I have been trying to evangelize to my staunchly Lutheran family, and in the process have come across Luther’s 95 theses. One of his objections to the Church was that priests were, during people’s last rites (the Sacrament of Reconciliation portion), giving the dying penance to do in purgatory because they could not complete it here due to their infirmity. I’d like to know if this is licit or not, and what the rationale behind it is.
There are pieces on how the Vatican responded to Luther’s theses and his other writings, but for today’s purposes you might be interested in this:
The point of purgatory is the make whatever necessary satisfaction we failed to make here (satisfaction being the common term for the requirement to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” found in Scripture). All sins entail the need to make satisfaction, whether there is a canonically prescribed penance to help us do so or not. It seems irrelevant to tell someone what the canonical penance was for their sin when they are dying and can’t do it, but I don’t see anything per se wrong with it. As I mentioned, the need for satisfaction remains for that person regardless.
Luther’s objection to this stems from his error that the need to make satisfaction was merely something positively imposed by the Church’s canon law, rather than something intrinsic to sin and repentance–an error found throughout his 95 theses. That’s why he claims it shouldn’t carry over into the afterlife and, therefore, applying such laws to the dying would be ignorant and wicked.
I’m not sure if it was done in Luther’s time, but for centuries now the Apostolic blessing, carrying a plenary indulgence, is given as part of the “last rites.” This would remit all or some of the need to make satisfaction, depending on the recipient’s disposition.
Very interesting something I never thought about.
I understand the point of purgatory, and that if we haven’t yet made satisfaction for our sins here, we have to do that there. I’m sorry if I wasn’t entirely clear, but what I meant was the priest saying, “Your penance is 5 days in purgatory,” or something like that. The reason I have this question is because CCC 1460 says that “[assigned penance] can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear” and that “the penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation.” I’m not too knowledgeable on the subject, but it seems from the Catechism it would be pretty weird if a priest could assign time in purgatory as penance, or a penance the dying person couldn’t possibly complete before his death.
I would be cautious to say that earthly penance transfers to purgatory in kind. Purgatory isn’t a physical place, while all penance given in this life is confined to this temporal realm. It is an earthly representation of the penance due in purgatory.
Saying that, it stands to reason that penance given at last rites, if any, is still of the temporal kind but we cannot know what that entails in purgatory. If anything it is merely a recognition that penance is still required from us even at the end of life.
I don’t think any priest assigned time in purgatory–if they did that would be mistaken. Again, this misconception is based on Luther’s error that satisfaction was merely something imposed by the Church. A priest cannot increase someone’s satisfaction/purgatory. That is caused by the sin itself. Penance can only help reduce it.
It should also be pointed out that regulations on penance have changed over the centuries. Priests used to have less discretion. We generally don’t have penitential canons anymore. The focus is much more on acceptance of our crosses that the Lord gives in this life, communal penances (although those been reduced to almost nothing in recent times) and indulgences. Even death itself is a form of satisfaction if accepted as such (see CCC 1473).
Purgatory isn’t really a ‘place’ (since we’re not there physically), and therefore, it doesn’t have ‘duration’ (at least not in the way that we perceive of it here on earth). So, we can’t really talk about what “five days in purgatory” might mean, since it doesn’t really mean anything logical.
On the other hand, I’ve heard that the five days ’ thing is generally misunderstood: it’s not “five days in purgatory”, it’s “five days of penance here on earth”. If you’re unable to complete the penance that was assigned to you, it’s not like extra penance gets tacked on “in purgatory”.
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