Can someone help me explain purgatory to a non catholic?


Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions. The faith of the Church concerning purgatory is clearly expressed in the Decree of Union drawn up by the Council of Florence (Mansi, t. XXXI, col. 1031), and in the decree of the Council of Trent which (Sess. XXV) defined: “Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, “Enchiridon”, 983). Further than this the definitions of the Church do not go, but the tradition of the Fathers and the Schoolmen must be consulted to explain the teachings of the councils, and to make clear the belief and the practices of the faithful.

[quote=glow8worm]Can someone help me explain purgatory to a non catholic?

Start here:


David MacDonald, a musican and a lay-catholic has created a webpage, “Catholic Bridge”, Where Evangelicals can find out what Catholics believe (and why).

His aim is to explain Catholic faith to none-catholics in an easy and understandable way. He says at the frontpage: “Some may step on it (many do) or walk away. But my hope is that some will pick it up, take a closer look and perhaps pray with us”.




On purgatory (with some help from the Catechism and Peter Kreeft):

Purgatory exists because God is both just and merciful.

Purgatory is “like a refiner’s fire” (Mal 3:2). It refines and purifies those who at the moment of death are neither good enough for an immediate heaven or bad enough for hell.

**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. 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.

The existence of purgatory logically follows from two facts: our imperfection on earth and our perfection in heaven.

At the moment of death, most of us are not completely sanctified (purified, made holy), even though we are justified, or saved by having been baptized into Christ’s Body and having thereby received God’s supernatural life into our souls, having accepted him by faith and not having rejected him by unrepented mortal sin.

…but in heaven we will be perfectly sanctified, with no lingering bad habits or imperfections in our souls.

Therefore, for most of us, there must be some additional change, some purification, between death and heaven. This is purgatory.

Is purgatory found in Scripture? You decide:

Scripture speaks of a cleansing spiritual fire: (1 Cor 3:15, 1 Pet 1:7)

In death many of us are still imperfect: (1 Jn 1:8)

In heaven we will all be perfect: (Mt 5:48, Rev 21:27)

Scripture also distinguishes sins that cannot be forgiven either before or after death from sins that can be forgiven after death: (Mt 12:31-32)

The reality of purgatory is found in Scripture, though not the word - just like the Trinity.

Thanks for the scripture references, I had not put those pieces together and had just relied on the CCC.


[quote=awalt]Thanks for the scripture references, I had not put those pieces together and had just relied on the CCC.


You can’t beat the CCC, but if you’d like to read more about a Scriptural defense of the faith, check out www.scripturecatholic.com or get yourself a book here at Catholic Answers… there are several that focus on Scriptural apologetics.


I once had purgatory explained to me like this:

Suppose you lied about something and you felt bad for the lie and asked God for forgiveness.

Days later you lied again, and once again guilt made you seek God’s forgiveness.

Now, say you had that inclination to lie throughout all the days of your life (even though as an adult you learned to better control your inclination to lie).

Then the day comes for you to die. Since you were repentent, and since you received foregiveness for your sins, your sins are forgiven (you are saved), but until the very moment of your death you still held the inclination or desire to lie.

No person gets into heaven that is still unclean…we must be purified or cleaned of all unholy desires and inclinations before we can pass through the gates leading to Heaven.

Try to imagine being allowed into Heaven even though you have an inclination to lie. Can you picture Heaven populated with liars?

Our souls must be purified of those inclinations as though we are passing through a fire. In His infinite mercy, God saves us despite our sinful inclinations–he allows us to be purified of all our filth so that we can enter into the sphere of His Glory.

Purgatory is a sign of God’s love and meercy.

I have heard many explanations of purgatory, but the one I like is as follows. You could hammer a nail into a very fine piece of wood, one nail for each of your sins. However, knowing that Christ paid the price for your sins with His blood, you remove each of the nails. Once all of the nails have been removed, you can see that the pierce marks still remain in the wood. It is these marks or imperfections that reflect the damage that our sins have caused. Although we may not realize it at the time, our sins have negative and far reaching consequences. The Father always loves and accepts us; however, the soul knows instinctly that it cannot approach the Father until all manner of guilt has been removed and we are clothed in garments of pure rightousness. And that is my story and I am sticking to it.

Blessings to all,

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.