Understanding Purgatory

So one of the more common objections I’ve heard to Purgatory is Jesus saying “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (NAB Lk 23:43). How can the thief be in Heaven that day, if he still has a trip to Purgatory in between? However, Heaven’s outside of time, or at least, time functions differently there than on earth. So is it possible, instead, as a compromise, that however long it feels like it takes in Purgatory, that it’s instantaneous from an earthly perspective?

There are two approaches that come to mind:

#1: Jesus, being God, could have made the choice to dispense with the temporal element of purgatory, and purify him immediately. (To my understanding, this is the predominant theory behind the purification of the souls left alive at the end of the world)

#2: Time is a physical construct, limited in affect to the physical realm. Once a person dies, and until the resurrection, they are no longer bound by the reality that we understand as time. Since the thief dies on a given day, and time no longer “does” anything to them once they’re dead, then any point beyond the moment of their death could theoretically be construed to be the same point in time. (This one is a little confusing because it’s hard for us to think about anything without time…)

Nah, I’m used to the theoretical. I come from the sort of math class where there are multiple infinities. But theologically, it’s fine to see Purgatory as instantaneous from our earthly perspective?

Both make sense to me. For the first one, it would seem reasonable that Jesus thought the temporal punishment of suffering on a cross was enough punishment for the Good Thief. He is, after all, God, who raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and cured the ill. It was within His power to do so.

Both make sense to me. For the first one, it would seem reasonable that Jesus thought the temporal punishment of suffering on a cross was enough punishment for the Good Thief. He is, after all, God, who raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and cured the ill.

It was within His power to do so.

  1. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ[39]. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

~ Pope Benedict XVI vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html

*(he is one of the Theologians…)

FWIW: I was brought up on the idea that it is right and just to pray for the poor souls in Purgatory. and it was also appropriate to have Masses offered for them (in fact, my mother died recently, and there were a number of Masses offered for her.

Putting that in perspective, it would appear that the Church considers that (some) souls are in Purgatory “in time [ours]” for a length of our time.

Which does not specifically answer your question - I can’t think of any reason that God could not so act that “in our time” it could be instantaneous. Given that time is a measure of change, it makes for a good question, with competing possibilities.

From what I have read in The Story of Our Lady of Good Success, which uses the phrases “in & outside of time” where our earthly lives are in time and outside of time is eternity you may be correct although it may not be much consolation to those souls in Purgatory. Our Lady and Our Lord spoke of some poor souls that would be there till the end of time. It would seem not that uncommon.

I have a purely theoretical response within the confines of my earlier statements in regards to this.

As I said before, it is reasonable to assume that time ceases to have affect on a person once they die, and we know that time is meaningless to God. Given Pope Benedict’s reflections on purgatory (as stated above), it is quite possible that the prayers we offer for those in purgatory are used to comfort the souls as they experience the pain of the evils of their life within Christ’s gaze. Think of it this way, we are comforted when others pray for us in real life, why wouldn’t that comforting affect be continued, or even amplified in the direct presence of God? It could be that the prayers help remind us that, in all this evil we have done in our lives, we have also done good, and there are people who cared for us whom we could help with our prayers once we are fully purified and able to offer prayers directly to our Father.

Again, this is 100% hypothetical, since we don’t know what purgatory is like, and because Pope Benedict’s statement was conjecture rather than dogma. However, given this set of criteria, I would propose this as a reason why we should pray for those souls to “lessen” their torments and the “time” it takes them to be purified (because what greater motivator is there than the people who care for you?)

Nah, I’m used to the theoretical. I come from the sort of math class where there are multiple infinities. But theologically, it’s fine to see Purgatory as instantaneous from our earthly perspective?

Well, yeah.

One could envision the life beyond death as “leaping over” the intervening time that separates us from the Life Eternal.

