Purgatory Clarification

I must be missing something about Purgatory. I hope someone here can explain it.

When we sin, in addition to separating ourselves from God and the loss of grace, we also incur temporal punishment. When we go to confession we receive grace and our relationship with God is re-established but the temporal punishment remains. That can be dealt with in various ways during our lifetime but, if any remains when we die, we go to Purgatory to deal with it. (I’m assuming we die in a state of grace.)

The purpose of Purgatory is not so much punishment but cleansing of our imperfections. Although I’ve never heard this taught, in pondering Purgatory it seems to me that it would be impossible to sin in Purgatory. Otherwise we might commit a mortal sin and then we can’t enter Heaven at all which would contradict the church’s teaching that everyone who goes to Purgatory goes to Heaven.

The church also teaches that the church militant can shorten the time in Purgatory - I know, time is different after death - by prayers, works of mercy, etc. Here’s my problem. If a person is in Purgatory because they need to be purified by the cleansing fire, how does someone on Earth doing something cleanse someone in Purgatory?

To give a more concrete example, if I drive too fast and get a ticket, how does someone paying my ticket cleanse me from being a lead-foot? It almost seems counter-productive.

I hope my question is clear.

That’s an interesting question.

I don’t have an official, formal document to point you to, but to me it comes down to the fact that we are all united together in one human family. We are not all independent little islands doing out own thing.

Think of the reverse. If you drive to fast and it results in an accident where some innocent bystander gets hurt, then that person is experiencing the negative temporal effects of your sin. So why not the positive?

Our wills are frozen at death. Thus, we cannot decide for good or evil after death - we have done that in this life. We are not paying for another’s sins as one would pay a ticket, as we have no direct control over their purification process. By exercising the virtue of charity, we can lend our help to those in purgatory via offerings we make to God, but the soul still has to be purified. We cannot be purified for them. We ask God to mercifully shorten their time in purgatory, as He is the ultimate in mercy and is capable of doing all things. The Church has held bound that we may offer our suffering for the sake of those being purified. So, what the Church has held bound on earth is held bound in heaven (or on the way to it). But, remember that purification does not happen exclusively in purgatory: our entire Christian lives are one of constant purification, and thus some people may serve out their purgatory on earth and be ready for admittance into heaven upon their death. Purgatory is thus a living experience, and not a death experience.

And we are not just one family, but indeed one body, the mystical body of Christ. Because of this great mystery I can do some of the “work” for those (in the Body of Christ) who are already in Purgatory. We can also apply the merits earned by others in the Body, especially the Saints and even more so of Christ. We do this by “earning” indulgences for the deceased. It’s a bit of a mystery, but wouldn’t we expect it to be? Who was it who said “all Christian theology would be clearly understood if we understood the word in”?

Here’s how I look at it: A heaven-bound soul’s purification in Purgatory from any remaining temporal consequences of his sins is accomplished by a participation in the great loving sacrifice on their behalf of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It makes sense to me that adding our own small loving sacrifices for a soul to the great loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross might hasten that soul’s purification.

Right. :thumbsup: That’s an even better way of putting it.

I have mused that offering masses and prayers for those in purgatory may shorten their stay there. However, God must remain fair. So perhaps he can do it is by doubling the fire intensity and thus halving the time!:D. Sort of turbo charge by burning more fuel!

Dear brother Gary,

I’m not sure why you mention this. Is this a concern, or just an observation? We can’t commit actual sin in the afterlife, if that’s what you mean.

The church also teaches that the church militant can shorten the time in Purgatory - I know, time is different after death - by prayers, works of mercy, etc.

This is one of the distinctions between the Latin and non-Latin understanding of Purgatory. The idea that one can “shorten time” in Purgatory does not exist in the non-Latin understanding. We speak only of being perfected, without relation to time. In the Eastern understanding (in particular), “Purgatory” would simply be part of the process of perfection, which will go on forever. The Oriental Tradition has even less to say about what goes on in the afterlife, aside from the fact that our prayers and suffrages do indeed help those in the afterlife.

Here’s my problem. If a person is in Purgatory because they need to be purified by the cleansing fire, how does someone on Earth doing something cleanse someone in Purgatory?

The primary way to understand it is that our only role is to ask for God’s mercy. Our actions do not directly cleanse someone in Purgatory. It is God alone who can do that by the Grace of the Cross (in Latinspeak, applying the Merits of Christ). We simply petition for it to be done, by our words and actions.

To give a more concrete example, if I drive too fast and get a ticket, how does someone paying my ticket cleanse me from being a lead-foot? It almost seems counter-productive.

This example does not seem to align with the Traditional Catholic/Orthodox understanding of the matter. According to Sacred Tradition (in terms of your analogy) paying for the ticket is tantamount to being cleansed from the lead foot. Sanctification/perfection/theosis involves a real change in the person, not merely a legal declaration (i.e., paying the ticket).

Blessings,
Marduk

Hi Garysibio,

I’ll try to lay this out simply, even though it’s a complex issue.

