Through my conversion process one question about purgatory has bothered me. Is Purgatorial fire real fire or love consuming and purging our souls?
The Church has not reconciled the problem of whether there is real fire in purgatory. Some have speculated upon that question using the following principles:
*]At death, our bodies and souls separate. The body is buried and the soul goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory.[/LIST][LIST]
*]The soul is spiritual, not material.[/LIST][LIST]
*]Our bodies are material things.[/LIST][LIST]
*]“Real fire” is a material thing.[/LIST][LIST]
*]The state of purgatory ends at the Final Judgment (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 1031).[/LIST][LIST]
*]Only at the resurrection of the body, which precedes the Final Judgment (cf. CCC 1038), will our bodies be reunited to our souls.[/LIST]
From these principles, it would appear that the “fire” of purgatory may be an image of the cleansing that will take place in the souls of those in purgatory, making them fit for being in the direct presence of God. “Real fire” is a material thing and the souls in purgatory are disembodied spirits.
Just as the traditional reference to “days” in purgatory was an image of the “wait” a soul had before being released from purgatory (there aren’t “days” in purgatory as time, as we know it, only exists in this life), so the “fire” of purgatory also may be an image intended to help us understand the cleansing process and the fact that this cleansing process is spiritually painful to the souls in purgatory.
This is not certain though, only speculation based upon principles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does definitely speak of purgatorial fire (1031) and does not settle the issue of how that fire is to be understood. For more information see the following article: