What is purgatory and who goes there?

Hello everyone,
I am a protestant who wants to better understand what puragatory is in Catholicism and what type of person is sent there. I was always taught to believe that when a person dies, his soul either goes straight to heaven or hell based on whether he has accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior or not and lived his life accordingly. The concept of purgatory is foreign to me so I would like to better understand it from the Catholic perspective.

Additional questions:
How long would a person’s soul remain there?

What can a person do to get out of purgatory to make it to heaven if he has already died?
Is he reliant upon family members to pray and make supplications to God for his soul?

Respectfully in Christ,

Someone will be able to give you a much better answer, but here’s my two cents: We believe that when you die, your soul may still be unclean from life on Earth. You may be living in sin, or have some other problem that would make you spiritually unclean. To enter heaven, your soul must be clean, so Purgatory is a place where your soul is cleansed. Those who go to purgatory know God, but just aren’t in his presence yet.

We really can’t judge how long a soul would be there. It could be seconds, or it could be hundreds of years. God’s time is much different than human time.

If a person goes to Purgatory, they will eventually go to heaven. They can’t and won’t just stay there for eternity. Prayers can speed the cleansing process (as Mary told us at Fatima), but they know that they will eventually be with God in heaven.

Hi Tommy,

I’m so glad you are looking into Catholicism’s doctrines and asking actual Catholics! It’s easy to find lots of answers out there that aren’t the real Catholic teaching.

The reason there is a Purgatory is because Heaven is the place where souls who perfectly pure, perfectly in communion with God, go. Since God is absolutely perfect, no one who is not perfect, who has not been cleansed from sin, can go there.

So, Purgatory is a mercy. Since all humans sin, and all humans are imperfect, we should all go to Hell, right? Hell, the place where souls who have transgressed God’s law and are destined to eternal separation from Him; that is what we deserve. But God is merciful. He knows that we cannot be perfect, and thus, he gave us Purgatory: a place to expiate our the punishment for our sins after death, rather than suffering forever in Hell. In Purgatory, our souls are cleansed so we can enter Heaven perfect, free from all stain of sin.

Souls who love God and follow His law as best they can, and are in a state of Grace, go to Purgatory.

The length of time in Purgatory is based on how much sin there is to be atoned for. So, if a person who was a serial killer repented near the end of his life and died truly sorry for his sins, he would go to Purgatory, and would probably have a much longer time than a person who had never committed any mortal sins.

A person in Purgatory is helpless; he cannot speed up his process anymore, because he has died. The time on earth is the time where a soul can actively go good works to take away time in Purgatory. He is, indeed, reliant on the prayers of the Church Militant (the Church on earth) to get to Heaven.

“Next Element”,

You mentioned re: Purgatory and the reasons for going there “You may be living in sin”. I just wanted to clarify that if a person was living in mortal sin and died unrepentant they would go to hell, not Purgatory.

We all need to understand that.

I thought we couldn’t pass judgement on what exactly happens to a soul?

But yes, I was speaking of unconfessed venial sins.

Purgatory is not a place. It is a transforming process. It is making us right for heaven. Cleansing our souls to make us fully capable of God and living with him in heaven.

Additional questions:
How long would a person’s soul remain there?

This can’t be answered. Eternity is outside time. It could be instantaneous.

What can a person do to get out of purgatory to make it to heaven if he has already died?
Is he reliant upon family members to pray and make supplications to God for his soul?

Respectfully in Christ,

A person can do nothing to get out of purgatory. It is fully by Christ and the prayers of the church that people are cleansed and made holy.

I think you would much enjoy my blog post on Purgatory.

CS Lewis believed in Purgatory- Rightly So. findingthecatholicchurch.blogspot.com/2013/02/cs-lewis-believed-in-purgatory-rightly.html?m=1

Thanks for the responses. I think I have a better idea now. However, can you provide some scriptural basis for purgatory? Also, what about the thief on the cross, who Jesus told “Today you shall be with me in paradise”. In my mind, the thief would have been the poster boy for purgatory but Jesus didn’t tell him that he had to wait to enter heaven at a later date. Forgive me if this appears argumentative because it isn’t. I’m trying to better understand.

Also, if purgatory exists, how does God communicate to us if a loved one is there versus already being in heaven so that we would be able to know that we needed to make extra prayers and supplications for them?

Lol. It’s not passing judgement to accurately state
Church teaching. If it was all catechism teachers
would go to hell. :slight_smile:

There are minor references to “Scheol”/purgatory
in Maccabees and Isiaah among others.
The idea of a “purging” after death is actually held
as necessary by Jewish tradition that the Apostles
carried with them into the new Church. So even though
it’s found only in the OT, archeological and historical
research has uncovered writings on the catacombs
and in graveyards showing the Early Christians
just kept up with the Tradition of praying for the dead.
Most of the surviving epitaphs are from unknown lay
people but also higher ups like Bishop Abercius in
Christ would have prayed for the dead as a devout Jew
and since He never said stop neither the Jews
or Catholics ever stopped.

In so far as knowing sho is in purgatory, heaven or
hell? No one on earth can know that.
So Jews pray for nine months after the death- Catholics
have no set time.