There are three things we can note about sin and salvation. First, there is a distinction between salvation and redemption. Salvation is personal, and redemption is familial. That is, Christ redeemed mankind altogether, and Christ saves you individually. Second, there are two results of sin which correspond to the two needs of redemption and salvation. One is the incurrance of a debt (which separated us from God), and the second is the damage done to our nature (which leads to suffering and death). Third, purgatory deals with one of these results, namely the damage done to our natures.

Now let’s put this in terms that are more natural for us. Imagine you are married and you lie to your wife. It’s the first time you’ve done it and you feel terrible about it, but since you’ve done it once, it becomes easier to do it again. And so you continue lying to her, and then you start doing other things, like convincing yourself that she can’t handle the truth, that she’s weak, she needs the lie, she deserves it. Two things have happened. You cause a rift of distrust between the two of you, and you develop a habit of bad behaviour toward her.

Now imagine that you’ve come clean. You’ve recognized your problem, you’ve apologized for it, and you’ve made up for it as best you can. Have you fixed your habit of lying? Well, habits have that problem of persisting, and they take time to deal with. You often find yourself lying to her without even realizing it, and then find yourself regretting it afterward, and it’s a constant struggle.

Purgatory is the reordering of your relationship with God toward a proper relationship, wherein the bad habits no longer exist, you no longer offend God, etc. Christ’s sacrifice, and your baptism into it, is the redemption from sin. It is the restoration of humanity in God’s sight. It brings the relationship back into a state of unity. But your bad habits persist. So how do others help you?

Let’s go back to our analogy. You wife is helping you along with your bad habit. Every time you lie, she reminds you of it, and helps you to stop. She does preemptive things to help keep you from falling back into it. But your wife is fair. She gives you as much help as you ask for, or that you deserve. If you stop trying, her help lessens, because if you don’t want to try, she won’t force you. If you do try, she really helps.

Well, your relationship isn’t a vacuum. Your brothers and sisters, parents and relatives, friends and colleagues, they all saw the trouble you had in your relationship. Sometimes you confide in them. Sometimes, they encourage your wife to help you out more than you deserve. Sometimes they plead and beg, and sometimes they make grand gestures, like shovelling your driveway, or making a charitable donation in your name, all for your sake, so that your relationship is stronger, and you are happy.

Well, that’s what purgatory is. You’re getting rid of your bad habits to improve your relationship with Christ. Christ is the only one who can save you, and it is the fire of His love that burns away your vices. People who pray for you, or offer suffering for you, are doing so insupplication to Christ to increase the grace of His fiery love to burn away those vices more quickly, to hasten the recovery of your relationship with Him.

Joe5859>> I don’t have an official, formal document to point you to, but to me it comes down to the fact that we are all united together in one human family. We are not all independent little islands doing out own thing.<<
While we are all part of the body of Christ, that doesn’t seem to be relevant to my question. After all, being part of the body of Christ does not guarantee that we won’t go to Hell if we die. That doesn’t mean we all suffer the pains of Hell.

Joe5859>>Think of the reverse. If you drive to fast and it results in an accident where some innocent bystander gets hurt, then that person is experiencing the negative temporal effects of your sin. So why not the positive?<<
So the member of the body of Christ who goes to Hell because he died in a state of mortal sin will also reap the benefits? I don’t think so.

po18guy>> Our wills are frozen at death. Thus, we cannot decide for good or evil after death - we have done that in this life. We are not paying for another’s sins as one would pay a ticket, as we have no direct control over their purification process. By exercising the virtue of charity, we can lend our help to those in purgatory via offerings we make to God, but the soul still has to be purified. We cannot be purified for them. We ask God to mercifully shorten their time in purgatory, as He is the ultimate in mercy and is capable of doing all things. The Church has held bound that we may offer our suffering for the sake of those being purified. So, what the Church has held bound on earth is held bound in heaven (or on the way to it). But, remember that purification does not happen exclusively in purgatory: our entire Christian lives are one of constant purification, and thus some people may serve out their purgatory on earth and be ready for admittance into heaven upon their death. Purgatory is thus a living experience, and not a death experience.<<
I understand that the church teaches that those in Purgatory can be purified, in whole or in part, by our prayers and works of mercy. My question is how does our doing anything purge a person in Purgatory from their imperfections. I don’t understand how what we do can help to cleanse another person.

Pablope>> You get reprieve for the financial aspect…but you still have to go to traffic school, or the ticket is on you driver’s license for at least three years…and it is your insurance premium may be affected, which comes out of your pocket.<<
:slight_smile: True. I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket so I wasn’t aware of that. I do think you are stretching my metaphor a bit too far, however. At any rate, your illustration would be appropriate for the person in Purgatory who is only partially helped. They’re still getting help and I don’t understand how someone else taking the pain, even in part, helps to purify them.

Todd977>>Here’s how I look at it: A heaven-bound soul’s purification in Purgatory from any remaining temporal consequences of his sins is accomplished by a participation in the great loving sacrifice on their behalf of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It makes sense to me that adding our own small loving sacrifices for a soul to the great loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross might hasten that soul’s purification.<<
That still doesn’t answer my question about how “taking the heat,” so to speak, for a soul in Purgatory actually cleanses them.

Mardukm>>This example does not seem to align with the Traditional Catholic/Orthodox understanding of the matter. According to Sacred Tradition (in terms of your analogy) paying for the ticket is tantamount to being cleansed from the lead foot. Sanctification/perfection/theosis involves a real change in the person, not merely a legal declaration (i.e., paying the ticket).<<
You’ve hit the nail right on the head. How does my praying for a soul in Purgatory make any real change in the person. If it was just a legal declaration there wouldn’t be a problem. But how can my praying or doing a work of mercy make a real difference in that person. Do you see what I mean?

The same may be said of prayer: how does praying change anything? Certainly, neither you nor I can physically or spiritually change anything through prayer - not by our own power. It is God Who grants the grace. And He, through His Son, has agreed to do what the Church asks Him to do in the case of prayer, fasting and other mortifications offered on behalf of the souls undergoing purification. It is not us, but God Who cleanses via grace - looking and acting upon the faith of those who seek His favor on behalf of others. You see that grace and faith are necessary, just as in our personal justification.

I understand that it is God’s grace. That’s a given. However I still don’t understand the "why?’ What good does it do the soul in Purgatory for someone on Earth to pray for them?

As I explore this question further, I realize that all the things I’m writing (I’ve typed out a bunch of stuff and deleted it) are insufficient, and incomplete. Mainly, I’ve been focusing on the purgation aspect of purgatory, and I realize that’s not enough. It’s an icomplete picture. The question is, if it’s only about purgation, why doesn’t it happen in an instant? If the answer is that purgation simply takes time, and the amount of time it takes depends on how many vices you have, then what effects do my prayers have on it (which is exactly the question you’ve posed). And if that time can be hastened, then why doesn’t God just hasten it to immediacy, since the end result is the same anyway: union with God.

I realize that what the answer was missing was the debt component, and God being a God of justice. This is important, because the whole reason we believe in a savior like Jesus is because we incurred a debt of sin that we were incapable of repaying. Now, because Jesus has come, has God’s nature changed? No, of course not. When we sin, we incur debt. The debt of original sin was paid by Jesus, and in baptism we join ourselves to that sacrifice, and therefore the debt of our personal sins in that moment are also repaid. However, we continue living after the moment of baptism, and we continue sinning, thereby incurring personal debt.

Purgatory is not just about purgation, but it’s also about repaying the personal debts of our sins. Baptism is different from Confession in that Baptism not only forgives sins, but also forgives the debt. Confession only forgives sin, it does not forgive the debt, and that is what purgatory is partly about.

God has the power to instantaneously purge us, but He does not. This can only be because we have to make restitution for our personal offenses. This is where the help of others comes in. God is the God of justice, so our time in purgatory is equivalent to the debt through sin that we’ve incurred. However, if we offer our own suffering and prayers as debt payment for those in purgatory, if we share the weight of their personal sins, then God can hasten our time in purgatory because there is now less debt to repay.

Is God’s grace simply doled out randomly, or is it sometimes in response to the faith/prayers/devotions of believers?

How did Job’s sacrifice bring justification to his three friends? Job 42 is a quick read. Pay attention to 42:10.

This illustrates the mysterious principle by which God works. We don’t know exactly why He works like this, only that He does.

I have had several…so I know the pain.

Well…look at it this way…the process to take care of the ticket (purgatory) so that any mark on your record is erased for the ticket is:

Pay the monetary fine and go to traffic school=No record of the speeding ticket. (clean slate-no vestige of sin)

If someone paid the monerary fine for you…then all you had to do is go to traffic school=no record of the ticket.

The monerary fine allowed you to go to traffic school, an easier route.

If someone had not paid the monetary fine, you would get a mark on your diriver’s license for at least 3 years…and your insurance premium rises as long as the mark is in your diriver’s license. So this process takes longer and the pain is longer and the court may even tell you to do community service to several weekends.

Can we acknowledge two aspects of Purgatory in order to get understanding of intercessory?

One being Temporal Punishment due towards a sinner

The other being conversion of the heart of the sinner

If we pray for God’s mercy to extend to someone we are showing holy love towards, then I could see Temporal punishments being lifted. This kind of thing happened many times in Jesus’ ministry (Example, the faith of the lame man’s friends moved the Lord to heal AND forgive the crippled man)

Now, as for the full conversion of the sinner’s heart? I dont understand how we help this. This would seem to me, to be accomplished through revelation of his own ugliness and lack of total devotion to Godliness.

Michael

OK. Let’s forget the traffic ticket analogy. It’s getting a lot more complex than I intended.

Let’s say I’ve robbed a convenience store. I get caught and convicted but my mother, bless her soul, steps in and says she’ll do the time for me and the judge OKs it. How does that make me a law-abiding citizen?

What you don’t understand is what I don’t understand. Your speculation on how it might work is interesting but I’ve never heard it before. Did you arrive at it or were you taught that?

Right. I should have stated, these are my thoughts…not what I have been taught. Though I certainly try to never contradict Teaching. In other words, from what I do know about Purgatory, as refered to in Scripture, Cat Teaching, and my prayerfull discernment, I have arrived at both the question and the explanation.

Thanks
Michael

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