Purgatory and How to explain it to others


Greetings in Christ,

How does a Catholic go about properly explaining Purgatory to a Protestant? I understand the concept but need Scriptural and CCC citing. Thanks for any help.

Dominus Vobiscum,
Jerald Franklin Archer


These verses from the Bible support our belief in Purgatory:

Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. (2 Maccabees 12:46)

Judas prays for some sinners who have died. If the dead were already in heaven, there would be no need for atonement. If they were in hell, atonement would be useless, since the punishment of hell is eternal. Thus the dead in question must have been in some “intermediate” place, i.e., what we call Purgatory. (Note: Maccabees was removed from some Protestant Bibles, so this passage, while convincing, may not hold much weight with some of our Protestant friends.)

“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)

Here Jesus speaks of a purifying punishment that is temporary, from which we will finally be released, i.e., what we call Purgatory.

“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)

This implies that there are some sins that can be forgiven after death. Purification after death is what we call Purgatory.

“But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)

Purgatory has been described as a purifying fire.

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16-18)

Here Paul prays for his dead friend Onesiphorus. Again, if Onesiphorus were in heaven, he would not be in need of prayers, and if he were in hell, prayer would be pointless. This implies that Paul believed in Purgatory.

… nothing unclean will enter it … (Revelation 21:27)

That is, nothing unclean will enter the city of God, which is heaven. Few of us are perfectly pure or free of sin at the time of death. If there were no Purgatory, most of us would be doomed to hell. Thank God for His mercy in giving us the opportunity for final purification (what we call Purgatory)!


The following sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church are useful in understanding Purgatory.

The first explains the necessity of temporal punishment of sin:

The punishments of sin

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”

This one gives more explanation on Purgatory:


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.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.604 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. 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.

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.


I used to use this with my students in CCD and RCIA

Remember when you were a small child and you broke a window. You were sad and your mom was a little upset. She still loved you and forgave you and never brought it up again. But you had to pay something for the window. ,Maybe you had to do extra chores, maybe stay in your room for a while or go without TV or the radio or you got grounded for a while. or:eek: maybe even pay for the new window out of your allowance.

In other words, you were forgiven, but you still had a pay a little for it. It did not impact on the fact that you were forgiven already, but you still had to do it.

I found that worked very well with almost everyone.


Try Jimmy Akin’s essay, “How to Explain Purgatory to Protestants”.


Akin’s essay is very good as I recall. I also use this short little 3-step method:

  1. Even Christians still sin (1 Jn 1:9) which causes a stain to the soul, such as the drive to repeat the sin (e.g. Jn 8:34).

  2. But in heaven we will not be able to sin, nor could God permit any sinful tendencies in heaven (e.g. Mt 6:10, Ep 5:27, Hb 12:23, Rv 21:27).

  3. So you know that a forgiven person (by the blood of the Lamb) who still has a tendency for sin will have these stains purged away before he can fully unite with God.


One other way to explain it-

Jane has a tendency to gossip. She knows it’s wrong. She wants to stop, and makes great efforts to do so. She confesses the sin, asks for forgiveness and the graces to curb the vice. However, for the entirety of her life she struggles with this temptation.

In heaven, there is no sin. Assuming Jane goes to heaven, what changes between the time she’s on earth, struggling with gossip, and her entry into Heaven, where she will be perfect. How did she get purified from that vice between life on earth and life on heaven?

This process of purification is called Purgatory.


Many protestants already believe in Purgatory but are aghast to learn that this is so.

First you need to see what their understanding of sanctification is. Catholics, of course, believe that the souls in heaven are completely sanctified. Not only does this ‘Church Triumphant’ no longer commit sins, they no longer even have the INCLINATION to do so. They are not puppets constrained against committing the sins they’d secretly like to. They have a perfected understanding of what sin REALLY is and the resulting abhorrence of it.

Some protestants have a similar understanding of heaven. Those folks already believe in the basic premise of Purgatory since most are bright enough to realize that virtually everybody here on earth still has an inclination towards sin that manifests itself in actual sins from time to time. Clearly there is a change between here and heaven. Once they concede that, you hit 'em with the label: the change is a PURGING of the inclination towards sin within us and the completion of our sanctification. That’s often a lightbulb moment and you’ll only have to convince them that you’ve REALLY explained the catholic teaching properly.

Other protestants still believe in the “covered sin” concept of salvation. In this model, Christ’s righteousness “covers” our sinfulness and we enter heaven through what amounts to a legal loophole maneuver via Jesus’ death on the cross. These folks are harder to convince because, deep down, they don’t have a correct notion of sanctification. Their idea of heaven is one populated by sinners covered by righteousness and constrained against committing further sins. I have no idea how they reconcile this notion with the notion that God gives us free will. Protestants who believe in this model cannot be convinced of Purgatory. There would be no reason or purpose to such a thing for them and, indeed, seems to imply some defect in Christ’s perfect sacrifice.

So forget about convincing them about Purgatory until you have them set straight on sanctification. Purgatory is easy after that.


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