’s grace.