Lots of scripture in my blog post.

You should note that the Jewish people believe in something like purgatory. :bigyikes: they also pray for the dead.

As I said, purgatory is a transition which means that the thief transitioned that day. Purgatory is part if paradise with Christ.

"The transforming ‘moment’ of this encounter cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time. It is, indeed, not eternal but a transition, and yet trying to qualify it as of ‘short’ or ‘long’ duration on the basis of temporal measurements derived from physics would be naive and unproductive. The ‘temporal measure’ of this encounter lies in the unsoundable depths of existence, in a passing-over where we are burned ere we are transformed. To measure such Existenzzeit, such an ‘existential time,’ in terms of the time of this world would be to ignore the specificity of the human spirit in its simultaneous relationship with, and differentation from, the world.
. . .
"[Purgatory] is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.
. . .
“Encounter with the Lord is this transformation.”…

–Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, p. 230-231

God is the judge of individual souls; He knows their final choices.

Thank you for clarifying that you meant venial sins.

We can avoid purgatory by praying, accepting God’s will patiently, offering our sacrifices, frequent Confession, devoutly attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion, praying the Rosary, wearing the Brown Scapular, gaining indulgences, Reading Scripture, using holy water, meditating on the Passion, accepting lovingly whatever death God sends us, fasting, giving alms, saying ejaculations (short prayers) having Masses said, Divine Mercy Sunday Devotion.

All these methods and more can help avoid or shorten our stay in Purgatory. We can offer this fot the Souls in Purgatory for they cannot help themselves.

Purgatory is alluded to in The Book of Maccabees. Our Lady of Fatima showed the children Heaven, Hell and Purgatory when She appeared to them. There are many good books written on the subjects.

It is said that if we help the Souls in Purgatory they will certainly help us greatly.
Their prayers are very powerful. God bless you.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has given us also the
Sabbatine Privilege which promises a prompt
deliverance from Purgatory for those who fulfill
certain conditions: DEVOUT wearing of the Brown
Scapular of Carmel, the Rosary and or Little Office
of the BVM, among others. Thus is a very old
devotion backed by a Papal Bull but one we havent
heard much about in the past decade I think.
More about it here: catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=1164

What I was taught Purgatory is more of a state. It is a cleansing of the soul that gets it ready for heaven.

The best basis I believe that could help you to accept purgatory is this, how many people can you truly say that when they died they have achieved sainthood?

I am sure you would say you cannot judge, but you can speak for what you have seen and how you saw that person lived when they were with you here on this earth.

What Purgatory does is it gets you ready for heaven, and cleans you of even any thought of sin. Purgatory gets you ready for heaven in everyway.

There are people who obtain sainthood here on earth, and it is possible, but hard, truly hard. Sin has a way of getting into our minds and ways.


Purgatory isn’t just for Catholics anymore! :stuck_out_tongue:

Here is an article by a Wesleyan (possibly a Methodist) who explains why and how Protestants can understand Purgatory:


Hello, Tommy.

Purgatory is a difficult subject for most people to understand, so you’re not alone. There are a few places in the Bible that hint at the existence of Purgatory.

“2 Machabees 12: [39] And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers. [40] And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. [41] Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. [42] And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. [43] And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, [44] (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)

It’s very clear that the Jews believed it was necessary to pray for the souls of the dead, and offer sacrifices, because of the sins that they had committed during their life. If their soul left the earth with unforgiven sins, it makes sense that there must be a ‘time’ or ‘place’ (although, technically, there is no ‘time’ as we know it in eternity) for those souls to be cleansed of their remaining sins.

John the Baptist also makes a reference: “Matthew 3: [11] I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. [12] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

There are many places in the Bible where the analogy of God separating the wheat from the chaff is made. The wheat usually refers to those souls who go to Heaven, and the chaff, which is the outer coating that must be removed, is usually seen as the souls that go to hell. But, it might also be interpreted as a soul that is ‘coated’ with the residue of unforgiven sins that must be ‘purged’ of the stain of those sins.

The separation of wheat is done by ‘threshing’.

From Wikipedia,
“Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain (or other crop) from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain.”

"Threshing may be done by beating the grain using a flail on a threshing floor.

Purgatory might be seen as the ‘threshing floor’, where the soul is purified before entering Heaven. While the process is probably very painful, the end result is to be able to enter Heaven, so it’s worth it. The alternative (hell) is much worse.

Since his sins were explicitly forgiven by Jesus, Himself, I would have to believe that he was given the privilege of going straight to Heaven. But, I’m not a theologian or the final judge so … :wink:

In a word, He doesn’t. The safest bet is to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. We should always pray for the dead, no matter how ‘holy’ we think they might have been. None of our heartfelt prayers are ever wasted. If the soul we pray for has already made it to Heaven, then the merits of our prayers will be applied to all the souls in Purgatory. As someone else mentioned, they can’t pray for themselves, so they need us to pray and make sacrifices for them. However, they most certainly can, and do, pray for us! We can ask them to pray for our intentions, too. So, it’s a win/win. :thumbsup:

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