Collinear time that we experience is a result of having minds that reside in entropy-bound bodies. In the eternal life there is a “spiritual body” (pneumatikon soma) and so time in our sense does not obtain.


well, what about this idea:
IF we believe that the sacrament of baptism washes away all sin and IF we were to die immediately post baptism and have not the opportunity to commit sin, we go to heaven; therefore we can surmise that the good thief was baptized by desire by Jesus himself right there on the cross and died without committing a sin. POOF - Heaven…:thumbsup:

anyone object?

That approach is interesting. A few scripture verses come to my mind that fit this theology entirely:

“…the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple…But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord”. Malachi 3:1-3

“For our God is a consuming fire” Hebrews 12:29

So for the souls that will be there until the end of time, and we dont know who or how many, it is basically pointless to pray for them, wishing them to be released more quickly. Right?

This cant be true. Those who suffer in hell suffer because of the abscence of Christ, they dont suffer because of His presence.

I read in the Diary of St. Faustina where she prayed for a fellow sister after she died, and this sister appeared to her after her release from purgatory. And I have also heard/read of other people in purgatory who have be released after being prayed for.

I believe Mary also said for us to pray for them because they are in such pain.

The church encourages our prayers for them as well and even has a special day to remember them. So some how our prayers do release or lessen their suffering. And there is even one indulgence on one day of the year that a plenary indulgence may be applied to them.

Our merits are what count. And merits are rewards for doing anything out of love for God, which then can then be transferred to others for their benefit. Only we can merit, the saints are past and beyond meriting for they are in heaven. So in a sense we are at an advantage.

It is very important that we remember our friends and relatives because we are in a position to help them a great deal.

On the first point, the thief may have been a very BAD person. However, he can also be considered the luckiest man in history. Moments before dying, he had a PERSONAL audience with God incarnate (Jesus), and he used the opportunity to ask pardon from his sin. Who needs Purgatory when you have that?! Of course, NONE OF US is going to experience such good fortune at the moment of our death, unless Jesus’ second coming takes place while we are still alive and breathing.

The other matter is I believe many have a complete misunderstanding of the nature of Purgatory. Because we are human, and only comprehend things in human terms, when we hear about Purgatory, we tend to picture a place, and there is a time element to it, as if it is some kind of celestial penalty box, or it works like when our parents sent us to our room for misbehavior, and they told us when we can come back out. I don’t believe that concept at all. I don’t believe it is a “third place” because there is nothing scriptural to back up that idea at all; the Bible only tells of Hell and God’s Heavenly Kingdom. No, Purgatory is a process, in which our risen Savior Jesus Christ, who died as payment for our sins, cleanses our souls of the stain of sin through grace, at the doorstep of Heaven. The souls in Purgatory are at the doorstep of Heaven, they know that they are going in, but they have to wait until Jesus’ grace does its work–and the waiting is the hardest part especially when we are waiting to experience the ultimate in magnificence, we know that on earth and it’s not much different in the next life, either. As for time, when we are anxiously awaiting something wonderful, seconds can feel like days and days like years. Come on, admit it, you have felt this way about waiting for things in your lives. The dragging nature of anticipation isn’t going to go away up there. And as awesome as it is to have Jesus cleansing your soul of sin, the process isn’t pain-free, and that can also extend how long you think it is taking. But while Jesus’ family on earth were carpenters, He wasn’t a union man, and He doesn’t work “on the clock.” :wink: There IS no clock in God’s Kingdom, it’s eternal! But because we on earth don’t know how anything time-related translates in the eternal Kingdom (our mortal brains simply cannot comprehend such a concept), we have no idea how long in earthly terms anyone’s duration in Purgatory will be, so keep on praying for them as long as you have a voice to pray with!

The thief on the cross was able to have God made Man speak to him here on earth and purify his soul. For us, that has to happen “up there” I’m afraid.

Or, they are there because someone did not pray for them.

Since the Church tells us that it does benefit the souls in Purgatory to pray for them, wrong.

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