purgatory and indulgences

I knew more about Catholicism seven years ago than I know today, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of knowledge. If memory serves me right, the purpose of purgatory is to purge people of sin.

It’s not clear to me what that means, but there are a few possibilities. First, it could mean to clean a person in the sense of ridding them of their sinful desires. Second, it could mean to punish people for sins they have committed. I don’t get the impression that purgatory means either of those things.

The word “purge” seems to imply the first possibility. But the problem with that is that a person’s experience of purgatory (from my understanding) depends on the sins they have committed more than on the disposition from which they committed them.

Since a person’s experience of purgatory depends on the sins they have committed, that would seem to imply the second possibility. The problem with that is that I have heard many Catholics say that the purpose of purgatory is not to punish people, but to cleanse them.

I suppose there is a third possibilty. Committing sins gets us dirty in some sense, and purgatory purges us from that dirt. This possibility seems to reconcile the first two possibilities. When people say that purgatory is meant to purge people of sin, what they mean is that purgatory is meant to purge people of the dirt caused by them committing sins.

This third possibility raises another issue for me regarding indulgences. From what I understand, an endulgence is granted by the Church to a person to free them from some degree of purgatory, and that if a person gets enough endulgences, they can escape purgatory altogether.

Assuming I’ve got it right, here’s the issue it raises for me. If a person can be released from purgatory by an endulgence, then purgatory isn’t necessary to purge people of sin (or the dirt left by committing sins). An endulgence will do the same thing.

On the other hand, if an endulgence cannot purge a person of sin, then some people are getting released from purgatory without being completely purged. If that’s so, then it’s apparently not necessary for a person to be completely purged of sin before entering heaven.

I’m sure the problem here is the result of some misunderstanding on my part, so I would appreciate any clarifications on the meaning and purpose of purgatory, the meaning of “being purged of sins,” and some explanation of how endulgences work.


Hi Sam,

I think that somewhere in the thoughts that you posted you have the right idea.

Purgatory is a state of purification. The goal of a Catholic is to live a holy life. Of course, being human that is a nearly impossible feat. When we sin, we go to confession, and that sin is forgiven, however forgiveness does not repair the damage caused by sin. Sin makes us less holy, after being forgiven of sin we must repair the damage to our relationship with God. Purgatory cleanses anything that is not cleansed here on earth. That which is not completely holy cannot enter heaven, Purgatory is what prepares us for entrance into heaven by cleansing the impurities that remain at death.

Indulgences are another way of repairing this same damage that is done by sin. Indulgences are always something that brings us closer to God. Becoming closer to God through indulgences counteracts the effect of sin. Sin takes us away from God, indulgences bring us back to him.

Hope this answers your question.

Thanks. That does clear things up for me.

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